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“This kid has something. No, actually he has everything.”
Horst Hrubesch, the sporting director of the German football association (DFB), was just reinforcing the claims many had already made about Jann-Fiete Arp. But few had been so generous in their praise as the Hamburg legend.
The hyperbole ain’t for nothing. Just 17, Arp has been carving out quite a reputation in Europe. He has scored 36 goals in 44 matches for Hamburg in the under-17 league, was the second-highest goal scorer at the under-17 European Championships and, just last month, became the first player born in 2000 to play in the Bundesliga.
So the moment Vinicius Junior was withdrawn from the Brazilian squad, the focus shifted to this German wunderkind, along with France’s Amine Gouiri. On Monday, he justified the hype around him. Germany were rather ordinary in the group stage. And it took the Arp’s genius to turn them into extraordinary on Monday.
The striker was involved in three goals – scoring two and assisting once – as Germany beat Colombia 4-0 to advance to the quarterfinals, where they are likely to face Brazil. He curled in a decent left-footer from a tight angle to give Germany the lead in the seventh minute, then used his weaker foot again to set up a perfect assist for John Yeboah in the 49th, before a delightful chip with the outside of his right boot to score his fourth goal of the tournament and Germany’s fourth of the evening in the 65th minute.
It wasn’t just about goals or assists. Arp was the focal point of each German attack and you could get why. He’s big-bodied and combative, gets behind his markers and isn’t shy of putting in a tackle. He forces errors by pressing down on his opponents and can shield the ball as well by putting his body between the defender and the ball.
“In terms of his intellect and his character, he is very far ahead in comparison to others of the same age. I think that, as a result, he can cope well with the hype around him,” Germany U-17 coach Christian Wuck was quoted as saying by Kicker magazine.
The hype is for real. It’s risky to get sucked into transfer rumours. As is the trend, his stock surged after the two hat-tricks at the U-17 Euros. Chelsea, reportedly, were keen to sign him while Borussia Dortmund and Juventus were the other suitors. But Hamburg, with whom Arp has been since 2010, extended his contract which will keep him there till 2019.
On Monday, he showed why the big clubs are scrambling to sign him. Arp has modelled his game on Tottenham Hotspur and England striker Harry Kane. “He plays the way I want to play,” he told UEFA.com in an interview. Like Kane, Arp is a No. 9 who leads the line and scores a variety of goals.
Not just a finisher
But those who’ve followed him say there’s more to him than just his finishing. Arp’s movement with and without the ball and shielding skills are equally praised, and these attributes were on display against a very physical Colombia.
His first goal was a testament to his strength and technique as well as peripheral vision. Yeboah played a through ball between the left-back and central defender. Arp had a heavy first touch but powered past Colombia’s Andres Cifuentes and Thomas Gutierrez to go one-on-one with goalkeeper Kevin Mier. The ball wobbled out of the custodian’s gloves and Arp showed awareness that belied his age. With his back to the goal, he flicked the ball with his left foot, curling it between the two defenders into the far post.
At the European Championships, he had shown that his first-time passes and flicks can make a difference against teams that defend deep. Colombia played a high line while attacking but left very little space between the lines and threw a heavy challenge to snatch the ball off the feet of German players.
Arp’s quick feet came in handy for the third goal after Yann Bisseck had doubled Germany’s lead in the 39th minute. He beat Guillermo Tegue with his speed, drew the goalkeeper towards him and with a clever flick, passed it square towards an unmarked Yeboah in front of the goal. The favour returned and the match sealed.
Arp wasn’t done yet. His finish for the fourth goal was a work of art. The way Arp moves the ball out of his feet quickly and his first touch under pressure is better than most his age. This technical superiority puts additional pressure on the defenders, which is how he forced an error of Tegue on the right flank. Arp was released one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Mier left his line and rushed to close the angles. But the German looked up and calmly chipped the ball over the goalkeeper to complete the rout.
Germany’s next opponent will likely to be Brazil. Not many would have given them a chance to win that match following their 4-0 defeat to Iran last Monday. Going by what was on evidence on Monday, it will be a lot closer than what was initially predicted. And Germany will once again rely on the ‘kid who has got everything.’ “When he has the ball, we know there will be something dangerous,” Yeboah said of his teammate. “It’s great that he is German.”