And it was his performances in the Bundesliga that convinced the Premier League champions to part with £55million in the summer of 2015.
Filling his boots wasn’t going to be easy but Wolfsburg managed quite the coup when they raided rivals Schalke for the services of Julian Draxler.
The versatile midfielder was a long-term Bayern Munich transfer target and had been top of Juventus’ wishlist, even holding talks with the Serie A giants before a move collapsed.
This was a power play on the part of Die Wölfe to really separate themselves from a team usually considered to be a peer. Furthermore, it was a deal with huge potential.
Draxler had the skill set and the ability to not only fill the De Bruyne void but to make himself the face of this Wolfsburg team. However, it wasn’t to be and just 18 months after arriving, Draxler was heading for the exit.
Wolfsburg did make a profit on the Germany international and his move to Paris Saint-Germain was a step up. But this move to France wasn’t recognition for positive performances at the Volkswagen Arena. It was simply the Ligue 1 champions moving to land another player with a big reputation to help justify their claims of being one of Europe’s elite clubs.
At the time, Draxler was being courted by Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal. He opted for Paris and while he’s won countless trophies and is a team-mate to several the world’s biggest talents, he’s not done much playing at the Parc des Princes.
In the two full seasons, he’s spent with the club, the Schalke academy graduate has averaged 20 Ligue 1 starts. Since arriving in January 2017 he’s played the equivalent of 54 matches in the French top-flight and this term he’s appeared in only two league games for PSG.
The arrivals of Idrissa Gueye, Ander Herrera and Pablo Sarabia have seen Draxler fall down the pecking order and right now he’s a squad player at best. His place in the Germany squad is under threat, too. He made more appearances for Joachim Löw’s side in 2017 (13) than he has in the two seasons since (11).
Despite this, Draxler believes he should be offered a new deal in the French capital. Yet if reports in France are to be believed, the club aren’t on the same page as the 26-year-old.
He’s one of the names on the list of potential sales, with PSG looking to add Christian Eriksen to their ranks in the near future.
While it’s clear the fleet-footed attacker is content with life in Ligue 1, he may be forced to relocate sooner rather than later. This presents clubs with a unique opportunity. His stock may be at an all-time low but when Draxler is in the mood, he’s one of the most exciting players in Europe.
With PSG needing to sell to buy, he could be available at a bargain price: think Lucas Moura when Spurs signed him for £25million. At the time, many questioned why the Premier League side wanted him after he’d struggled to claim a starting role for Les Parisiens.
But it’s now clear his struggles had more to do with a lack of opportunity than actual ability. The same is likely going to be the case with Draxler. He’ll be undervalued because he’s not in the team ahead of Kylian Mbappé and Neymar.
Questions will be asked about his mentality after he opted to join PSG and clubs may overlook Draxler the footballer.
They’ll ignore the fact he was selected by the talent-spotting team at Wolfsburg to replace De Bruyne and instead paint him as a washed-up mercenary.
A potential buying club could use this to their advantage. Sell Draxler on the idea of proving people wrong, give him a starring role in the centre of the team and watch on as he pulls the strings.
He could still do a job for a number of the top six teams in the Premier League. His versatility lends itself to Spurs and Liverpool but Arsenal and Manchester United are on the lookout for creative hubs.
Draxler’s career is at a crossroads. At 26, he still has time to fulfil the potential he had as a teen but if he gets his next big decision wrong, he’ll go down as one of Germany’s biggest wasted talents.