Kai Havertz came close to joining Real Madrid before he signed for Chelsea in September 2020 and the German is finally showing the Blues why they should be glad they paid £ 72million to sign him
Kai Havertz is likely to lead the line for Chelsea as they square off against Real Madrid in the Champions League for the second consecutive season, knowing just how close he once came to joining the La Liga giants instead.
Chelsea pulled off a coup when they agreed a £ 72million deal to sign Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen in September 2020. The Blues had beaten Real, along with Barcelona, Manchester United and Bayern Munich, to secure the highly-rated German’s signature. But it could have all been very different had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic.
Havertz had made it clear that he was keen to make the next step up in his career after outgrowing Leverkusen, with 16 goals in the Bundesliga in 2019-20. According to Goal, Madrid had engaged in talks with the German outfit over a deal to sign the attacking midfielder and Havertz was keen on a move to the Santiago Bernabeu.
That was until the spread of the virus halted football across Europe’s top five leagues, forcing clubs to hit the pause button on their transfer plans. But Chelsea, backed by Roman Abramovich’s billions, were seemingly immune after banking £ 180m from the sales of Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata in 2019.
Leverkusen had initially slapped for € 100m (£ 84m) asking price above Havertz’s head, hoping to spark a bidding war. But Real’s withdrawal from talks forced them to lower their demands, allowing Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia to pounce. After months of negotiations, she negotiated a deal worth an initial £ 62m fee, with a further £ 10m in add-ons.
For Chelsea, it represented a massive investment. A club-record transfer fee spent on a largely unproven 20-year-old came not without a large risk attached, as highlighted in the first months of Havertz’s debut campaign. The playmaker, with a lanky and slender frame, struggled to adapt to the physical nature of the Premier League as Frank Lampard searched for a way to fit him into his plans di lui.
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And his situation was only exacerbated when he contracted Covid in December 2020, having scored just once in the Premier League. That took Havertz out of the firing line, but also provided a scare after being affected by the virus more than he perhaps thought he would. Eventually, he recovered and with Thomas Tuchel replacing Lampard, he found a better fit in the German’s 3-4-3 formation.
He would play an important role in their run to the Champions League final and became the main protagonist in their European fairytale when he clinched the winning goal against Manchester City 11 months ago. His future di lui looked uncertain after Tuchel’s decision to spend £ 97.5m on Romelu Lukaku, Havertz has not been fazed by the added competition. In fact, the Belgian’s lack of goals and misguided attempt to engineer a return to Inter Milan resulted in him being dropped, allowing Havertz to reclaim that central striking role – and now the Blues are reaping the rewards.
He has scored four goals in his last four league matches, taking his overall tally to 11 for the season. The 22-year-old is excelling after developing a better understanding of his fluid central role in Tuchel’s setup, and the Chelsea coach recently spoke about his improvement of him after praising his efforts of him on the pitch.
“He covers a lot of meters and in high intensity, so he finds the intensity no matter in what system the opponent defends against us,” Tuchel said. ‘He finds intensive runs, he finds distances and that’s what makes him. He uses his body more and more, he loves to create overloads in half-spaces and this is what he gives. It’s just his style of play, his characteristics as a player, and he’s in good shape, he’s confident. “
Real don’t need to be told to keep a close eye on his movements. While he didn’t score in last season’s semi-final ties, Havertz played a crucial tactical role as a deep-lying No. 9. He pulled Sergio Ramos and Eder Militao out of position and created space in behind for Timo Werner and Mason Mount to run into. The trio could start again as Tuchel decides on his starting XI for the match in Madrid, although Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic are pushing for starts.
But there is no question who will be the leading man. After Lukaku’s nonchalant cameos from the bench of late, Tuchel will be relying on Havertz to produce the goods. And Real Madrid will feel that tinge of regret if the attacker plays a key part in dumping them out of the competition once again.