Top 10 Schalke Academy graduates of all-time

Two of the biggest names to have come out of the Schalke Academy.
Two of the biggest names to have come out of the Schalke Academy.

In the last thirty years, FC Shalke have picked up a reputation as a club that loves provide a youth-first approach. The high-risk approach has seen the Royal Blues producing some of the biggest talents in German football. Their dependence on youth have seen Knappenschmiede products, also called the Schalke Academy, turn into a seal of quality in German football.

The road to their present success has had its share of difficulties. The Royal Blues had to disband and abolish their U16 team for a couple of years to allow the club to undertake a major revamp to their youth systems.

Owing to the success of the youth setup, Schalke has finished outside of the top 10 just 6 times in the last 30 years. During this time, the club has won two UEFA Intertoto Cups, UEFA Cup, three German Cups and the German Super Cup - their biggest trophy haul since the early 1940s and late 50s.

One of the very few academies in the world with state of the art facilities, Schalke have now turned into the hub of German youth football.

Here are ten of the best players to have graduated from the Knappenschmiede.

10. Max Meyer

Max Meyer
Max Meyer

Dubbed one of the greatest talents in German football during his early years, Max Meyer joined the Schalke Academy at the age of 14. The attacking midfielder spent three years at the academy before making professional debut for the Schalke reserve team in 2013.

The next five years saw Meyer making his debut and becoming one of the key players in Schalke's midfield. A dispute with the Gelsenkirchen club's management saw the midfielder running down his contract and joining Crystal Palace in 2018.

A fan-favourite during his time at the Veltins-Arena, Meyer made 192 appearances and scored 22 times before joining the English Premier League side.

9. Thilo Kehrer

One of the most promising central defenders in the world
One of the most promising central defenders in the world

Kehrer joined the Gelsenkirchen club's Academy in 2012 from VFB Stuggart. He spent three years in the academy before making his first-team debut in 2016.

The defender went on to spend just two more seasons in Germany before securing a big-money move to French giants Paris Saint Germain. In his two-year stint with the first-team, Kehrer made 59 appearances and scored 4 times.

The 23-year-old, who is capable of playing on the right as well as on the centre, is now one of the hottest young defensive prospects in the world.

8. Reinhard Libuda

Reinhard "Stan" Libuda
Reinhard "Stan" Libuda

Nicknamed 'Stan' after the late inaugural Balon d'Or winner Sir Stanley Matthews, Reinhard Libuda is arguably the one of the greatest talents to come out of the Schalke Academy during the last century. The winger joined the miners in 1954 at the age of 11 and rose through the Academy before making his debut seven years later in 1961.

Libuda spent four seasons with Schalke before making a controversial move to join arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund. Three years later he was back with the miners after once again crossing the Ruhr river to join his boyhood club. Four years later, Libuda made one more move away from the Royal Blues to join RC Strasbourg before rejoining the club and calling it a day in 1976.

Blessed with tremendous pace and exceptional dribbling skills, Libuda was one of the stars of the German national team during the 1960s. A lifetime ban in 1972 for bribery, which was later cleared, saw his career fall apart and drive him to retirement four years later.

Reinhard Libuda died in 1996 after being diagnosed with throat cancer.

7. Benedikt Howedes

One of three players to have played every minute of the 2014 World Cup for Germany
One of three players to have played every minute of the 2014 World Cup for Germany

Signed at the age of 13, young Howedes spent six years in the Academy before making his first-team debut in 2007. A versatile and reliable defender, Howedes spent 10 seasons at the Veltkins-Arena before moving to Juventus on loan during the 2017-18 season.

A move to Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow followed for the defender at the end of the 2017/18 season after Howedes ran his contract down. At 31, Howedes is past his prime but still remains in contention for a callup to the German national side despite making his last appearance way back in 2017.

During his stay at the Gelsenkirchen side, the defender made 335 appearances and scored 23 times. He was also part of the German side that won the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

6. Leroy Sane

One of the best players in his position in the world at the moment
One of the best players in his position in the world at the moment

At just 24, Leroy Sane is already an established household name in the world. The German winger joined the Schalke Academy at the age of 9 but left the club three years later for Bayer Leverkusen only to rejoin the Miners another three years later.

Sane made his first-team debut in 2014, at the age of 18, against VFB Stuttgart after spending six years in the Schalke Academy. The youngster quickly became one of the first-names in the Miners teamsheet as he established himself as one of the biggest young talents in the world.

The youngster caught the eye of Pep Guardiola and soon was on a plane to England as he joined Manchester City to become one of the Spaniards' first signings. In his two years at the Ruhr region, Leroy Sane made 57 appearances and scored thirteen times for the Gelsenkirchen side.

