Although Germany have been producing top quality players for many years now, few have risen to the top as fast as Schalke’s dynamic central defender Benedikt Howedes. Just three-and-a-half-years into his professional career, the academy graduate has already established himself as a first team regular at club level with Schalke and starred for the Germany Under-21s during their European Championship success in 2009. Domestically, with Schalke riding high in the league, this could be his finest season to date. Thus, with the World Cup just around the corner and places still up for grabs, Howedes will be looking to make the ultimate step up and cap a fine season with a place in Joachim Low’s final squad for South Africa.
Given the public’s disenchantment at Germany’s weak performances in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, it is easy to see why so many of the victorious Under-21s from 2009 are being drafted up to senior level. The youth sides scintillating displays en route to picking up the trophy far outshone anything the full German side have produced in recent years, and the likes of Mesut Ozil, Gonzalo Castro and Jerome Boateng, among others, have all since been rewarded with senior call ups. Up until now, Howedes’ name has been conspicuous by its absence but with Schalke’s current defensive record being the joint best in the Bundesliga, the 21-year-old is sure to become the next to make the big step up.
Howedes joined Schalke’s academy system in 2000 having been spotted playing kids football with local team Herten Langenbochum. His rapid progression meant he was often the standout performer at most age levels and in 2006 he was offered the chance to play for Schalke’s second string side in the Oberliga, which was then fourth division. As expected, Howedes excelled at that level and was soon awarded the prestigious Fritz-Walter medal following the conclusion of the 2006/07 season. The medal, which is considered a high accolade in German football, was awarded to him for being the best young player in his age group. Such an achievement was rare for a player who had not even played a first-team game but that would soon change.
Howedes’ exceptional performances with the reserves led to him being drafted into Schalke’s first-team ranks for the 2007/08 season. Although still predominantly playing for the reserves, the young defender often sat on the bench for the senior side and eventually went on to make six Bundesliga appearances during his debut campaign. His first-team debut however, came at an even higher level with Howedes making his bow in the Champions League group stage tie at Rosenberg in October 2007. Anyone who had never seen the youngster play could have easily mistaken him for a seasoned veteran as Howedes produced a confident display during his side’s 2-0 victory – contributing to the first of his many clean sheets.
The following season proved to be one of highs and lows for Howedes. Although it is commonly seen as his breakthrough year, Schalke heavily underperformed as a whole, taking the gloss off what was a fine season personally for Howedes. Starting as a fringe player, Howedes ended the season as a first-team regular due to some commanding displays. His aerial ability won him many fans and the centre-half managed to even contribute two goals to his team’s cause during his 24 league appearances. His immense speed also helped take the pressure off ageing captain and centre-back partner Marcelo Bordon, and together they formed the league’s tightest defence as Schalke conceded just 35 goals in 34 games – remarkable considering the title hopefuls finished in eighth spot.
The current campaign has seen more of the same from Howedes with more solid performances helping Schalke make a flying start to the season, entering the winter break in second spot just a point behind leaders Leverkusen. If Schalke can keep up their good form and challenge for the title, then it could prove enough to finally see Howedes gain a full international call up just in time for next summer’s World Cup. Only Per Mertesacker is really assured of a centre-back place in Low’s 23-man squad, leaving a probable three spots up for grabs. Although the competition is strong, Howedes would be a popular choice. He has proved time and time again that he has the temperament and consistency to be relied on regularly – a quality most German supporters have been crying out for.
Full name – Benedikt Howedes
Age – 21 (February 29, 1988)
Position – Centre-back
Clubs – Schalke
Club level honours – none
Nationality – German
Caps/goals – 0 senior caps (20/3 at U-21 level)
National honours – 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship