This feature first appeared in the Crystal Palace v Liverpool matchday programme – 20th August 2018
He has been labelled a wonderkid, one of European football’s brightest stars and even ‘the German Messi’, but one thing is for certain – Max Meyer is an Eagle. Here he speaks to Jonathon Rogers about how perhaps the signing of the summer came about.
The news came from out of nowhere. Throughout the summer, the name of Max Meyer was coupled with some of European football’s biggest names, but suddenly the hottest free agent in the game was being photographed in red and blue stripes – and not those of Bayern Munich or Barcelona.
Palace’s capture of the 22-year-old German international caught journalists and fans completely off-guard as they beat off huge competition to land a player routinely lauded as one of this generation’s most promising talents.
Only once before had the Eagles unexpectedly landed such a marquee name from the continent, and Meyer hadn’t even blown out the candles on his second birthday cake when Attilio Lombardo was captured from Juventus. However, the Bald Eagle – while still undoubtedly hugely talented – was the in the silhouette of his career, but a glittering future surely beckons on Meyer’s horizon.
So just how did Palace claim such a coup? “I first heard of the interest in late July, so it was only a couple of weeks later that I signed,” Meyer said. “The main difference between Palace and the other clubs interested was that Dougie [Freedman] and Iain [Moody] went out to Germany to visit me, and then I came to London to meet the manager. I already knew that it was a great club and city, but I got the feeling that Palace were making a real effort to push the deal over the line.
“Everything is new and exciting for me. I’m getting used to playing with a new team, as well as a new language and culture, but the first few weeks have been great. I can’t wait to play in the Premier League. After watching the Fulham game, I’ve already noticed the differences between the Bundesliga and the Premier League, especially how intense and quick it is over here, so I’m very excited to get going.
“I really think we can have a good season. We have plenty of quality and a strong squad – when you compare it to Schalke, it’s as strong, or maybe even stronger. I’m also enjoying being in London. It’s one of the best cities in Europe, if not the best, and very different to Gelsenkirchen.”
As well as the differing landscapes and languages, Meyer is also benefitting from a fresh start. His nine-year association with Schalke ended acrimoniously after reports suggested he was banished from their training ground after contract negotiations stalled, forced to spend the final few months of that deal in exile. Having not played competitively for over four months, unsurprisingly Meyer’s fitness is behind his new teammates’, but he is working hard to put that right.
“During pre-season I had a personal trainer to keep me ticking over when I wasn’t training with Schalke, but now I’m training again with the Palace squad it feels like I’m progressing,” he said. “I played some minutes in a behind-closed-doors friendly which were good for me, and I feel fit and ready to go.
“Being unable to train with Schalke from May until July was a difficult period for me. On the whole it was a great experience until I didn’t sign my second contract extension. I loved my time there but I wanted to leave. It wasn’t the way I wished things had gone, but as far as I’m concerned the past is the past.”
Meyer may only be looking towards the future, but Eagles supporters have only had their appetites whetted after casting their glances over his career to date.
He joined Schalke’s academy as a nine-year-old and enjoyed early success in the Royal Blues’ youth ranks, helping the under-19s win the 2011/12 youth championship for the first time in over half a century thanks to 11 goals and 11 assists in just 15 appearances. A professional deal was swiftly drafted and inked, but it would be in his national colours where he really came to attention.
Having won caps for Germany’s under-15 and under-16 sides, he rattled in nine goals from 18 appearances for the under-17s, including playing a starring role in the UEFA Under-17 Championships in 2012 which Germany won in large because of Meyer’s displays, which saw him walk away with a winner’s medal, the Golden Boot and the Player of the Tournament accolade.
“That tournament was a huge breakout moment in my career,” Meyer reflected. “After that I started training with Schalke at the age of 16 and things moved very quickly. I made my debut at 17 so I had a bit of time to get used to the difference in pace between the two levels.”
Supporters across the land were getting excited that perhaps they had unearthed the jewel of this latest golden German generation. On his professional debut in February 2013, Meyer did little to dampen the hype when he laid on an assist to help turn defeat into victory against Mainz, with Schalke soon acknowledging their rising star’s status by handing him Raul’s previously retired number seven jersey, something he admits that as a 17-year-old was “a great honour”.
Weeks later, Meyer repaid that faith by setting up Julian Draxler’s goal that clinched UEFA Champions League qualification at PAOK’s expense, a moment the German media dubbed ‘the €20-million pass’. By now, Meyer’s name was being included amongst all the other touted wonderkids’, with journalists on these shores going as far as to tag him as ‘the German Messi’.
“That was great to hear because he was my favourite player growing up, but it wasn’t something I heard in Germany,” a bashful Meyer admitted. “I only read it once or twice in the English media, so it wasn’t a big thing back home.”
However that assist for Draxler allowed the teenage sensation the chance to share the same stage as his idol and the rest of the giants of the European game. He made 18 Champions League appearances between 2012 and 2015, but having recently been starved of the chance of adding to that tally, his move to Palace is partly to placate his hunger to be tested regularly against the best the game can offer.
“The Champions League is the greatest competition to play in,” the midfielder added. “However, the draw of the Premier League is that you’ll be playing teams that are of the same quality as those in the Champions League, especially the top six, so being able to play against top quality opposition every week made it easier to transfer from Schalke to England.
“I haven’t played in the Champions League for three years, and I miss it – I had some great experiences in the competition such as when we won 4-3 at Real Madrid. That was a great moment.”
Despite spending his Saturday afternoons picking out killer passes for strikers or utilising his futsal background to manoeuvre out of tricky situations, at the time like many 18-year-olds Meyer was still living with his parents. Perhaps home comforts were the secret to his whirlwind rise to fame, which continued when his seven goals in 41 outings during his first full season at Schalke were rewarded with a spot in Joachim Low’s preliminary 2014 World Cup squad.
His teenage dreams came true when he won his first full cap against Poland ahead of the tournament, and looking back with pride he said: “It was a hugely special moment for me. It seemed like everything was flying by as I’d debuted for Schalke at 17 and when I was 18 I got the national team call-up. I was nervous though having teammates who were playing for the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and the biggest clubs in the world.”
After being cut from Low’s would-be world champions ahead of the tournament, Meyer would still taste success in Rio albeit two years later at the 2016 Olympic Games. Given another platform to show his talents on a world stage, he dazzled again and as captain netted a hat-trick against Fiji during his team’s procession to the gold medal game.
In the final he scored an equaliser against the hosts to force a penalty shootout, but Germany would suffer a rare defeat in a spot-kick competition and had to settle for silver.
“At first it didn’t seem like the biggest deal because people in Germany didn’t take it too seriously,” Meyer said. “But the further we progressed through the tournament, the bigger it got. It was a great thing to be able to play in the Olympics, and especially as captain and win a silver medal.”
After leading his team to within a whisker of Olympic gold, Low swiftly hand him a further three full caps in the autumn of 2016, with Meyer bagging his first goal for Die Mannschaft against Finland in October.
In the summer of 2017, he returned to the under-21 side to play another key role which helped them lift the UEFA U21 European Championship, and was once again named in the Team of the Tournament to solidify his status as one of the game’s up-and-coming talents.
Now, against the odds, those talents find their home at Selhurst Park. If Meyer can make a similar impression to Lombardo’s back in 1997, then the German’s arrival in south London may not be the biggest shock that Palace create this season.