January 2015, Borussia Dortmund is tied for the last place in the Bundesliga and Jürgen Klopp tells BVBtotal that “the future of Borussia Dortmund is secured”. How does that fit together?
Klopp is referring to 16-year-olds Felix Passlack and Dzenis Burnic who joined the first team’s winter training camp in La Manga. Now four of the most talented youngsters renewed their contracts with BVB until 2018. According to Ruhrnachrichten those contracts will turn into professional contracts as soon as the players turn 18. Reason enough to take a closer look at BVB’s youth academy and its biggest prospects.
In recent years Borussia Dortmund were considered to be one of the best clubs for young and upcoming talent, but the only academy player who got straight to the first team was Mario Götze. The area around Dortmund is crowded with top flight football clubs, making the battle for the most promising talents extremely tough.
After years of subpar performances throughout Dortmund’s youth teams the club reacted. Now every youth team was being coached fitting to the philosophy of Klopp: offensive defending, quick attacking football and Gegenpressing. Re-signing former youth coordinator Edwin “Eddy” Boekamp and getting more aggressive on the youth transfer market were other important steps. Top talents like Marian Sarr (Leverkusen), Janni-Luca Serra (Hannover) and David Sauerland (Münster) joined from other German clubs and even highly rated international players like Jacob Bruun Larsen (Lyngby, Denmark) and Christian Pulisic (PA Classics, US) found their way to Dortmund.
While a lot of things have improved for Dortmund’s youth, Borussia’s U19 is still struggling for results, and coach Marc-Patrick Meister, who only joined in 2013, will be leaving in the summer. The official reasoning being “differences in the perception of the sporting direction”, but the lack of success and talents who made it through certainly did not help. The team is currently fifth in the league, 13 points off the leader Schalke.
David Sauerland (17), who just renewed his contract until 2018, is a very dynamic central midfielder with a relatively unspectacular passing game. While he has a good technique and decent dribbling skills, he tends to make questionable decisions under pressure and turns the ball over rather often. It is questionable if Sauerland is dominant enough and has a good enough passing game to be a very good central midfielder in the future. He has also featured as winger or as offensive midfielder, which might suit him better in the future. Last season he scored both goals in the U17 Bundesliga final, winning BVB the title against Leipzig, and he also featured in the first team’s friendly against Mannheim. This season, in a worse team, Sauerland is struggling so far, but he is still one of the U19’s bright spots.
Along with Dominik Reimann (17), also a German U18 international. Reimann is a very modern and technically strong keeper with a good build-up game, good in one on ones and great reflexes. Until this season he struggled majorly to control his area against high crosses or set-pieces, but he is improved this season although he is still not the tallest of all goalkeepers (6’1“ according to Transfermarkt). Reimann can definitely use one more season at the U19 to gain some experience and hopefully grow a little, but he is one of the more promising goalkeepers coming through BVB’s academy.
One rather spectacular and hyped transfer from a few years ago was Herber Omar Mejía Flores (19), known as Junior Flores. The American U20 international came straight from America, but had problems to get a work permit and could not play for Borussia Dortmund for about a year. While he is slowly getting better, the break of one year shows and his lack of physical strength and dynamic does not help. Flores does have decent technical ability and a solid passing game, but it is unlikely he will make it to the highest level if his physical attributes do not change for the better.
Other interesting players are Oguzhan Aydogan, a winger that joined from Schalke or Burak Çamoğlu, a former winger who has been turned into a very offensive right-back.
The U17 is certainly the best of Borussia Dortmund’s youth teams and it could certainly compete with about any U17 in Europe. The team is coached by Hannes Wolf (34), probably the most promising young coach in the ranks of Borussia Dortmund. Wolf is a very emotional coach, basically standing up throughout all of the games, cheering and guiding his team. The team is playing a very BVB-like football. Vertical and quick attacks are followed by well-organised Gegenpressing. Wolf usually wants his team to play quick and short passes, but against good pressing he often uses long balls with Janni-Luca Serra (6’2“) as wall-player, who is supposed to hold the ball up until others can join the attack. Coach Hannes Wolf is going to take over the U19 this summer, which could finally lead to an end of their struggles.
