In the irony of ironies, the man that has defined Paris Saint-Germain’s season, both good, bad, and indifferent, will probably be unavailable for the team’s season-defining game.
Paris will look to overturn a 3-1 disadvantage against Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League without the €222 million man, Neymar Jr. A sprained ankle and a fracture of the fifth metatarsal has sidelined the Brazilian for an undetermined amount of time. Surgery was successful last week but no one has a good feel for when the 26-year-old will return to training–or if he’ll return at all this season. All that we do know is that PSG had their last chance to prep for Los Blancos on Saturday against Troyes AC (a 2-0 win) and now their attention is 100 percent on their home match against the Spanish giants at a ravenous Parc des Princes.
Obviously, advancing past Real Madrid is no small task, given how important the Seleção star has been for PSG since arriving last summer. After going through some rough patches towards the beginning of the year, Neymar had begun to find his more consistent glorious form at the start of 2018. He had been masterful in the minutes leading up to his unfortunate turn in health against rivals Olympique de Marseille and had mostly silenced their barking. His loss will reverberate throughout the squad and made a difficult situation even worse…but not impossible.
Defeating Madrid is not impossible because behind Neymar, and at times overshadowed by him, stands one of the best collection of talents that Europe has to offer. A Champions League winner, decorated international players, and prodigious talent just blossoming into stars. Then there is Julian Draxler. An enigma if there ever was one. The only player on Paris Saint-Germain who has actually won a FIFA World Cup. A child prodigy turned rising star turned stunning disappointment turned redemption story turned role player. For a player that is only 24-years-old, he has lived a footballing lifetime. It is his story that could make another dramatic turn on March 6 if allowed to feature against Madrid either as a starter or key substitution. Of all the stories, his may be the strangest. It’s the curious case of Julian Draxler.
At 17-years-old, Draxler became the fourth youngest player to play in the Bundesliga and the youngest to ever play for FC Schalke 04 in 2011. By age 20, he was winning the World Cup as a bit player for Germany, while his stock continued to rise at Schalke. A year later, he transferred to VfL Wolfsburg and helped lead them to the Champions League quarter-finals in the 2015-16 season.
All of this for a player who, by the end of 2016, was seen as a bitter disappointment who had alienated most of his Wolfsburg teammates. This was from a December 2016 article in Deutsche Well by Jonathan Harding:
Perhaps those fans were so unhappy because Draxler has spent more time moaning about how much he wants to leave Wolfsburg than he has helping improve the situation. The fact is, not only is Draxler not playing well at the moment but his performances make his discontent apparent. In August, Draxler went public about his desire to leave Wolfsburg after the club’s sporting director Klaus Allofs said he was going nowhere and here we are, nearly four months later, with Draxler working directly against the club once again.”
The author of that article ended with, “They’ll be lucky to be rid of him at this rate.”
Here is a player who, for many, was the spearhead of the next generation of German footballing stars. Although, he wasn’t acting like much of one for a struggling Wolfsburg side who could likely point to the petulance of Draxler as the reason the team had hit such a steep decline that fall. His poor form, matched by his poor attitude, was sinking what had been a fairly sturdy ship.
So there sat this former gem of a footballer on the scrap heap of a mid-table German outfit. Now, here is where a desperate PSG comes into the picture. Les Parisiens had come off one of the worst stretches in the Qatar Sports Investments-era. Losses to EA Guingamp and Montpellier HSC put PSG in the unfamiliar role of Ligue 1 title chasers. What had been even more troubling was the poor form of wingers Lucas Moura and Angel Di Maria. Paris desperately needed a spark. Former “whatever his title was” Patrick Kluivert and Olivier Letang made their January splash the mercurial Draxler. Overall, in his first half-season with Paris, he was quite the injection of energy.
Scoring in the first leg of PSG’s Champions League tie against FC Barcelona last season was among the highlights of his resurgence. While Paris failed to advance in the Champions League, and finished second in the league, very little of that could be blamed on Draxler. From all accounts, he was on his best behavior and enjoying his second chance at footballing life in the French capital. He even led Germany to a FIFA Confederations Cup title, earning player of the tournament in a true show of maturity and leadership. At the end of the season, he was poised to make an even greater impact in Ligue 1 during the 2017-18 campaign. And then along came Neymar.
And, well…Neymar and Julian Draxler can’t both play left-wing at the same time. However, at a moment where Draxler could have pouted and asked for a transfer, he put on his best face. Whether this is a legitimate turn for a once petulant prodigy or the realization that said petulance will get him nowhere, the Germany international has been the ultimate professional and teammate. This paid off for Draxler when PSG manager Unai Emery tasked him to slot into the midfield when Thiago Motta picked up an injury. Draxler played fairly well but was nothing spectacular, more-or-less sealing his fate as an inconsistent starter and substitute in more important matches.
So, what to make of this curious case. A prodigy who has not lived up to his promise, or a lost soul beginning to find his way. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Maybe it’s a perfect marriage of player and club. He is present, but not visible enough to draw scrutiny and scorn. From German rigidity to French fluidity, with opportunities to express himself and explore the broader world around him. Lots of people come to Paris to discover who they are, why can’t Draxler?
Therefore, it is my inclination that Draxler’s best moments will be outside the capital, possibly in England, maybe back in his homeland. However it may shake out, let’s enjoy the player that fellow teammate Marquinhos called, “one of the best in the world” while we still can. Enjoy the inconsistencies, moments of pure magic, and flashes of footballing intelligence from Germany’s wunderkind because he may not be long for this Parisian world. Hopefully though, in whatever tmie he has at PSG, he will imprint his indelible mark on history that he may or may not be destined to leave. You see, that is what is so curious about Julian Draxler. What is so curious is that the only thing for sure is that nothing is for sure. Draxler may be bound to wonder, or bound to thrive, but there is no doubt that he is indeed bound.