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Andrew Thompson introduces us some of the young stars emerging at Borussia Dortmund.
It’s difficult to argue against the notion that Germany has the best youth set up in Europe. The list of young players carving out reputations for themselves at the top level of German football is quite impressive, and only France and Spain can boast the same record of successful reliance on youth production at the highest competitive level on the domestic front.
While Bayern Münich, Schalke and a few other notable clubs come to mind in regards to youth development, Borussia Dortmund are continuing to show their growing ability to produce talented youngsters. Mario Götze and Marco Reus have been their most notable graduates in recent years, along with Antonio Rüdiger, Nuri Sahin and Marcel Schmelzer, but it’s the current crop of adolescents that could make an even bigger impact at the club moving forward.
Let’s take a look at five youth players who are not only impressing at Dortmund, but who carry with them the weight of expectations in the very near future.
The keeper situation for Dortmund is an interesting one – Roman Weidenfeller the mainstay between the posts for years is getting well on in age, and Roman Bürki has often been criticized for inconsistencies this season. While the Swiss international is only 25 and with his prime years ahead of him (in theory), young Dominik Reimann could very well be the shot stopper of the future for the Ruhr river club.
Having featured at both U18 and U19 level for Germany, Reimann can be classed in the mold of a modern keeper – cool under pressure when he has possession – but unlike someone such as Manuel Neuer, he cannot rely on being physically imposing as well. There is still time for him to improve in this area, and his agility on the line is notable. He won’t break through fully for a few years but I’d wager that a degree of faith would be put in him within the next few years, depending on first-team options.
With the future of Mats Hummels coming under increased speculation year after year, it’s inevitable that a replacement will be necessary for someone of such high value – but what if that replacement was already at the club? Patrick Fritsch may be just 17-years old, but you can see quite a bit of Hummels in his game – an ability to play the ball out of the back which suits the new system being imposed by Thomas Tuchel in the post Jürgen Klopp regime.
He’s featured for Germany at U16 and U17 levels and has been touted for high praise from many inside the club, including Tuchel himself. He was in the squad for Dortmund’s Europa League match against Greek outfit PAOK this season, and despite injuring his cruciate ligament, it’s fair to suggest that the young center-back will be a part of Dortmund’s pre-season preparations with the view of potentially being handed some responsibilities within a year or two as well as coming under the wing of Hummels himself.
Dortmund are by no means lacking in talented central players, with the likes of Ilkay Gundogan, Gonzalo Castro, Nuri Sahin, Sven Bender and newcomer Julian Weigl all featuring prominently for Die Schwarzgelben this season. The futures of some of them, however, remain in question. Gundogan is heavily linked with suitors this summer, and interest in Sahin has kicked up yet again, thus potentially leaving a place for Pascal Stenzel to make his own next season.
The versatile 20-year old has already appeared for the club this season, making his full debut against PAOK earlier this season in the Europa League, and now seeing regular football at SC Freiburg in the 2. Bundesliga, which suggests that Tuchel is looking to promote him to the first-team next campaign. Able to slot in at right-back as well as his preferred holding role in the middle of the park, Stenzel is very similar to Weigl, boasting high intelligence, stamina and an excellent range of passing, all qualities that are required under the new manager. Should Dortmund part ways with central players this summer (or even if they don’t), you should expect to see him feature for the first-team.
Germany may have been knocked out early from the U17 World Cup in 2015, but Felix Passlack cemented opinion on his future, playing every minute in four matches for his country while chipping in with two goals and an assist. He remains one of the most talented players at his level in the world, and the responsibility given to him by Tuchel this season with his promotion to the first-team signals bigger things to come this season.
With current traditional right-back Lukasz Piszczek turning 31 this summer and Matthias Ginter, normally a center-back, seeing time out on the right, you can absolutely expect Passlack to nail down a starting role for the club soon. Blessed with excellent pace, the ability to provide consistent service and a direct style, such qualities lend him to that supporting right-back role in the tactical system deployed by Tuchel. He still has plenty of room to grow, but his current level of ability should be more than enough to see him feature next season with the view of being first-choice at the club by the age of 19.
There are few stories as talked about than the rise of Christian Pulisic this season. The young American, still just 17, has received countless amounts of praise and adoration from fans, players and coaches alike. In a recent interview, Thomas Tuchel simply stated “we trust him”, when it comes to the amount of time he has been trusted with this season.
At the time of writing this, Pulisic just scored his second goal of the domestic campaign, making him the youngest player in Bundesliga history to score two goals. Lethal at youth level for the United States (scoring 20 in 34 appearances at U17 level), he’s recently been capped for the full national team by manager Jürgen Klinsmann. Able to slot in behind the striker or on either flank in a front three, his eye for movement into space and willingness to get forward into key areas is an asset coveted at his age, and being utilized to the fullest by his manager. There is no telling what will happen this summer with the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Marco Reus or Henrik Mkhitaryan, but should any of those three depart the club, it is a near guarantee that Pulisic will be trusted to the fullest to replace them.
Written by Andrew Thompson