From refusing autographs to superstardom: The untold story of Timo Werner’s journey to Chelsea


“He was shy.”

That’s how Huub Stevens remembers a young Timo Werner. He was a quiet boy with a polite demeanour that while still at school would refuse to sign autographs.

“I’m a normal school pupil,” he insisted.

The Dutch coach worked alongside the softly-spoken striker at VfB Stuttgart across two spells from 2014 until mid-2015. Their time together was brief, but it was enough for Stevens to witness Werner’s potential first-hand.

“He was a very young player, and the time that I came was not a time to enjoy it,” Stevens told football.london . “We were fighting against relegation. In that short time, we must fight for every point and every game. When we brought Timo into a game, he was always dangerous. He was so good and so fast.”

Those same qualities had already caught the attention of Christian Ziege. The 48-year-old saw enough with Stuttgart to hand Werner, (nicknamed ‘Turbo Timo’ by German media) his debut for Germany’s U19s in May 2013.

“He was always respectful, not talking a lot, just talking on the pitch in terms of showing us what he was capable of,” Ziege, now a coach with Austrian side FC Pinzgau, told football.london .

Werner is a product of Stuttgart’s academy after joining the club at age six. He came up alongside fellow German internationals Serge Gnabry and Joshua Kimmich . Both players left Stuttgart before they could make a first-team appearance for the club and now find themselves at Bayern Munich (the Bundesliga champions were one of many clubs linked to Werner before he joined Chelsea).

His competitive debut for Stuttgart arrived as a winger in a Europa League qualifier against PFC Botev Plovdiv in August 2013 . He made history that night by becoming the youngest player to represent Stuttgart in a competitive game at 17 years, four months and 15 days.

He later became Stuttgart’s youngest ever goal-scorer, and the Bundesliga’s youngest player to score a brace and reach 50 appearances – all before the age of 19.

Sadly, his individual achievements were cast alongside the stress of regular battles against the drop.

Timo Werner's transfer to Chelsea has been confirmed

“He was a young player, I didn’t know what I could expect from him,” Przemysław Tyton, a teammate during the 2015/2016 season told football.london . “He was already a very experienced player because he’d played more than 50 games in the Bundesliga. Not everyone has the chance to have that experience. I was curious about what this guy can show. After a couple of training sessions with him, I see the player with the big quality and focus.”

By that stage, Werner had racked up 3,151 Bundesliga minutes across 62 games . His exposure to first-team football, and the pressure attached to it, had slowly fostered confidence that allowed him to use his voice, albeit sparingly.

“During our meetings, team meetings, we would analyse things, and he would say what he thinks,” Tyton said. “I remember the season we had a lot of struggles. There were moments that had a lot of pressure, and we didn’t score a lot of goals, but he played almost all the season and scored a few goals. That was the moment that a lot of players just give up, they lose concentration. They lose energy and motivation in training, but I didn’t see anything like that from him.”

Struck by his perseverance, Tyton also saw a player looking to the future and how best to improve. Werner’s childhood involved training sessions with his father, Günther Schuh , a player for 07 Ludwigsburg and Stuttgarter Kickers.

“When I was little, my Dad would pass me the ball, and I would take shots at goal,” recalled Werner . “First he would play it to my right foot, and we’d work on my technique with that, and then to my left. We even ran up mountains together. I learnt quickly that if you want to become a professional, you have to do more.”

Werner up against his now Chelsea teammate Andreas Christensen during his time in Germany

Stevens saw that dedication first-hand and laughed when he recalled his memories of a young Werner, stood off to the side, quietly listening to those around him.

With Tyton, Werner’s learning was more practical. When training was over, and Werner’s teammates were filing into the changing room he’d ask Tyton to do extra finishing sessions. It was in those moments, perhaps free from the stress of a relegation battle, that Werner’s ability shone through.

“I remember after training we’d stay together many times and we’d do the shooting exercise, and his finishing was great. It was powerful, and I thought this guy can progress up, but I wouldn’t expect he’d go up so fast,” the goalkeeper, now with FC Cincinnati in MLS said.

If Lampard is desperate for a goalscorer he may have found him in Werner. When Ziege called Werner up to his German U19 side, he required a line-leading forward. Ziege turned to the then-17-year-old Werner, and although it was a big step-up, it appeared to be one Werner relished, with his speed matched by a goal-getting instinct.

“Everyone saying I knew he would be the next blah blah I think is not serious,” Ziege explained. “You can’t say for 100% sure. Everyone who saw him and trained him thought; if he stays like this, working hard, listening, working on those natural instincts, then he has the potential to be what he is today.

“He is in the box, around the box, all he is thinking about is finishing and trying to score. His main strength was always in and around the box. He was in the right position, and if there’s a rebound, he could work out where it would be. He was quick also, but he was thinking like a real striker, and sometimes that looks selfish, and that’s the reason he is so good.”

Werner’s time at Stuttgart would end with the pain of relegation in 2016 . The club’s demotion to Germany’s second tier was a brutal contrast to the Bundesliga title they earned less than a decade prior. Werner’s departure was another bitter blow, and on June 11 he was sold to RB Leipzig in what was a record-breaking deal for the East German club.

“Despite his youth, Timo Werner has a lot of Bundesliga experience, and has already proven his quality at that level, ” Ralf Rangnick said at the time. “He’s a very ambitious player, who’s always looking to improve and can pose any opponent problems with his pace. His addition will give our attack yet more quality and more options. “

While there may have been tears shed among Stuttgart fans, his former coach believes it was imperative for Werner’s career that he moved away from Stuttgart.

“He learned a lot in Leipzig,” Stevens said. “Of course, it is important. He had no help from his father. His father was at every training. Now in Leipzig, his father was not at every training. I think that was very difficult for him in the beginning, but now he is stronger, he has aged, and he knows what it is to be alone and live alone.

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“I think it was good for Timo to go away from his home, from his parents. Doing things for himself alone, that was very important. I think it was good for his character and mentality to do it alone with his girlfriend. It was a big experience for him, but it was a good step to do that. He did not only learn as a football player but also as a person.”

The hope will be that a move from Leipzig to Stamford Bridge can be the catalyst for further improvement, even if the move surprised Ziege.

“To be honest when I heard the first time he was moving to Chelsea, I was like why is he going to Chelsea?” Ziege admitted. “Then I thought Frank Lampard is at Chelsea, he is trying to change the habit of Chelsea, bring in good young players and change it around. I think he can have success, and I hope for him that he will manage it and show everyone how strong he is.”

While the debate may rage about the best club for Werner to join, there is an agreement that Chelsea have secured a supremely talented striker. Stevens excitedly talks about a potential link-up with fellow new-signing Hakim Ziyech, or a two-man strike force, perhaps alongside Tammy Abraham.

Those will be questions for Lampard to ponder this summer, as he prepares for the arrival of the quiet striker ready to do his talking on the pitch.

“When you play against Timo it is very difficult,” Stevens said. “He is always moving. I think in the Premier League the level is a little bit higher, and the speed of play is too, but I think when he adjusts to this, he will be successful. He is successful in the Bundesliga, he can do it in the Premier League. He must learn in the training and the games, but I think he can become good in the Premier League.”





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