Just days into the new year, Tottenham Hotspur had reason to break out the bubbly once more as they announced the summer arrival of Lewis Holtby on a Bosman transfer on Friday. The Germany midfielder had been a hot topic in the German and English press for months, and following Schalke's confirmation that he would not extend his deal, Holtby was linked with Arsenal and Liverpool as well as Tottenham. It was Spurs though who won the sweepstakes for his signature in the end. The question now on the mind of every Spurs fan is: who is this Holtby and what can they expect from him?
Lewis Holtby was born in Erkelenz to an English father and a German mother. After stints in the Moenchengladbach and Aachen youth academies, he made his senior debut for 2. Bundesliga side Alemannia Aachen in December of 2007, not long after his 17th birthday. For most of the 2007-08 season he played at the U-19 level. The following year put Holtby on the map. At 18, he was a regular starter for Aachen and scored eight goals and provided 10 assists. His fine performances for club and the German U-19 team earned him a transfer to Schalke. Since then, he's only played in the German top flight.
Holtby had his ups and downs at Schalke, who never got the best out of him until this season. He was loaned out twice; to Bochum and then Mainz, and it was under Thomas Tuchel's guidance at Mainz that he truly began to show the extent of his talent. In November of 2010 he earned his first nomination to Joachim Loew's senior German national team, and started in a match against Sweden.
Since then, Holtby's performance has fluctuated greatly. He has been shuffled between roles in defensive and attacking midfield, but has barely been an afterthought for Loew. He has instead played consistently for Germany's U-21 side, where he is captain. And heading into the current campaign, it was anything but a given that he would be a starter in an attacking midfield that includes the likes of Ibrahim Afellay, Julian Draxler, Jefferson Farfan and Tranquillo Barnetta.
Holtby responded well to the pressure that came with Afellay's signing and Draxler's development though, and began the season in the kind of form he showed at Mainz. It waned in November, but whether that can be attributed mostly to him or to Schalke's overall dip in quality is still up for debate. At times he did look distracted, perhaps weighing the merits of extending with Schalke or fulfilling his "dream" of moving to England.
For Holtby, Spurs were probably the best option. He was beginning to feel pressure, especially from Draxler as well as 17-year-old mega-talent Maximilian Meyer, who is currently with the Schalke first team at their mid-season training camp in Doha. Signing a long-term contract with a club so rich in young talents would have been a risk, and he was never going to get the €6 million-per-year wage he allegedly demanded from the Gelsenkirchen side.
Among options in England, Liverpool have little to no hope of qualifying for the Champions League. Arsenal, though four points behind Chelsea, have somewhat of a chance. However, with Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta all players of quality filling in the roles that Holtby would occupy, he faced an uphill struggle. Tottenham are well-placed in the Premier League table, at least for now, and have a real need for the 22-year-old.
Holtby can expect more opportunities at Spurs, who have been in need of a quality playmaker since the departure of Rafael van der Vaart last summer. He is less of a striker than Clint Dempsey, more of a No. 10, but can also direct play from deeper positions as need be. Like many in Germany's modern generation Holtby merges great technique and work ethic: He'll put in the hard yards and still be able to play the telling ball in the final third. And while he faces a mountain to climb if he is ever to be even on the bench for Germany, he'd walk into the England team.
Provided Spurs finish fourth or better in the Premier League, Holtby will have made a wise decision. He wanted a raise that Schalke would not give, and has always dreamed of playing in England. Surely, he needed a move. In his capture, Spurs have added a player who has shown an abundance of class intermittently in his career, filling what has been a substantial void in their midfield. Also significant is the fact that they beat Arsenal to his signing. Still just 22, Holtby has potential to develop into a big star.