Felix Passlack (16) is a name most BVB fans will know by now, especially since he joined the first team’s winter training camp in La Manga. The German U17 captain and BVB U17 captain is having a tremendous season so far. Passlack has been playing as offensive midfielder and even left-back, but he is at his best playing on the right side. He is very strong physically and a consistent performer for his age. While his first touch is sometimes letting him down, he has a solid technique overall and is a very capable crosser of the ball. His composure and shooting technique makes him a very good penalty and set-piece taker. While he is strong enough to outmuscle about any opponent at his age, he is also a very quick and a very good dribbler. His agility and seemingly unlimited stamina makes him a very good pressing player, playing as right midfielder he seems to understand very well which spaces he has to occupy and when to attack the opponent. When he is playing as right-back he is sometimes too far off his opponents in Gegenpressing situations. An interesting component to his game are his inverted dribblings which often surprise and disrupt the opponent and allow him to attack the half-spaces or pick out a pass through the channels. While he is not a very flashy passer or player in general it seems like about every part of his game is at a very good level for his age. The thing that probably stands out the most is his will to win. He is full on sprinting to every throw-in, corner or free-kick he has to take. Once he even got the ball out of the net and sprinted back to the halfway line after his team just scored the 5-1. The best chance for Passlack to break into the first team in the near future will probably be at right-back, since both Durm and Piszczek have had their fair share of injuries.
The other 16-year-old who joined the first team in La Manga was Dzenis Burnic. Of course, he is also a German U17 international. The left-footed Burnic has been playing as left-back, offensive midfielder and holding midfielder, but his best role is as play maker from the central midfield. Basically every attack is being initiated by or goes through Burnic, he is a pretty dominant player and wants the ball on his feet as often as possible.
His outstanding range of passing, good pressing resistance and dribbling enables him to dictate the rhythm of the game. Burnic is not as consistent nor as strong as Passlack and sometimes very sloppy in his passing and decision making, but his creative passing, very solid technique, decent speed and strategic understanding make him an interesting player for a possession based style as well as a counter attacking approach.
The third very promising youngster is Christian Pulisic (16), the American U17 international with a Croatian passport only joined the club a few months ago. Unlike Junior Flores, Pulisic is eligible to play for Borussia Dortmund before his 18th birthday, thanks to his Croatian heritage. It is fair to say he hit the ground running, scoring and assisting four goals each in his first three games for the club. The offensive midfielder is very easy on the eye; he has a very consistent and good technique even at full speed. He is very agile and fast, in combination with his technique that allows him to take on opponents who seem a lot stronger than himself. He is a good and willing dribbler who usually has his head up and makes the right decision more often than not. While dribbling he manages to keep up numerous options for himself, he could always pick out a pass or dribble past another player. He thrives in combination play and is an accurate and creative passer and a good finisher. Pulisic is not as dominant of a player as Burnic is, he also lacks some of the strategic understanding and he there are some concerns if he is physically ready for first flight football yet.
The other international transfer Jacob Bruun Larsen (16) seems to have slightly more problems to adapt to Dortmund. The Danish U17 international is a pure winger, a dynamic and very good dribbler, but lacks the vision, passing or nose for goal Pulisic has. Larsen is still a very interesting player, but he will probably need a bit more time than the others.
The best goalscorer of the U17 is Janni-Luca Serra (17) with 17 goals. Initially the 6’2“ tall Serra was bought as centre-back, but after his team got behind Wolf put him upfront and he immediately scored. After that Serra stayed upfront and even made it to Germany’s U17 national team as a striker. Serra largely benefits from his physical superiority above the other young players and is an easy target for long balls. He does have an okay link-up play and a good nose for goals, but his technique and coordination often lets him down. As of now it will be hard for Serra to succeed at a level where he is not physically superior anymore.
There are some more interesting players in the U17.
Patrick Fritsch (16): a technically outstanding center-back with a very good build-up play and dribbling for his position; but he still has to grow a bit (6’0“ as of now) to become a real option for the first team at some point.
Sahin Kösecik (17): a play-making defensive midfielder who has had injury problems this season.
Niklas Beste (16): a very tidy left-back, who has improved a lot during the last few months.
Berkant Güner (17): another play-making defensive midfielder, who used to play in offensive midfield.
Julian Schwermann (15): he is one of the youngest players who have featured regularly for the U17 side and has done a very solid job as right-back.
If the youngsters stay committed, healthy and keep their feet on the ground there might be a good chance we will see a few academy players in the Westfalenstadion within the next few years. Of course, it is still a long way until there, but it might go quicker than one would expect. Kicker already reported that Burnic and Passlack will most probably join BVB’s Asia tour this summer and now mentioned those two and Pulisic as “new signings”, possibly for the first team. In Thomas Tuchel Dortmund have a new coach who has a lot of experience working with youth and who trusts young players when they’re good enough.
The future of Borussia Dortmund is secured.