When Max Meyer was first linked to Crystal Palace it sounded like quite a coup for the Eagles. After all, the 22-year-old has been branded a big talent for a few years now and was linked with Arsenal and Liverpool after his departure from Schalke.
Southampton and Hoffenheim were also reported to be interested but neither were prepared to pay the £9 million signing-on fee agent Roger Wittmann was demanding.
Now, three months after Schalke suspended the midfielder following accusations of bullying levelled at the Schalke management, Meyer has found himself a new home in South London.
But what does the 2017 U21 Euro winner bring to his new club?
The Rise and Fall of Max Meyer
The answer to this question depends very much on where Roy Hodgson wants to use him.
Up until last season, Meyer had always played in an attacking midfield position where he showed great promise from a young age on, winning the Youth Bundesliga in 2012 and the Golden Player Award at the Under-17 Euros in the same year.
For anyone watching him back then, it was easy to see why Schalke gave him the number 7 shirt that they had initially retired after Raúl left the club in 2012. Meyer was able to make things happen in small spaces and he did have good vision and he was better than most other players in his age group when it came to finding the killer ball.
This translated fairly well into Bundesliga football making him a mainstay in the Schalke team at the tender age of 18. Just two years ago, Schalke reportedly rejected a £39 million bid from Spurs.
To this point, everything sounds promising. But after an impressive debut season, Meyer mostly stagnated, playing as an attacking midfielder or sometimes as an inside forward on the left.
In 2016, Markus Weinzierl was appointed new Schalke manager and, after losing the first five games, he switched to a 3-5-2 formation.
Since Meyer wasn’t trusted with the defensive responsibilities that come with playing in midfield, he was relegated to a supporting striker role: role in which he never impressed, partially because he lacked the ability to be an integral part of the press.
In a short period of time, Meyer’s stock had plummeted and he found himself going into the final season of his contract with very few cards in his hand.
Fortunately for the young German, things would take a turn for the better with the arrival of Domenico Tedesco at the club at the beginning of the 2017/18 season.
Tedesco found a way to use Meyer that no one had countenanced before. Instead of trying to use him as an attacking player, he refashioned Meyer as a deep-lying playmaker.
Whilst this seemed a little unorthodox at first, given the extra defensive backup from the back three and his main strength being his vision, it didn’t seem like a bad idea.
Photo credit: Friedrich PetersdorffHis main job in the new role was to receive the ball and then progress it forward, either by playing long balls to the wing backs or by giving it to his midfield partner.
For the first time in several years, he impressed fans and neutrals alike. Despite Schalke’s possession game being a very patient one - similar to Gareth Southgate’s England - about half of his successful passes went forward and he was ranked amongst the best players in the league when it came to the percentage of completed passes.
This new role wasn't without its pitfalls though: sometimes the opposition targeted him specifically which lead to Schalke struggling in possession at times.
Playing his hand badly
Having made his mark, Max Meyer clearly felt he carried some clout when he went into contract negotiations with Schalke.
When the club offered him a salary similar to the £80,000 per week he's expected to earn in London, this was deemed unacceptable by him and his agent.
Since Schalke didn’t want to pay more than that, Meyer decided to leave Schalke. He subsequently accused Schalke of bullying, claiming to have no interest in playing for Schalke ever again.
His agent was quoted saying “I’m talking about a world-class player who would be a first-team regular in every top European team and will go to the World Cup in Russia.”
Meyer clearly overestimated the power he held over the club which severely damaged his reputation in Germany. With time running out and wage demands still high, he scrambled to find a new home, allowing Palace to sign him despite the fact they are below the level he thinks he is at.
Where does he fit?
Since he played as a midfielder last season and did well there, it seems to all intents that Meyer is being signed to replace the departed Yohan Cabaye.
Alternatively, Hodgson could play him in a slightly more advanced or wider role similar to the one Ruben Loftus-Cheek played last season.
However, although bringing him into the club on a free with a signing-on fee of £9 million is mostly risk-free, playing him in Cabaye’s position does bear some risks.
Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
At Schalke, Meyer played in a very specific system that was tailored to support him and that left him with fewer defensive responsibilities than he’d have at Palace, giving him the freedom to be a creator from deep.
In this way, he mostly avoided the physical pressure he faced further forward and his weaknesses in terms of positional awareness, strength and work rate were masked by Schalke’s rock-solid back three in combination with a low press.
As a result, it’s reasonable to assume that Meyer will struggle to fulfil his new defensive duties at first. Whilst most Bundesliga teams bar Bayern Munich are happy to concede possession and don’t have a cohesive plan for when they have to control the game, this isn’t the case for quite a few teams in the Premier League.
A low ceiling?
It’s not out of the question, then, that Meyer will be used to fill the Loftus-Cheek sized hole that has emerged in the Crystal Palace side.
This could work well: he is only 22 and he used to play at a club who tried to lure their opposition in with a low press to spring quick counterattacks just like Palace.
Meyer will bring some much-needed ability to progress the ball to Hodgson's squad. After failing to secure himself a contract at the sort of club that he deemed his talents to deserve, this is might be his last chance to lose the 'promising young talent' tag.
Will he be able to do that? Probably. But is his ceiling as high as many people think? Probably not.
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