The Ruhr Valley has fuelled Schalke‘s success across generations with an extraordinary number of football diamonds found among its coal-rich lands.

bundesliga.com selects a jaw-dropping line-up from those players whose fledgling talent first caught the eye in the colours of Gelsenkirchen’s pride and joy.

Goalkeeper

Manuel Neuer

Born within a goalkick of the Veltins Arena, Neuer is THE local boy done good. After joining the club shortly before his fifth birthday, he developed his football talent alongside his tennis abilities before deciding to focus on keeping a ball out of a net instead of hitting a ball over one. His Bundesliga debut in August 2006 at the age of 20 was the start of a career that has seen him become a FIFA World Cup winner, Germany and Bayern Munich‘s No.1, and rated by many as the planet’s best. The ‘sweeper ‘keeper’ par excellence, Neuer’s hands — and feet — will backstop the world champions’ title defence in Russia.

Watch: The Bundesliga – home of the world’s best goalkeepers

Defenders

Thilo Kehrer

The 21-year-old could have found himself in Stuttgart colours, but left his native Baden-Württemberg and the youth academy of the region’s flagship club to join Schalke in 2012. Right-back, centre-back, defensive midfielder, Kehrer played as them all en route to his first-team debut midway through the 15/16 season. His maiden top-flight goal in a 1-1 derby draw with Borussia Dortmund was not as memorable as helping Germany’s Under-21 team claim the European title in Poland last summer. More is surely to come.

Benedikt Höwedes

Born in the same town as former Schalke and Dortmund defender Christoph Metzelder, and with a father who coached the local club, football provided the backdrop to the making of a Royal Blues icon. After wearing the captain’s armband at Under-19 level, he took on first-team responsibilities for the first time in 2011/12 aged just 23. Come November 2016, Höwedes — a 2014 FIFA World Cup winner — was doing what only eight other men had done before him: making his 100th Bundesliga appearance for Schalke. New boss Domenico Tedesco‘s decision to appoint Ralf Fährmann captain played a role in Höwedes seeking a new challenge at Juventus where — after injury — his season is only just starting.

“Not matter what happens, mates stay mates. Happy Birthday and good luck in the season, Ralle!”

Carlos Zambrano

It’s a long way from Peru to Gelsenkirchen, but aged just 16, the centre-back made the trans-Atlantic journey after catching the club’s eye with a starring role in his country’s Under-17 World Cup title tilt in 2005. Three short years later, he was in the Schalke first team before heading to St. Pauli in 2010 for two years and then Eintracht Frankfurt. A 2016 switch to Rubin Kazan followed after a century of Bundesliga appearances, with the Peru international then being loaned to Greek side PAOK for the duration of the 2017/18 campaign.

Carlos Zambrano (l.) faced boyhood club Schalke eight times as an Eintracht Frankfurt player. © gettyimages / PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images

Joel Matip

Bochum-born like Leon Goretzka, Matip’s formative football steps were taken with his hometown club before moving to Schalke before he turned 10. Alongside Höwedes, he formed a formidable, homegrown centre-back partnership after he broke into the first team during the 2010/11 season. After five years at the Veltins Arena and a 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign with Cameroon, he switched to English side Liverpool, teaming up with former Dortmund boss Jürgen Klopp.

Watch: Joel Matip’s Schalke roots

Sead Kolasinac

Karlsruhe – his home town – Hoffenheim, and Stuttgart will all be kicking themselves they allowed Kolasinac to slip through their nets. All three had him at their youth academy, but it was only after moving to Schalke in 2011 that the powerfully-built defender — nicknamed ‘The Bulldozer’ by Bosnia-Herzegovina fans — convinced a club he could make it at professional level. And make it he did. A stunning 2016/17 campaign followed before a move to Arsenal in the English Premier League last summer.

Watch: Sead Kolasinac was Schalke’s star performer in 2016/17

Midfielders 

Mesut Özil

Rot-Weiss Essen were Özil’s first team, and it took Schalke — his hometown club — five years to wake up to his talents, but only another 12 months before he found himself in the first-team squad. A January 2008 switch to Werder Bremen was the catalyst for his rise to the summit of the game, notably filling the boots of Diego brilliantly. His 2010 FIFA World Cup performances for Germany also helped take him to Real Madrid where he embellished his reputation and his trophy cabinet, but it was as an Arsenal player — following his transfer to North London outfit in 2013 — that he and his country lifted the world crown in 2014.

Weston McKennie

Born in Little Elm, Texas, the freshly-capped USA international is now pulling up trees in the Bundesliga. Having rejected a university scholarship and MLS franchise advances, McKennie, who had spent three years in Germany as a child, opted to return to Europe in summer 2016 when Schalke gleefully welcomed him. The club’s fans have seen why this season with the teenager — he only turns 20 next August! — impressing in the first team, and even earning himself a maiden senior cap for his country, which also brought his first goal.

Watch: Get to know Weston McKennie

Max Meyer

Like other members of this XI, Meyer also took his first steps elsewhere with hometown Rot-Weiss Oberhausen and Duisburg before Schalke snapped him up in his early teens in 2013. They may have been a little slow on the uptake initially, but soon recognised Meyer’s potential, promoting him to the first team in 2012/13 before he was given the No.7 shirt, previously worn by Raul. Now a bona fide first-team regular, Meyer has already collected an Olympic silver medal and Under-21 Euros winner’s one for his country, and is an outside bet for next summer’s World Cup squad.

Julian Draxler

The prodigy by whom all others are measured joined Schalke aged eight and brilliantly wrote himself into the club’s — and the Bundesliga’s — history books. Just over 17 when Felix Magath handed him his first-team bow in January 2011 putting him comfortably inside the top 10 youngest German top-flight debutants of all time, Draxler’s talents lit up Gelsenkirchen until a move to Wolfsburg in 2015, a year after he had become a world champion. An 18-month stint in the town Volkswagen built ended when Paris Saint-Germain took him to the French capital where he is now finding his place alongside Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani.

Watch: Draxler, a glittering global jewel first mined at Schalke

Forwards

Leroy Sane

Bayer Leverkusen will be wondering ‘what if?’ after the Manchester City man joined them from Schalke’s youth academy and then returned to Gelsenkirchen three years later in 2011 to begin an irresistible rise to the top. Come 2014/15, he was playing — and scoring — against Real Madrid in a UEFA Champions League knockout tie while still helping Schalke’s Under-19 team triumph in their national age category. Neither club confirmed the transfer fee City paid to Schalke in 2016, but it is thought Sane is the most expensive German player ever, and the fact he impressed Pep Guardiola enough for the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss to want him says it all.

Watch: Leroy Sane’s top 5 Bundesliga goals

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