By Enis Koylu
The evening of October 3, 2012 will live long in the memory of Schalke star Julian Draxler. With Montpellier in Gelsenkirchen for a Champions League clash, the teenager delivered a stunning performance, scoring one and winning a penalty, before leaving the pitch prematurely when Garry Bocaly's challenge for the spot kick broke his arm.
Time and time again, he tore apart the French champions' defence with his intelligent running, great array of passing and powerful shooting. That Rene Girard's side got a point from the clash was in no small part down to his early exit from the match.
And, the fact is, it was what we have come to expect from the Gladbeck-native. Two years have passed since Draxler burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old in 2011, making an instant impression with a last-second winner against Nurnberg in the DFB-Pokal.
He was so young that worker's rights groups protested his involvement in the match, citing laws about when a minor could and couldn't work. Undeterred, he starred for his side for the rest of the season as S04 made the semi-finals of the Champions League, and scored the opening goal in their DFB-Pokal final triumph against Duisburg.
JULIAN DRAXLER | ALL-TIME SCHALKE STATS
Since then, he has gone from strength to strength. After cementing his status as a regular starter the following season, he won a call-up to Joachim Low's preliminary squad for Euro 2012, but failed to make the final cut.
It was probably for the best - he missed the 53-year-old's phone call because he was in school, preparing to graduate.
This season has brought with it added responsibility. With Raul and then Lewis Holtby departing the Veltins Arena in successive transfer windows, he has been given the No.10 role, and despite the wavering form of those around him, he has responded well.
He played a key role in their 4-1 demolition of Wolfsburg at the Volkswagen Arena last week, scoring two goals and assisting another, and became the youngest player to make 100 competitive appearances in German football during the Revierderby against Borussia Dortmund on Saturday, marking the occasion with the opening goal in a 2-1 win.
|"A sale is not open to discussion. [Julian] is characterised by his identification with the club. He loves and lives for Schalke"
- Horst Heldt
Unsurprisingly, his performances and potential have seen him linked with a host of clubs around Europe, most notably both Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Arsenal, but S04 general manager Horst Heldt was quick to dismiss talk of an exit.
"We have repeatedly had enquiries from international clubs," he said at the end of February. "This is not an issue to us. A sale is not open to discussion. Julian has a long-term deal with us. And we think long term with him. He is characterised by his identification with the club. He loves and lives for Schalke."
For his part, Draxler, who is under contract with the club until 2016, is not interested in making a move. "It's great to have teams interested. But I feel good at Schalke and I want to take my career forward."
With the likes of Benedikt Howedes and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar tied down for the foreseeable future, the future is looking bright for the Gelsenkirchen outfit. And, short of any injuries he may suffer, Draxler will flourish at the Veltins Arena and establish himself as one of the division's stars.
The truth is that the sky is the limit for Draxler. Should Schalke keep up their recovery by eliminating Galatasaray in the Champions League on Tuesday night and then making the Bundesliga top four, he will continue to develop on the highest stage, and perhaps combine with fellow academy graduate, Maximilian Meyer, who has made inroads into the first team this season.
On the international front, he certainly has a wealth of talent to compete with for a starting spot at the 2014 World Cup. Mesut Ozil continues to be his country's star player, while Marco Reus, Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller are among the best performers in the Bundesliga.
That said, if Draxler continues on his current trajectory, he could well overtake Lukas Podolski and Andre Schurrle in the pecking order and challenge the star quartet.
Once Brazil rolls around, Draxler will only be 20, and will have more than a decade of international football ahead of him. By 2018 and 2022, he might be one of the planet's finest players.
Follow Enis Koylu on