Thilo Kehrer’s Premier League move puts spotlight on Julian Draxler | DW | 18.08.2022

After completing a move from Paris Saint-Germain to West Ham on Wednesday, Thilo Kehrer will likely make his debut for the club in a European game on Thursday night.

A Europa Conference League playoff against Danish side Viborg will be a far cry from his last start in Europe, the 2020 Champions League final loss to Bayern Munich.

But there is a definite logic to his decision. “I talked to the manager and he told me about how he sees me fitting in at the club,” said the 25-year-old. “My biggest goal now is to get into the team, integrate myself within the group and enjoy playing for West Ham.”

For now, that may well be true. But there can be little doubt that, despite leaving a Qatari payroll, the gulf state will still be on his mind, with the World Cup a few months away.

Kehrer, who won three leagues and three cups in the French capital, has emerged as a favorite of Germany coach Hansi Flick, having played more minutes than any other player since the former Bayern Munich boss took charge last May.

“He’s brought a new style of playing which I think fits me well, so I’m happy to be a good part of the team,” Kehrer said of Flick during a video interview on West Ham’s website. “This year we have the World Cup and we want to play a good part in that, so I’m pretty excited.”

Kehrer’s versatility across the backline has helped, as have injuries to others in defensive areas but Flick clearly sees something PSG don’t.

Qatar World Cup looms

Nevertheless, the Schalke youth product doesn’t enjoy a high enough status to feel entirely sure he’d be a squad member, let alone a starter, come November. Kehrer is taking a calculated gamble that the security of starts in London, as opposed to patchy minutes against overpowered opponents in Paris, will give him a chance to show his best form.

Which brings us to the other German international in the PSG squad: Julian Draxler. Like Kehrer, Draxler has been pushed to the margins at PSG and was not taken on the club’s preseason trip to Japan. Another Schalke youth product, Draxler was a wanted man when he moved to Paris in 2016, but has become increasingly peripheral as big name attackers like Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar arrived while coaches came and went.

Julian Draxler has slipped a long way down the pecking order for Germany

Injuries have no doubt played their part in stymying the career of a player whose creative talents have elevated Germany in the past, coming off the bench in the 2014 World Cup final win and playing a key role in the Euros two years later.

But there’s also been a sense that Draxler has been prepared to play a bit part role in a title winning machine for a hefty wage for a while now. Back in 2021, shortly after missing out on Germany’s Euros squad, he signed a new deal with PSG despite completing 90 minutes just five times in the domestic season.

At least partly as a result of that, Flick continued where his predecessor Joachim Löw had left off; Draxler didn’t play a minute of World Cup qualifying. But he did get a chance in a friendly against Israel in March this year, ending a national team absence that stretched back to October 2020.

First-team football required for Draxler

“It was good to be on the pitch for 90 minutes again,” the 28-year-old said after the 2-0 win. “I need to get more match practice ahead of the World Cup. We’ll see what happens in the summer. I need to play more than I have this season.”

That seems impossible at PSG, who are actively trying to offload Draxler. Just as they have for several summers, rumors of a Premier League move abound, this time with Newcastle. But Draxler is reportedly keen on a move back to the Bundesliga, with the expected arrival of his first child with his partner in September thought to be a further motivating factor.

Having missed out on Euro 2020, and been part of one of the biggest German World Cup failures in 2018, Draxler knows he is running out of time and chances to make a further mark on the international stage and to be a key player consistently at club level.

“[Flick] didn’t specifically call for a transfer when I talked to him,” Draxler added. “But he did send a clear message that he needs fit players for the World Cup.”

That fitness is unlikely to come from training with the reserves in Paris. At 28, a player who was once one of German football’s hopes still has time on his side. But he’ll need more than just minutes.

Mario Götze an example to follow?

Another player who has similarly struggled to reach his early peaks, Mario Götze has already moved back to the Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt after moving to PSV Eindhoven to rejuvenate his stalled career. 

Mario Götze runs with the ball in a German Cup match

Mario Götze moved back to the Bundesliga this season

Flick recently admitted he wanted to sign the 30-year-old when he was at Bayern describing Götze as “a player with enormous strengths in the final third.”

Draxler has shown in the past that he has similar strengths. But now is surely the time to start showing them regularly again. If Kehrer is taking a calculated gamble, Draxler must know that, if he wants to go to the World Cup, he can no longer hedge his bets.

Edited by: James Thorogood

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