One of the most exciting parts of following soccer is looking for the next great superstar, the person who will take the game and fundamentally change the way we look at it, the way we think about what makes a great soccer player. The problem is, there are hundreds, if not thousands of kids in the world that look like they might become “the next big thing.” Finding talent isn’t the problem. Developing that talent, finding out which players have the aptitude and mentality to reach a professional level, then guiding them through all the potential hazards and pitfalls that come with money, fame, and recognition: that’s the tricky part.
Messi and Ronaldo have 9 of the last 10 Ballon d’Ors. So we’re still wait for the next big thing to truly arrive, the same way Messi arrived when he won a Ballon d’Or at just 22 years old. If you need to make a bet on where to find the next generation of superstars, you’d best take a look at Germany, and soccer’s premier finishing school for young talent: Borussia Dortmund.
...Sancho! The charismatic teenager, rescues Dortmund...
I’m Brandon Kelley, welcome to Golden Goal: soccer’s greatest stars and the moments that made them.
Dortmund is, in most regards, Germany’s second team. Bayern Munich is the team filled to the brim with superstars, who are always the favorites to win the league, and frequently make deep Champions League runs as well. They are, without a doubt, the most successful German team ever, likely the most widely known German soccer team in existence.
Borussia Dortmund are miles ahead of their competition, however, in one very key area: the way they produce and develop young talent. Dortmund has a very set strategy when it comes to young players: they buy premium prospects while they are still some distance away from their professional debut. They accelerate their development by loading them up with minutes and training them with the first team. Finally, when it becomes clear the player has outgrown the youth academy, they place far more faith in them than most clubs around the world would dare to do frequently handing out professional minutes to several teenagers at a time. For most teams, having so much inexperience in the squad while trying to maintain such a high level of play is competitive suicide. For Dortmund, it’s the key to their club’s success. American fans will be familiar with Dortmund thanks to Christian Pulisic, who used his time with the club to gain experience and notoriety before being sold to Chelsea for $66 million, the highest transfer fee ever paid for an American player.
And if you want to find the next star in the soccer universe just waiting for their moment, look no further than the trio of young attackers currently starring for their first team side: Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland, and Giovanni Reyna.
Jadon Sancho has been at Dortmund the longest of the three, and accordingly, he’s also the most well-known player of the bunch. Sancho was purchased from Manchester City when he was only 17. Not sure how he would find his way to professional minutes within the City squad, Sancho was eager to prove himself, and elected to leave England, a path not many English talents take. The move almost immediately paid off: after a few months of academy appearances, Dortmund gave Sancho his first Bundesliga minutes. He repaid that faith in kind a couple months later, when he scored his first goal in the league and added two assists against Leverkusen.
Brandt...Brandt’s away, to the middle...Jadon Sancho makes it 2...well Sancho with a goal in his return to the starting lineup.
By the next season, he was a regular in the Dortmund starting lineup. Now, at just the age of twenty, he’s the best player in the Dortmund squad, with 17 Bundesliga goals and another 17 assists to his name this season.
Compare Sancho’s rise to countryman and former teammate Phil Foden, who is the same age as Sancho, and elected to stay at Manchester City. This season. Foden has only managed 15 appearances and has notched one assist and one goal in the Premier League, despite being the same age as Sancho and both being equally touted as teenagers. Foden is still regarded as a good player and prospect. Sancho, however, is one of the most highly sought-after players in Europe, and his transfer fee will most likely be one of the highest in history. Sancho is a testament to the way Dortmund place confidence in young players, and how they so consistently turn prospects into professionals.
Elsewhere in Dortmund’s side, you’ll find Erling Haaland, a year younger than Sancho but every bit as explosive. He made waves earlier this season when he and Austrian upstarts RB Salzburg made Liverpool sweat in the Champions League by coming back from a 3-0 halftime deficit to tie the game 3-3, in Liverpool, before eventually falling to the defending European champions. Haaland scored the equalizing goal in that game, putting him firmly on the radar of some of the biggest teams in Europe. It was Dortmund he chose, however, both because of their proven track record with playing young talent, and because Dortmund forward Paco Alcacer couldn’t stay healthy. Haaland came into the Bundesliga last winter and proceeded to torch the league, scoring 11 goals and providing another 3 assists in just 13 Bundesliga appearances. In his debut for Dortmund, with the team trailing 3-1 to Augsburg, coach Lucien Favre subbed Haaland in for the second half. And he proceeded to score a hat trick in the span of 23 minutes.
Ball in behind, looks like Haaland’s on side...he’s gonna go int he goal here again, Haaland...what a finish! Bundesliga’s newest star has struck! Hat trick for Haaland and 5 for Borussia Dortmund
If you want a less immediate prospect, you can check out the youngest of the three, 17-year-old Gio Reyna. The American teenager and son of former USA captain Claudio Reyna, Gio has just broken into the Dortmund first team this season after spending time with the U-19s. He hasn’t quite lit up the stat sheet like Sancho or Haaland have, but he has shown exactly why Dortmund are so high on him as a prospect: trailing in a Cup competition game against Werder Bremen, Favre turned to Reyna to make an impact. And Reyna did, taking a ball, dodging two tackles, and then curling a wonderstrike to the top right corner. It was one of the best goals any player has scored in Europe this season, and not just by a teenager making only his fourth professional appearance ever.
Reyna, tries his luck, good dribbling...beautiful goal! Oh what a beautiful goal from Gio Reyna, that is a gawker. Patrick Owomoyela is on his feet standing next to me, and I can tell you, he’s not that only one.
All three of these players arrived to Dortmund with different levels of experience, from different countries and leagues. But they all received the same level of trust from Dortmund, and now have the same expectations placed on their shoulders: to be great, to become one of the next greatest soccer players alive. And maybe that’s placing too much pressures onto the shoulders of three players who are 17, 19, and 20 years old. But if you learn anything from the way Dortmund churns out prospects, you’ll learn that they don’t just throw anyone onto the field. They have the eye for talent and the knowledge of how to motivate them. And in turn, the best prospects in the world tend to choose Dortmund, a trusted place for them to develop.