Let’s talk about Moritz Leitner.
When he signed, we felt as though we may have pulled off a coup. We added to the German population in Norfolk yet again and this time, he wasn’t “a nobody” from the German third tiers. Some may call that progress.
But there was always a hidden issue. As much as fans would hype up their club, having an advertised Bundesliga winner and Champions League finalist join a Championship team destined for another year in the league seemed suspicious. Either we needed to give Daniel Farke more credit for his lies and saying how close to the Capital, Norwich is on the train, or there was a problem.
He had flopped (or as my Microsoft Bing Translator aptly puts it “Borussia Dortmund Super Talent slid off”). As with Tom Trybull, Leitner had everything going for him, yet neither had delivered to their potential.
During his time at Borussia Dortmund, Leitner gained experience playing for Germany’s Under 19, 20s and 21s and although with success to his name, he played no major role in the club’s glory. Although rated highly by Jurgen Klopp, a change in management and the fierce competition in Dortmund’s midfield meant Leitner was very much “put on hold”, yet the playmaker still managed to rack up 45 appearances in Bundesliga, though many were from the bench.
It was only when David Wagner (and later, Daniel Farke) took charge of Dortmund II that Leitner would rapidly help change a period of two points in seven games to 17 points in eight games.
Since leaving Dortmund in 2016, Leitner has yet to call a place home – it may be even wise to wonder if this is the reason he clearly treats his loan spell at Norwich with such passion.
His time at Lazio proved nothing more than a hope of revitalising his career – he remained seated on the bench for the most part of his short-lived time in Italy, playing only 13 minutes in the two appearances he managed.
Similarly on his return to FC Augsburg, despite a bright start to the second half of the 2016/17 season – his season very much ended the same way as this season has begun – not in the squad – before his season was quickly hampered by injury.
Leitner had once been called an “outstanding player” by Jurgen Klopp, while his style has been described as “carefree, ball safe and technically savvy, and dangerous” by David Wagner.
He’s a deep-lying playmaker – his job is to take away the pressure put on his team’s back four by the opposition and create an attack. His first touch is potentially his most vital component – otherwise, he threatens his team’s defence – and he’s more than likely to move the ball quickly to get play moving in the right direction.
But in that one term ‘deep-lying playmaker’ is the word ‘playmaker’ – he makes things happen. Every City fan knows what a playmaker is – in essence, we’ve been spoilt. As we ponder what could have been a win against Derby, we press rewind and watch ‘that’ moment before Maddison’s penalty, which Farke (and now everyone who has seen that ‘goal’) wished was allowed to stand.
Leitner, playing for unlucky-13th placed Norwich City, made anyone unbeknown to the current standings think 2nd placed promotion-chasing Derby County had just won a Premier League clash in the FA Cup but only to be outclassed in a display of talent.
That moment was an injection of pace (praise the Lord). It was when one playmaker (Maddison) connected with another playmaker (Leitner), with a little fortunate, last-ditch pass from Nelson Oliveira, despite being on his way down.
Yet still, Leitner followed the ball. Derby’s Curtis Davis also followed the ball, but this could have cost him dearly, with Leitner running behind. Once he reclaimed the ball, he was just six yards away and thriving with confidence he made it one of City’s best chances in front of goal in that game.
Leitner’s figures speak for themselves. Pass success – 90 per cent. It may not be anything surprising to note, players have been hitting, if not nearing, 90 per cent since the beginning of Farke’s era. Harrison Reed, Alex Tettey, Christoph Zimmermann and Nelson Oliveira all regularly hit above 90 per cent pass success.
But Leitner’s 90 per cent pass success is exceptional when that applies to his 102 passes during the game. No player even came close. Of these, 91 were accurate passes.
Leitner also has an unbelievable understanding with his teammates and the same can be said vice versa – the way he executes a pass allows players who love to run, run. At Brentford, his pass, just minutes after coming off the bench for his debut, allowed Maddison to run after the ball and push his counterparts, albeit to be outnumbered.
At Middlesbrough, it was his “make-do” pass to Onel Hernandez, which set both players into sprint mode from the half-way line.
He finds space for passes, he gets the play moving forwards, he knows how a wing-back is meant to operate and calculates his passes to play to their strengths, rather than seeing their runs stop in their tracks and having to cut back.
His through balls are what some would call “exquisite” and if he makes what seems to be the easy pass, he makes runs off the ball to encourage a forward pass. Against Middlesbrough, he passed backwards only to give himself enough time to ensure when the ball came back to him, he could pass a perfect ball for Reed to run on. There was also the inch-perfect through ball to Jamal Lewis just minutes after, which led to Oliveira’s chance.
At Derby, although ending in a deflection and then a penalty shout for Josh Murphy, his perception of where his teammates were was outstanding; so too his knowing when to continue his run following a through ball.
And his duty to protect the ball when lying so deep in midfield is seemingly second nature to him, with City’s number 10 turning away to cover the ball and also using his trickery to get out of situations, both against Middlesbrough and Derby.
It’s obvious why Farke wanted to send him an invite to England – he has a brain of mathematician and he connects it with his feet.
It’s not what he hopes will come from his ball – he has already calculated passes to be as accurate as possible; he knows how his play both on and off the ball will impact and whether that one pass will equal a chance. He is exactly what Wagner called him – ‘ball safe and technically savvy’.
The biggest shame, however, is that it’s just a loan spell. With this season all but written-off, to try and make any sort of deal with FC Augsburg would be ambitious and difficult, but at the same time, Farke’s connections and Leitner’s time at Norwich could be a factor.
We’ve only seen him play 132 minutes on English soil, yet I’m already wanting to dream of a fully-fledged promotion-chasing team with Leitner in it.
But as Farke said, we must “savour” this player because for now, we don’t know how long we’ll have left watching him.