Lewis Holtby – England lost a young star to Germany… and now he's coming for Arsenal
11:00 GMT, 24 October 2012
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When Schalke walk out at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal fans will scan the teamsheet for some familiar names.
They’ll find the Dutch hotshot Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who has already helped himself to six club goals this season. There’s Jefferson Farfan on the right flank, the Peruvian who's been in Germany for four years and PSV before that, and Ibrahim Afelay opposite him, on loan from Barcelona.
And in between them, in the pivotal role behind the striker, a player called Lewis Holtby. A man with a very English name whom the English know very little about.
We would know all about him if the FA and Fabio Capello hadn't let him slip through the net.
The one that got away: Lewis Holtby in training with Schalke at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night
In the aftermath of England’s disastrous World Cup in 2010, as a beleaguered Capello tried to rebuild and restore our credibility on the international stage, there was a brief thought that Holtby could be part of the solution.
But Holtby had committed himself to playing for Germany – the side who had thrashed the Three Lions, 4-1, at the tournament. It was too late.
The 22-year-old was born in Erkelenz near Monchengladbach and has represented Germany at youth and Under 21 level. So far, so German.
Lewis Holtby – the story so far…
33 league appearances, 8 goals
37 league appearances, 7 goals
VfL Bochum (loan)
14 apps, 2 goals
Mainz 05 (loan)
30 apps, 4 goals
Germany Under 21
20 caps, 12 goals
2 caps, 0 goals
But dig a little deeper and you’ll find
that Holtby’s father, Christopher, is a Liverpool-born,
Everton-supporting British Army soldier who served in the Falklands War
and married a German girl, Heidi.
Until Joachim Low handed Holtby his first senior cap against Azerbaijan in June 2011, this was enough to qualify him for England.
Holtby freely admits he dreamed of playing for England as a kid and he cheered when Michael Owen led the Three Lions to that 5-1 win in 2001. But Germany showed greater interest and affection for him, and he repaid their loyalty.
‘Before I played for Germany, there was a slight hope [of an England call-up],’ Holtby told the BBC in the run-up to Wednesday night's Champions League group stage match in north London.
‘But when Germany called me up and I had my first game, I learned the German FA was absolutely fantastic and I’m really enjoying playing for Germany now.
‘I didn’t want to be a traitor [having played for Germany Under 21s] and if England called I probably would have said no. If you want to play for a country, you stick to that country and do your best for them. That’s my point of view.’
Holtby’s position has never wavered – in an interview with Sportsmail two years ago he said: ‘I have both countries in my heart. I supported England as a child, but I’m not a traitor. I must have honour and respect for Germany.
‘I love the country of England, but Germany have given me the honour of the captaincy at Under 21 level and I have to give them back that respect.’
Too late: Holtby may be an Everton fan, but England have lost him to Schalke (above) and Germany (below)
His use of the word ‘traitor’ is
interesting – few football fans in England will have heard of Holtby and
know his back story, let alone claim he has betrayed them.
But with Schalke riding high in the Bundesliga – a 2-1 away win at defending champions and fierce rivals Borussia Dortmund at the weekend took them to third – and Holtby impressing with his passing and movement, it could be a matter of time before we do finally get to see more of him.
He is in the final year of his contract with the Ruhr club and his performances have Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool on alert.
Flying the flag: The midfielder exploded into Bundesliga stardom after his star showings on loan at Mainz
Like his father, Holtby supports Everton
– an early memory is of watching Paul Rideout win the 1995 FA Cup final
against Manchester United at Wembley – and he’s on record as saying a
Premier League move would be a ‘dream’.
He first caught the eye in the autumn of 2010, when his excellent performances while on loan helped Mainz 05, an unfancied side from Germany’s Rhineland, set a German top flight record by winning their first eight games.
Holtby returned to Schalke in March of that season and is on track to become one of their most influential players. His pass to release Marco Hoger for the decisive second goal against Dortmund on Saturday was yet another example of his class.
In the Gunners' sights: Holtby is set to line up behind striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (above) against Arsenal
‘It was a great result to win against
our biggest rivals,’ he said. ‘And it gave us so much confidence to
play against Arsenal on Wednesday.
‘I think it will be a similar game to the one against Dortmund. We are ready for the challenge and happy to play there.’
A characteristic Holtby performance against Arsenal will only increase his stock further and the German is hoping Jack Wilshere completes his return from injury so they can have a test of strength in the midfield.
It’s not beyond the realms of
possibility that Holtby and Wilshere could now be sparring for a place
in England’s midfield had things turned out differently.
The stage is set: England could discover at the Emirates Stadium that they have let a great talent slip away
‘For me it was always a dream to play in the Premier League and it was always a team like Arsenal that I would like to play for,’ added Holtby. ‘Now I play for Schalke and I am happy to be here.
‘My agent is there to handle the rumours. I want to put all my concentration on football. I cannot be fussed in my head with other clubs who want to sign me or whatever.’
For England, the match at the Emirates could be a glimpse of what might have been. For the Premier League, it could be a glimpse of what is still to come.