The little 5’8″ (1.7m) kid had the world at his feet. He made his debut as a 17-year-old, proving that despite his height, he had all the ball skills to prove himself in a man’s game. A product of the club’s academy, he was seen as a future superstar for title contenders, someone who could become world class and help them compete with the best teams in Europe.
In his first season after that debut, he played less than 10 league games, but had shown enough promise and enough talent to earn a more regular spot the following season. Here was a gifted playmaker, someone who could see the action before it happened, capable of taking an eternity on the ball before picking out a team-mate with a perfectly placed pass. In his second campaign, his first full season with the senior side, he finished with six league goals and even became a regular in the Champions League. All this before he was even old enough to drink.
This is the story of Lionel Messi. But also the story of Max Meyer, Schalke’s great hope, who was handed the number 7 jersey previously occupied by Raul when he was just 18. Born eight years after his idol, Meyer admitted in 2013 that he could follow Messi’s example on and off the field as pundits started to compare the short tricky attacking midfielder to the Argentine sensation.
“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.”
While Messi often shunned the limelight and played down discussions of being the best in the world and even the greatest of all time, Meyer embraced his status as Germany’s wonderkid. After helping Schalke qualify for the Champions League group stage in 2013-14, Meyer’s brief contribution to set up Julian Draxler in the play-off victory over PAOK was given the title “€20 million pass” by German media.
Even after turning 18, Meyer continued to live with his parents, claiming he was happy there and did not yet need to find his own apartment due to the fact his parents handled the aspects of his life he had no time for.
“I’m happy here because my parents take care of everything for me,” Meyer told Der Westen. “I never tidy my room and my mother moans about it all the time, but she’s got to come to terms with it if she wants me to stay at home.”
Having played as an attacking midfielder for Schalke in his first few seasons at the club, he found himself often watching from the bench and rarely playing full games in 2016-17. New coach Domenico Tedesco arrived in June 2017 and was immediately impressed with Meyer’s workrate in training. However, with Leon Goretzka, Amine Harit and a host of other options ahead of him in a more attacking role, the young coach could not accommodate Meyer in his preferred No. 10 role.
Like his predecessors, Tedesco used Meyer sparingly, even trying him as a false nine against Stuttgart in the third game of the season, only to remove him at half-time with the score level at 1-1. Schalke went on to win the game 3-1 and Meyer returned to the bench for the next two games, not even making a brief cameo as he had in the opening day win over RB Leipzig where he was an 89th minute substitute. Meyer was determined to force himself into the side was looked to prove himself in training, a method which paid dividends as Tedesco looked to find a way to fit the 22-year-old into his XI.
“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.”
Tedesco’s creativity saw Meyer reborn as a defensive midfielder. Here, he was able to use his fantastic ability to read the game to create attacks for Schalke by picking out team-mates in good positions while unlocking opposition defences with pinpoint passing accuracy. Of the midfielders who attempted over 1000 passes last season, only Bayern Munich’s Thiago, Corentin Tolisso and James Rodriguez had better passing accuracy scores than Meyer’s 89 per cent completion rate.
Meyer was reborn under Tedesco, with the Schalke coach claiming, “I don’t believe he’s ever played as well as he currently is” when discussing how big of a loss it would be were the midfielder not to sign a new deal at the club. As a product of their academy, Schalke wanted Meyer to extend his stay at the Veltins Arena, but saw director of sport Christian Heidel come to blows with agent Roger Wittman, who was angry that they would not pay his client what he was worth.
“After the talks with Max Meyer, I got into contact with Roger Wittmann,” Heidel said on Sky90. “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.”
Both player and agent were unhappy with the offer for ‘very, very good Bundesliga player Max Meyer’ and the midfielder decided to test the market by announcing his decision to leave Schalke at the end of his contract on June 30. Former team-mate Goretzka agreed a deal with Bayern Munich in January, joining the Bundesliga champions on July 1, but Meyer is still without a club four weeks after his own contract expired.
Meyer denied the reason he left Schalke was for money, telling Bild: “I simply did not want to stay with Schalke and work under Heidel. It’s all about this. It just feels like bullying to me.” However, despite being linked with numerous clubs during the transfer window, Meyer’s wage demands have remained a stumbling block. Despite not having to pay a transfer fee for him, clubs are put off by Meyer’s desire for a wage of around £77,000 a week ($100k), with Arsenal and Liverpool not willing to pay that much for the midfielder.
A move to Fenerbahce was touted, while Marseille were in negotiations before balking at the costs expected. Hoffenheim met with Meyer before the end of the season before talk of a transfer died down as Wittman flirted with bigger clubs. Now that those bigger clubs, as well as Atletico Madrid and AC Milan, have rejected his advances, Hoffenheim’s name has once again emerged.
However, they have also denied these new rumours, meaning Meyer is still searching for a suitor. He may have once been the German Messi, but unless he lowers his wage demands the only thing that looks like it could be messy this season is his bedroom.