Luca Netz: Record-breaking Hertha wonderkid already on Bayern Munich's radar

Luca Netz NXGN GFX
The 17-year-old defender is regarded as one of the Bundesliga's top young talents after a breakout campaign in Berlin

It is not often that an injury to a 17-year-old with just a handful of first-team appearances is headline-grabbing news, but then not every teenage footballer is Luca Netz.

"Hertha shock!" was the title given to the Berlin tabloid BZ's story reporting Netz's fractured metatarsal in late March, with the defender set for surgery that would end his debut season in the first team.

It is testament to the impact that Netz has made in the German capital since the turn of the year that him being missing is regarded as such a blow in their bid to avoid relegation.

"It is very sad, especially because it is his second serious injury in a very short time," DFB junior coach Christian Wuck, who has worked with Netz since Under-15s level, tells Goal and SPOX, referencing the broken foot the youngster suffered back in the summer of 2020.

"But it shows that the career does not always go straight, but can often be peppered with detours."

Wuck is right, though these setbacks are fairly new to Netz, who enjoyed a smooth and meteoric rise towards the senior ranks.

Born in the Berlin district of Buch, the full-back began his footballing education with FSV Bernau, for whom his father, Andre, played in the 'B' team.

Netz junior quickly stood out and, at the age of seven, was invited for a trial at Hertha, who acted quickly to enrol him into their academy system.

Due to his physical stature, he regularly played above his own age group, making his U17s debut at the age of 14 before stepping up to become a regular starter for the U19s two years later.

For Netz, there was no 'Plan B'.

"When I started playing football, I wanted to be doing it for my entire life," he told Markische Oderzeitung in a recent interview.

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Like a number of young players around the world, Netz earned his first opportunity to impress among the senior ranks following the game's shutdown at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

With only the first-team squad able to train as the Bundesliga resumed, Netz was called-up by new manager Bruno Labbadia, and immediately impressed.

"He was supposed to make his debut under Labbadia," Wuck reveals, "but he was injured in the final training session before the game."

Though that proved to be a disappointment, 2020 ended with him claiming the bronze in the annual Fritz Walter Medal for the best German U17 footballers, finishing behind Bayer Leverkusen wonderkid Florian Wirtz and Bayern Munich starlet Torben Rhein.

Two days into the new year, he had even more reason to celebrate as he stepped off the bench for the final four minutes of Hertha's 3-0 win over Schalke, becoming the second-youngest Bundesliga player in the club's history in the process.

That began a run of six straight appearances for the left-back, who has also been utilised further forward on the left-hand side of midfield at times.

"There are few players who are left-footed and have such a good shot with their right," Labbadia said of his latest protege, though it was with his stronger foot that Netz scored his first senior goal as he latched onto a cross from Sami Khedira to net the equaliser against Stuttgart in February.

"His exceptional left foot and his speed are among Luca's greatest strengths," says Wuck of Hertha's youngest-ever Bundesliga goalscorer. "The combination of these two qualities makes him so valuable.

"I am also impressed by his assertiveness. Once he starts dribbling with the ball at his feet, he is difficult to stop."

Those qualities did not go unnoticed, and as winter turned to spring Bayern Munich reportedly began to show an interest in Netz as they searched for competition for Alphonso Davies.

Claims that the teenager's contract was up at the end of the 2020-21 campaign were, however, dismissed, with his current deal set to run until 2023, though Hertha are already working on extending that even further.

"It's definitely something very special," Netz said of Bayern's interest after they allegedly withdrew their offer, though staying out of the Allianz Arena spotlight may be no bad thing as he continues to take his first steps at the top level.

"There are still some areas in which Luca has room for improvement," says Wuck, who describes the defender as being a down-to-earth and calm individual.

"For example, he must work in the area of ​​game intelligence. In other words, correctly perceiving and assessing situations and reacting quickly. If he improves his decision-making speed, he can benefit even more from his physical speed."

Wuck adds: "Luca is very humble, so he could still do so much more. I would like him to acquire a certain audacity to do risky things on the pitch.

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"Especially in his position on the outside he can act more courageously. He will still take these steps, and then take on a leadership role in his teams."

That, of course, will now have to wait until 2021-22 as Netz recovers from his second season-ending injury as many years, though Wuck is not overly concerned that it will set him back long-term.

He concludes: "I know him, so I know that he will come out of his injury stronger than before."