When Mario Götze was scoring the goal that lifted Germany to the summit of world football in Rio de Janeiro four years ago, Julian Brandt was — like most of the planet — watching the game on TV. Four years later, it could be Götze looking on as Brandt takes on the mantle of national hero by helping retain the FIFA World Cup for their country in Russia this summer.
Alongside the likes of Bayern Munich's Joshua Kimmich, Freiburg's Marc-Oliver Kempf, and Hertha Berlin duo Davie Selke and Niklas Stark, Brandt was preparing to play in — and eventually win — the Under-19 European Championship in Budapest when Götze struck in the Maracana.
Considering his unswervingly electric displays across the Leverkusen attack in 2017/18, however, there is no reason the fleet-footed youngster cannot emulate his peer in Moscow, adding another copycat moment in a career that has more than a few echoes of Götze's own.
Both fresh-faced attacking midfielders blessed with heavenly talent and an uncanny ability to slip smoothly into almost any tactical set-up, the duo's career paths — at the outset — have taken a similar upward, rocket-propelled trajectory.
Watch: Julian Brandt's brilliant top three Bundesliga goals!
Brandt was — like Götze — a precocious Bundesliga debutant at 17 having won German football's most prestigious individual prize for young players, the Fritz-Walter Gold Medal in the Under-18 category. Götze also won the Under-17 honour, Brandt had 'only' finished second to Timo Werner.
Yet Götze's career has not quite progressed in the way many predicted after bursting onto the scene with Dortmund and then securing a move to Bayern Munich. He had scored 32 goals and registered 40 assists in 110 Bundesliga matches by the time of his World Cup coronation, but - after playing little more than a bit-part role at Bayern and returning to BVB in summer 2016 - has dazzled only sporadically since.
Brandt, by comparison, has flown from under the radar to the forefront of German football with eye-catching consistency. Although he has not been playing in sides that have won the Bundesliga title or reached the UEFA Champions League final like Götze's had, his 26 goals and as many assists in 128 league matches more than stand up proudly in comparison.
Big-name suitors from Bayern to Liverpool have reportedly shown more than just a token interest, but Brandt has decided not to heed the sirens' call, leaving clubs drooling but disappointed over the prospect of him wearing their colours by recently signing a contract extension with Leverkusen through to 2021.
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Brandt surely hopes that will mean the similarities between him and Götze, two prodigious talents, will end there. In fact, Brandt's sizzling club form means he has outshone the inconsistent Dortmund man this season, and he has surely forged ahead of Götze in the thinking of Joachim Löw for Russia 2018.
"He's exactly the sort of player the Bundestrainer is looking for," gushed Brandt's boss, Heiko Herrlich, after seeing his young charge stand out in Germany's below-par performance in last month's friendly defeat to Brazil. "He must have a good chance of going to Russia. He's flexible and can play in several different positions."
Herrlich should know given he has started the 21-year-old on the right seven times, on the left flank six and through the middle in nine games this season, eking out every last morsel of potential from a player comfortable on either foot and capable of hitting speeds of 21 miles p/h as Die Werkself have pushed for a top-four finish.
Watch: Brandt, part of Germany's golden generation
Most impressively, the tactical tweaks have done nothing to affect Brandt's end-product with his eight goals and three assists this season a major upgrade on the three league strikes he registered during 2016/17.
That is also an indication of Brandt maturing into the player Leverkusen believed he could become when they tempted him away from Wolfsburg in January 2014, and gave him his sink-or-swim moment with a Bundesliga debut barely a month later.
Attitude, though, has never been Brandt's problem. Herrlich had to send Brandt home after he arrived for training the morning after the Brazil friendly having travelled back from Berlin and slept only a handful of hours. Though he admits a weakness for expensive cars, his boyish looks disguise a steely, well-grounded character that never lets the dizzying praise of adoring fans and impressed media go to his head.
Brandt will surely add many more to the 14 senior international appearances he has made for Germany. © imago
"It's sometimes not so simple. A lot of media write about you, you get fans, people telling you in the street what a good player they think you are. I can understand how some get carried away with that," he explained. "But that was never a problem for me, because I have the right environment around me. I'm a family guy, who likes to go home and switch off. And should I ever start to get full of myself, my parents will quickly bring me back down to Earth."
When not keeping his son's ultra-talented feet on the ground, Brandt's father, Jürgen, doubles as his agent, and recently negotiated the deal that will keep his son at the BayArena for the foreseeable future, prompting relieved sighs from Leverkusen fans concerned they could lose one of their club's most highly prized talents.
As Brandt himself pointed out after signing his new deal, everyone can see "something good is growing" on the banks of the Rhine. His partnership with Kevin Volland, Kai Havertz and Leon Bailey — as they showed in the stunning rout of RB Leipzig on Matchday 29 — is one of the most exciting in the Bundesliga, and is a chief reason former Leverkusen boss Jupp Heynckes has suggested Herrlich's men could even be 2018/19 title contenders.
Watch: Brandt on song in Leverkusen's lesson to Leipzig
Brandt has proven he can also make a match-defining contribution even if he does not start games, scoring three goals, including the decisive, delicious second in the 2-1 win at Wolfsburg on Matchday 25, from off the bench this season. Not that Brandt wants to be pigeon-holed as an impact player whose influence is limited to cameo roles.
"I have shown I can play a super-sub role in recent games, but that I'm not happy with that and still want to play from the start is without question," he explained. "But it's good for me and for the coach to know that I can do it coming off the bench."
It will also be something Löw will surely take into account when weighing up his world-class range of options for his final 23-man World Cup squad. After all, Götze came off the bench to claim Germany's fourth world title in Brazil shortly after his 22nd birthday. Brandt turns 22 in May…