Here’s a quick brain-buster: besides their German nationality, what connection can be made between the star trio of Marc-André ter Stegen, Kai Havertz, and Sara Däbritz?
The answer is that all three won the Fritz Walter gold medal as teenagers before emerging into broader football stardom.
Indeed, a quick look at the list of past recipients suggests that the awards are very accurate in predicting which individuals will play prominent roles for Die Mannschaft and Die Nationalelf in the future. Presented to the country’s best young footballers, the honors are named after the 1954 World Cup-winning captain Fritz Walter. They are awarded by the German Football Association (DFB) in three different categories. For male players, it is given out at the under-19 and under-17 levels, while three of the best young female players are recognized by the organization as well.
Without further ado, let’s go through this year’s respective medalists in each category.
Gold – Noah Katterbach (1. FC Köln)
No stranger to many Bundesliga fans, Noah Katterbach firmly established himself as one of the country’s brightest young talents with his recent performances for 1. FC Köln.
With club captain Jonas Hector increasingly deployed as a holding midfielder by Markus Gisdol throughout the 2019-20 Bundesliga campaign, the young left-back seized his first-team opportunities and made 19 appearances in all competitions.
Solid in his defensive work, Katterbach looks to be an exciting prospect, and if he can increase his attacking output, he could become one of the league’s best in his position.
Silver – Kevin Ehlers (Dynamo Dresden)
Having watched his father Uwe perform in the German top-flight for Hansa Rostock, Kevin Ehlers is already making a name for himself with his consistent displays for Dynamo Dresden.
The centre-back enjoyed a breakthrough season last year, though injuries prevented him from playing more than just the 19 games in the 2. Bundesliga. A two-footed player, he’s highly skilled in possession, which is shown by his 89% pass completion rate from the previous season.
Combining his on-ball skills with his terrific speed and defensive positioning to cut-out opposing attacks, Ehlers is certainly a future talent to watch.
Bronze – Frederik Jäkel (RB Leipzig)
A tall centre-back who has made seven appearances for the German U-19 squad, RB Leipzig fans won’t see too much of Frederik Jäkel in the near future as he recently joined Belgian outfit KV Oostende on a two-year loan deal.
But given that his contract at the Red Bull Arena was extended until 2024 before the loan, it appears that Jäkel remains firmly in the club’s future plans. In last season’s U-19 Bundesliga Nord, the 19-year-old captained the Roten Bullen throughout the campaign, demonstrating his strong leadership ability at the back.
Jäkel is strong in the air too, which makes him a formidable set-piece threat for his team going forward. With Leipzig’s former youth coach Alexander Blessin now at the helm for De Kustboys, Jäkel will be hoping to gain invaluable first-team experience over the next couple of seasons.
Gold – Florian Wirtz (Bayer Leverkusen)
With Kai Havertz no longer in Leverkusen, the pathway towards stardom could open up a lot sooner for Florian Wirtz.
A versatile attacking midfielder, the 17-year-old emerged as one of the league’s brightest talents after the lockdown with some impressive displays for Peter Bosz’s side. He stood out to many fans for his strong dribbling ability, as well as his intelligent runs in the final third.
The Bundesliga’s youngest ever goalscorer, Wirtz could emerge as a crucial player for Die Werkself going forward. It will be exciting to watch his progress from now.
Silver – Torben Rhein (Bayern Munich)
Another talented prospect on Bayern Munich’s books, Torben Rhein is a highly skilled player who excels as both an advanced and holding midfielder.
The teenager spent the 2019-20 campaign in Die Roten’s Under-19 side and notched up four goals and six assists for the year. A playmaker who always seems to be found in dangerous positions, Rhein has a terrific eye for a defense-splitting pass to his attacking teammates.
While Rhein will need to add some physicality to cope with the demands of professional football, there’s no doubt that he has a lot of the tools needed to become a future star.
Bronze – Luca Netz (Hertha Berlin)
Luca Netz certainly could have made his first-team debut last season, if not for a broken foot suffered not long after being selected for Bruno Labbadia’s bench in their win over FC Augsburg.
The left-back loves to get forward for Hertha’s Under-19 side, having racked up two goals and six assists in the U-19 Bundesliga Nord last year. Netz’s crossing ability is excellent, as are his defensive skills that enable him to snuff-out opposing wingers.
There’s every chance Netz does make his senior bow during this upcoming Bundesliga season, and it’s fair to expect he will be a mainstay in Die Alte Dame‘s future team.
Gold – Lena Oberdorf (VfL Wolfsburg)
Lena Oberdorf’s Fritz Walter Medal history mirrors the steady ascent of her career: bronze medalist in 2018 and silver last year, she is this year’s gold medalist. By reaching the top podium, she also became only the second female player (after Paris Saint Germain’s Däbritz) to have won this award at all three levels.
A central midfielder who can also play center-back and possessing a tenacious style similar to that of American star Julie Ertz, Oberdorf last year became the youngest German female player to play in a World Cup game at age 17. Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, the German national team coach, praised Oberdorf for her “versatility, physicality, and courage.”
Oberdorf has already scored eleven goals in 36 Frauen-Bundesliga games from midfield and having switched from SGS Essen to VfL Wolfsburg this summer, has an excellent chance to add trophies to her collection. She subbed on for Die Wölfinnen‘s Champions League final loss to Lyon, but a Frauen-Bundesliga title should be within her reach in 2021. And Oberdorf already got off the mark; she’s started both games in the league season so far and scored a brace against her former club to help Wolfsburg open the season with a win.
Silver – Gia Corley (Bayern Munich)
Bayern Munich’s Gia Corley is this year’s silver medalist after having won bronze last year. Born in the United States, Corley was promoted to Bayern’s first team after captaining the German U-17 squad to the European Championship in 2019.
An attacking midfielder, Corley could also play on both wings but found her first-team opportunities limited. She subbed on to play 23 minutes during Bayern’s Champions League campaign in October 2019, but failed to see the pitch afterward.
Corley had looked set to re-join Bayern’s reserves full-time this year. However, Jovana Damnjanović’s ACL injury in the Champions League quarterfinal might give Corley the opportunity for more playing time, and her chance of joining Däbritz and Oberdorf as three-medal winners next year depends on her taking advantage and breaking into the first team’s regular rotation. So far, Corley is making good progress; she got off the bench to make her Frauen-Bundesliga debut for Bayern on matchday 2.
Bronze – Carlotta Wamser (SGS Essen)
SGS Essen, Oberdorf’s former club, are known for developing young German talents, and their next project is this year’s bronze medalist Carlotta Wamser.
A goal-scoring midfielder, Wamser was also part of the victorious German U-17 squad at last year’s European Championship, where she scored four goals and was named to the team of the tournament alongside four other teammates (including the captain Corley).
SGS Essen snapped up Wamser from Spvg 20 Brakel in May, where she had been playing with the men’s U-17 squad. Wamser has already made her Frauen-Bundesliga debut with an extremely young team around her and will likely be an every-game starter for SGS Essen this season.