5. Julian Draxler

Julian Draxler was part of the 2014 World Cup-winning side
Julian Draxler was part of the 2014 World Cup-winning side

The German international was born just thirty minutes away from Schalke Veltin's Arena in Gladbeck and duly signed for the Royal Blues at the age of 8. Draxler rose through the ranks of the youth academy and made his first-team debut in 2011 at the age of 17 years and 117 days - becoming the fourth-youngest player in the history of the Bundesliga.

In his first three full seasons as a professional, Draxler helped bring the Royal Blues back into the Champions League after finishing in the Top 4 of the Bundesliga. An injury-marred 2014-15 season for Draxler saw Schalke struggling as they finished outside the European places for the first time in three seasons. The following season saw young Draxler moving to Wolfsburg after making 170 appearances and scoring 30 goals for the Royal Blues.

Now plying his trade in Ligue 1 with PSG, Draxler looks far from his best as he looks to regain his place in the star-studded PSG first-team.

4. Olaf Thon

The Professor
The Professor

Arguably the greatest outfield player produced by Schalke Academy in the 20th century, Olaf Thon joined the Miners Academy at the age of 14. He spent three years in the Academy before making his first-team debut at the age of 17.

Thon had two spells with the Miners on either side of six seasons spell with Bayern Munich. The striker spent five seasons in the Veltins-Arena during his first spell between 1983 and 88. The second spell saw Thon spending eight seasons with the club between 1994 till his last day as a professional in 2002.

Nicknamed the 'Professor' the midfielder made over 350 appearances and scored 75 times for the Royal Blues during his 13-year long career with Schalke. Thon was part of the 1990 German side that won the World Cup.

3. Jens Lehmann

Lehmann was part of the great Arsenal 'Invincibles'
Lehmann was part of the great Arsenal 'Invincibles'

The greatest player to come out of the Royal Blues academy in the 20th century. The shot-stopper joined the youth setup in 1987-year-old and made his first-team debut a year later. After a rocky start, Lehmann matured into one of the best goalkeepers of his generation.

Lehmann went onto spend 10 seasons at Veltins-Arena before moving to AC Milan at the end of the 1997/98 season. The custodian was a key member of the squad that won 1996/97 UEFA Cup, Schalke's only success in the competition.

A failed move to Milan was followed by a return to Germany, joining Schalke's arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund. A move to Arsenal soon followed before returning to Germany to join VfB Stuttgart. Jens Lehmann called it a day in 2011, after appearing once for the Gunners while they faced a goalkeeper injury crisis.

A Schalke legend, Lehmann made 312 appearances and even scored three goals for the Miners during his 10 seasons. Often called 'Mad Jens', Lehmann was known for his on-field gimmicks and fantastic goalkeeping ability.

2. Manuel Neuer

The first sweeper-keeper of modern-day football
The first sweeper-keeper of modern-day football

One word to describe Manuel Neuer - Revolutionary. The greatest goalkeeper of his generation and arguably one of the greatest ever, Neuer was a pioneering figure in introducing the concept of sweeper-keeper to the world. The German stopper, who was often seen alongside the defenders and sometimes in midfield, helped bring forward a different dimension to the position of a goalkeeper.

Signed at the age of 5, Neuer rose through Schalke's various youth teams before making his professional debut for the reserves side in 2004. Two years later, He made his first-team debut for the Royal Blues after coming on as a second-half substitute against Hertha Berlin.

Blessed with excellent technique with both feet and hands, Neuer quickly became the first-team choice of the Royal Blues shortly after making his debut. Neuer went onto captain the side during his final season with the club in 2010/11 season before joining Bayern Munich.

Manuel Neuer spent almost 20 years of his life in Schake and made over 200 appearances for the Royal Blues. The shot-stopper played a key role in 2014 as the Germans won their fourth World Cup.

1. Mesut Ozil

The German Magician
The German Magician

There have only been a few players who have been blessed with Mesut Ozil's vision and ability to pick a pass. The German joined Schalke's youth setup as a 16-year-old and made his first-team debut a year later. Ozil though spent only two seasons at the Veltins-Arena, making 39 appearances and scoring once, before joining Werder Bremen in 2008 following a fallout with the club management.

An impressive 2010 World Cup saw Ozil signing for Real Madrid. At Madrid, Ozil helped create one of the most devastating counter-attacking units of this generation under Jose Mourinho.

Following the departure of Mourinho and arrival of Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez, the German midfielder was sold to Arsenal in 2013. Mesut Ozil was one of the key members for the 2014 German World Cup-winning team.

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Edited by Habil Ahmed Sherule
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