It was announced yesterday that young German starlet Max Meyer had signed a three year deal with Crystal Palace, reportedly worth £80,000 per week. The signing has been seen as a big coup for Palace, and rightly so, but why was a player with the potential of Meyer available on a free transfer?
Meyer started his career at a very young age, playing for local teams until he was scouted and signed by Rot-Weiß Oberhausen at seven years old. He spent two years in the youth academy before moving to MSV Duisburg in 2004, again spending his time there in the youth academy.
In 2009, at the age of 14, he was signed by Schalke 04, he progressed through the ranks and was part of the U19 side which won the 2011–12 German U-19 Championship, defeating Bayern Munich’s Under 19 side in the final. In his 15 appearances that season, the young German scored 11 goals and created 11 assists. This performance was so impressive it caught the eye of Horst Heldt (general manager of the club in 2012), and Meyer was offered his first professional contact.
Despite the original plan of having Meyer ease into the senior set up by playing games for Schalke 04 II, with the departure of Lewis Holtby to Tottenham Hotspur and some injuries to key players, Meyer was included in Schalke’s squad for both the Bundesliga and the Champions League heading into the 2012-13 season. He had to wait until February for his first appearance, coming on as a late substitute for Raffael however the youngster made an instant impact, laying on the assist for Michel Bastos’ late equaliser against Mainz. With his career beginning to take off, making his Champions League debut that same season against Galatasaray, Meyer left school at age 17 to focus more on his football.
“The German Messi”
Despite only making six appearances in the 2012-13 season, Meyer had shown enough promise to earn himself a huge increase in playing time, and the number 7 shirt formerly worn by Raúl. Meyer’s progress through Schalke’s academy, ball skills and passing ability earned him the moniker of “The German Messi” amongst fans and media, a role he placed himself into in 2013, saying that he could follow the footsteps of the Argentine on and off the field.
“He is my role model. I can learn a lot from him,” Meyer said. “He is the best player in the world and always remains humble.”
Despite being only 18, there was a lot of pressure on Meyer’s shoulders, however he proved he could handle it quickly. Coming on as a second half substitute in the return leg of Schalke’s 2013-14 Champions League qualification game against PAOK, Meyer laid on a beautiful pass for a Julian Draxler goal, which led the team to victory. After the game this play was dubbed the “€20m Pass” by German media, thrusting Meyer even further into the spotlight.
Struggling for Playing Time and Revival under Tedesco
In the 2016-17 season Meyer found himself often watching on from the bench, rarely starting games and struggling for playing time. There was a logjam at his position, with Amine Harit and emerging star Leon Goretzka both ahead of him in the pecking order for his favoured attacking midfield position.
Upon his arrival, new coach Domenico Tedesco was hugely impressed with Meyer’s workrate in training. Despite being impressed by his workrate Tedesco still struggled to find a starting spot for Meyer in his team, at one point trying him in a false 9 position before hooking him at half time. This did not discourage the 22 year old, who continued to work hard in training and forced his manager to find a place for him in the team.
“When the reaction is like Max’s, you think as a coach and say to yourself, ‘Man, I have to reward him,’” Tedesco told reporters. “‘It can’t be that he runs four or five miles in training and then misses the games.’ Then, as a coach, you’re forced to be creative.”
It was this coaching creativity that eventually paid dividends for both Meyer and Tedesco, as the starlet was deployed as a defensive midfielder for the first time in the 2017-18 season. It was a role that let his talents shine through as his ability to read the game and play the right pass were on full display further back on the pitch. Having more time on the ball and facing less pressure from opposition defenders allowed Meyer to shine.
Breakdown at Schalke
With his starting spot in the team secured each week, attention began to turn to the contracts of both Meyer and Goretzka. Both are incredibly talented young players, and both attracted attention from major clubs around Europe. Meyer was linked with a move to Barcelona in January, with some outlets reporting that the Catalan giants would be interested in bringing him to the Nou Camp.
Things began to get a little worrying for the club and its fans as the season wore on and Meyer was yet to sign a new contact. Talks between the club and player began to break down when both sides had wildly different valuations of the player. Talking about the situation, club president Christian Heidel took to Sky90 to say the following:
“After the talks with Max Meyer, I got into contact with Roger Wittmann, Wittmann said ‘Christian, we first must determine if we’re talking about the same player.’ I said, ‘What does that mean?’ This is what Roger Wittmann told me: ‘I’m talking about the world-class player Max Meyer, who would start in every European squad. And he should be going to the World Cup in Russia. If we’re talking about the same player, you can send me an offer. If we’re talking about different players, don’t send me an offer.’
“I was of a different opinion, when I saw the performances of Max Meyer, I sent the offer nevertheless. But not for the world-class player Max Meyer, rather a very very good Bundesliga player Max Meyer, who has quite a lot of potential and can still get better.”
Things came to a head in April when Meyer publicly criticised club president Christian Heidel, which led to him being suspended from training and missing the remainder of the season. “I simply did not want to stay with Schalke and work under Heidel,” the playmaker said. “It’s all about this. Lately, it just feels like bullying to me.”
That was the end of Meyer’s time at Schalke, after coming up through the youth academy and spending almost 10 years at the club, he spent his final 6 months with the team as an outcast. Still, it was expected that Meyer would be snapped up as a free agent very quickly, with interest from a wave of top European clubs.
Arsenal and Liverpool were leading the pack when it came to signing Meyer, however, it quickly became obvious that Heidel was not the only one who did not believe Meyer and his agent placed a realistic value on his talents. Negotiations broke down with a number of teams as they could not come to an agreement on wages. It was reported that Meyer was asking for around £80,000 per week, a fee that a lot of top teams were just not willing to match.
Four weeks after his contract with Schalke expired Meyer finally found himself a new home, Crystal Palace were the team that decided to stump up the money in hopes that his obvious talent could push them a little further up the Premier League table. Meyer seemingly understanding that he needed to rebuild his reputation somewhat after the fallout at his former club.
It will be interesting to see how he performs in the Premier League this season, a strong season could lead to this saga being left behind and a big money move to a top club next summer. Though we have seen many young talents make their way to the Premier League and struggle to recreate the form shown at their previous clubs. Only time shall tell which it will be for Meyer.