Forged in the fires of Dortmund

In September of last year, teenager Ousmane Dembele earned his first cap for France, in what seemed inevitable to anyone who had claimed to have seen this prodigious talent play. Dubbed, “the next Marco Reus”, “the next Neymar” and, in case that wasn’t enough pressure, “the next Cristiano Ronaldo”, the speedy winger/forward was bringing forward all the usual media clichés for his performances at Rennes last season.

These performances had cued the usual talk of interest from every top club around Europe, as well as Tottenham, along with contract sums so obscenely large they’d summon Mino Raiola at their mere mention.

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But then a curious thing happened; Dembele, with a little family guidance, turned down the big clubs and their fat pay-checks and signed instead for Borussia Dortmund – nonetheless a large club, but one which doesn’t pay the sums offered by the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Man City.

While he wouldn’t disclose his wages to me on the phone, or even take my calls, we can only assume poor Dembele has just enough for one new Lamborghini a year.

Jokes aside, though, this is truly an attribute we should be praising in youngsters, especially since it seems so rare. It seems to have paid dividends for Dembele, who is getting the game-time he needs at his age to grow as a player, having scored four goals in 15 appearances this season for BVB.

Although he’s not the only one, with Dortmund earning themselves a justified reputation as the perfect finishing school for young European talent, even if, sadly, they cannot always hold onto their players when the reach their peak (we’re looking at you, Bayern).

Christian Pulisic, the young American attacker and perennial Liverpool transfer target/stalking victim, is another example of a youngster thriving with just the right amount of game-time at Signal Iduna Park under Thomas Tuchel. With four goals in 22 appearances since his debut at the start of 2016, he looks to be immune to the curse of football manager legend and fellow countryman Freddy Adu.

Then there’s Mikel Merino, a young Spaniard signed from Osasuna, who plays as a box-to-box centre midfielder and has already featured in a handful of games for BVB so far this season. The next Sergio Busquets, as I expect he’ll come to be known.

To top it all off, just this week Dortmund completed the signing of Alexander Isak, the Swedish attacker seen as the heir to Ibrahimovic’s crown (if he ever relinquishes it).

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This is nothing new, though, to anyone who’s kept a keen eye on Borussia Dortmund over the last 10 years. Beginning with everyone’s favourite footballing hipster Jurgen Klopp and being adeptly continued by the aforementioned Thomas Tuchel (himself something of a prodigy among Europe’s elite coaches), Dortmund have churned out talented players, either straight from their youth teams or by snapping them up as youngsters and turning them into seasoned pros even at relatively young ages still. Marco Reus, Mario Gotze, Mats Hummels, Robert Lewandowski, Shinji Kagawa, (I could go on, but my Editor’s giving me a concerned look) were all bought for cheap and turned into players worth their weight in gold.

The key message here seems to be: if you’re a young player with bags of potential and the right attitude, Borussia Dortmund is the place to go. I’ve tried myself, but they told me that 3 consecutive keepy-ups doesn’t qualify as “potential”.

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