In the summer, Chelsea were keen to sign Jann-Fiete Arp for their academy. The 17-year-old Hamburg prodigy had other ideas, however, and rejected the offer, claiming that such a move was absolutely illogical.
“It won’t make any sense to leave my team and move abroad at the moment. I hardly achieved anything and have virtually no experience in professional football,” claimed Arp, who remained at the club he had joined seven years ago. “The risk would have been too big. Money shouldn’t matter at my age.”
Such a remarkable attitude did not surprise Germany under-17 national team coach Christian Wuck, who is well aware of the young striker’s maturity. “He performs well on the pitch, but also off it. In terms of intelligence and character, he is far ahead in comparison to others at the same age”, he said. And it was not long before his captain made history.
Arp was supposed to fly out to the Under-17 World Cup in India in late September when Hamburg asked for him to stay a few more days, so that he could be on the bench for the big derby against Werder Bremen. The FA agreed and the striker duly made his debut, entering the field with a one minute to go. In doing so, he became the first player born in 2000 to play in the Bundesliga. Even though he barely touched the ball, it was an exciting moment.
Immediately afterwards, the striker traveled to join his national team with Hamburg’s talent-manager Marinus Bester. Arp had an excellent World Cup and scored five goals in five matches, but was left disappointed when Germany were eliminated by Brazil in the quarterfinals.
The side also fell short of expectations at the Under-17 European Championships in May, when Arp scored seven goals and helped Germany to reach the semifinals in Croatia. But the youngster made headlines by scoring the fastest hat trick in tournament history, netting three times in just 12 minutes against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
There was also a positive aspect to the debacle in India. On Oct. 28, just as England famously came back to thrash Spain 5-2 in the final, Arp was busy elsewhere. He was back home in time to take part in another Bundesliga game and, this time, Hamburg coach Markus Gisdol gave him more than one minute as he was subbed on after 56 minutes at Hertha Berlin.
The team were 2-0 down, but Arp made a difference immediately. He sent a well-taken shot past Hertha keeper Rune Jarstein to become the first player born in 2000 to score in the Bundesliga, though Hamburg could not find another goal and lost the game 2-1.
A week later, Arp had a reason to celebrate. On Nov. 4, he started his first Bundesliga game, completed the whole 90 minutes and was on target again as Hamburg won for the first time since August. His goal was the best in the 3-1 triumph over Stuttgart, as he made fun of two defenders with exquisite dribbling before expertly sending a low ball into the far corner.
The execution was reminiscent of Tottenham striker Harry Kane, and that is not accidental; Arp sees the Tottenham star as his role model, which is evident in his style. The youngster is good in the penalty area, but is also mobile and provides a lot of space for his teammates. Though he has also showed maturity, refusing to focus on a single idol.
“It makes no sense to try and copy just one player. You should try and select the best skills of different players,” the striker said.
It took Kane a long time before he got his first real chance to prove himself at Spurs at the age of 20; Arp won’t have to wait and he was destined for stardom at Hamburg ever since joining the academy.
At times used in central defence due to his height and physical strength, his coaches soon understood that he must play in attack. The result was sensational, and Arp even scored 16 goals in a single youth game when Hamburg won 22-0. Last season, he netted 26 times in the youth league, and was named Player of the Year in his age group, receiving the so-called “Fritz-Walter-Medaille.”
The man who presented Arp with the trophy at the annual ceremony was none other than Horst Hrubesch, and that was hugely symbolic. Hrubesch, the burly central striker in the golden era of Hamburg when they won three Bundesliga titles and the European Cup in 1983, left the club after beating Juventus in that final, and the void hadn’t been filled since.
In recent years, Hamburg have seemingly experienced endless issues, always flirting with relegation. The long-suffering fans are desperate for a hero and Arp is seen as a potential saviour. Hrubesch himself said so when giving him the medal: “The boy has something. Actually, he has everything. Rarely can you see a player who can produce goals out of nothing like him. I believe that he can pave the way for Hamburg.”
Such statements left some experts worried, though. Uwe Seeler, the greatest-ever Hamburg player who himself scored for the club at age 17, pledged: “Don’t burn Fiete. Too much responsibility isn’t good for such young players. They shouldn’t lose their freedom under pressure.”
And yet, it is extremely difficult to keep people from talking about the young star. His potential is clear for all to see and Arp is already considered a future asset for the national team.
With Mario Gomez over the hill, the only pure central striker at the disposal of Joachim Low is the 29-year-old Sandro Wagner. RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner could potentially become a superstar, but he is a different type of player, who bases his game off lighting speed and transition.
If Arp can fulfill his potential — as Kane has done for England — then Germany could have a penalty area predator for many years to come. Indeed, if the 17-year-old is able to continue his rapid development when the hopes of the entire city are placed on his shoulders, Germany may have themselves a truly special player.
Michael Yokhin is ESPN FC’s European football writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Yokhin