Even as football quaked with uncertainty, Timo Werner always knew it was time “to take the next step”. The £53m striker had established himself as one of the world’s elite strikers at RB Leipzig, a combination of frightening acceleration and lethal finishing, attracting interest from all across Europe. He has a deep-rooted affection for Leipzig, but was never under any illusions as to letting those heartstrings sway the future, and after a career-best 34-goals season, in his own words, it was time “to grow”.
“In Leipzig I was the best Timo I can be,” Werner said. “This was a really good experience. I learned a lot from the manager about the playing style. He gave me a lot to improve myself on in different positions. For me, it was the right time to say ‘I want to try something new outside of Germany. I want to go to the Premier League’.”
It took little over 20 minutes for Werner to find his feet in English football and quickly have them swept from beneath him, zipping through on goal, clattering into Brighton keeper Matty Ryan, and winning the penalty that sparked Chelsea’s new season. It was just a glimpse of the devastating speed that makes Werner such a unique threat, a forward who likes to drop deep, size up defenders from distance and burst into incisive, arcing runs. At times, though, there have been concerns over how Werner can be blunted by a deep-lying defence, who attempt to nullify his speed and suffocate any space - an accusation, with the help of his former manager, Julian Nagelsmann, that he firmly rebukes.
“[Nagelsmann] developed me very well up to this point and gave me advice about how I can improve myself,” said Werner. “When I scored 28 goals in the Bundesliga, not every team pressed high and allowed me to make runs behind defenders. Maybe 10 or 12 teams in the league played deep in their own half against Leipzig and I scored then as well. He gave me a lot of opportunities and new ways to [attack] in situations when other teams sit deep.
“I think English football is very fast, faster than German football. And there are a lot of different styles. In the end, [whether I get more chances to score] will be down to [Chelsea] and how we play football. We want to play like a French team. We want to keep the ball and have different styles of football in our game, have a lot of possession and take different positions.”
Werner is far from one-dimensional, often switching into a left-wing role mid-game, but there is no question that pace is clearly one of the most dangerous weapons in his arsenal. As a teenager, he once ran the 100m in 11.1 seconds and hopes he is “a bit faster” now. It’s an asset, he claims, that is born in mentality rather than physical attributes, honed on hill runs with his father while still a child.
“My dad always wanted me to be faster and he wanted to give me strength in my muscles,” Werner explained. “He let me run up some hills and it helped me a lot. It taught me you have to work hard and the strength and fitness in the games doesn’t come from doing nothing. It wasn’t the hills that gave me my speed it was me thinking about how you have to train and work hard and be fit enough to go past defenders.”
When it came to scoring goals, though, the incentive was sweets. “At the beginning of my career, when I was nine or 10, he would buy some candies or things like that. It was for me to say ‘ok if I score ten goals today I will have ten euros’. It can buy me a lot of candy. It was a joke with my dad, [but] it made me want to score goals and I love scoring goals.”
Werner’s lethal finishing - he scored 34 goals in 45 games last season - is what attracted interest from both Liverpool and Manchester City, as well as Chelsea. Ultimately, though, as others deliberated over a huge financial outlay, it was Frank Lampard who made a concerted effort to fend away the competition, selling Werner a vision for the future with the striker at its heart. But, before finally committing, it was Antonio Rudiger, Chelsea’s German centre-back, who made the final pitch.
“He has a different outlook from the manager,” Werner said. “A guy inside the team who can tell me a bit about the team, how the staff are around, the team-mates and the feeling in the team. Is everybody good with each other? He said it’s fun to play here, it’s a big club who want to win and who can win, because they have the facilities. For this, he was really important.”
For Lampard, after such an astronomical outlay this summer, patience will be in short supply. In Werner, he finally has his striker ready to deliver in large quantities.