Sven Mislintat helped build a golden generation at Borussia Dortmund that won back-to-back Bundesliga titles under Jürgen Klopp. - © IMAGO / GEPA pictures
Sven Mislintat helped build a golden generation at Borussia Dortmund that won back-to-back Bundesliga titles under Jürgen Klopp. - © IMAGO / GEPA pictures
bundesliga

5 diamonds Sven Mislintat unearthed at Borussia Dortmund

Sven Mislintat earned the nickname the ‘Diamond Eye’ during his 11-year stint at Borussia Dortmund, as he helped build a golden generation for the club by unearthing the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Shinji Kagawa.

bundesliga.com looks at five of Mislintat’s greatest success stories in the transfer market at Dortmund.

Robert Lewandowski

Position: Striker
Signed from: Lech Poznan

What happened next?

"We couldn’t buy from the top shelf then," Mislintat told 11Freunde in 2019 of his early years at Dortmund where - in 2006 - he morphed from analyst to scout. Just a year prior, the club was saved from bankruptcy at a hastily arranged investors meeting at Düsseldorf airport and as a result of their financial plight, Dortmund switched their recruitment focus to uncovering top young talent at a minimal outlay before developing those players into world-class players. And there are few footballers in the history of the game who have gone on to do so to quite the same extent as Lewandowski.

Watch: Sven Mislintat - the man who discovered Lewandowski, Kagawa & Co.

Mislintat was chief scout in 2010 when he, Michael Zorc and Jürgen Klopp plucked Lewandowski from Poland and it’s a deal that will go down as one of the best in the history of the game. Dortmund may have been denied a mega money return on their investment when Lewandowski left for Bayern Munich four seasons down the line, but his remarkable transformation into one of the most deadly strikers on the planet had by then delivered; 103 goals in 187 appearances in Black and Yellow as well as two Bundesliga trophies, a DFB Cup and only a second UEFA Champions League final in Dortmund’s history.

He’s not been too shabby since, either, becoming the league’s record non-German goalscorer and going on to lift the Meisterschale six more times as well as the Champions League in 2020; the year that FIFA named Lewandowski the best player in the world.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Position: Striker
Signed from: Saint-Etienne

What happened next?

Ahead of Lewandowski’s eventual departure in 2014, Mislintat and his team were already busy trying to fill the Pole’s enormous boots and Aubemayang was initially scouted to do just that. Mislintat explained that after seeing Aubameyang’s "pace, paired with clinical finishing", he knew the Gabon forward was a "special player" on his first visit to see him playing for Saint-Etienne.

Watch: All of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's Bundesliga goals

With that in mind, it’s little surprise Dortmund made their move in the summer of 2013 to sign the then 24-year-old, who scored 13 times in his first season at the Signal Iduna Park. In that debut campaign, Aubameyang largely operated from the right of an attack that also contained Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marco Reus and Lewandowski. The landscape shifted when Lewandowski left for Bavaria and Aubameyang eventually found his home through the middle, a move that culminated in his 31-goal 2016/17 league campaign - a single season record for any foreign player in Bundesliga history until Lewandowski broke it last term.

When Aubameyang eventually left Dortmund in January 2017, it was Mislintat who took him to his new club Arsenal shortly after moving to the U.K. himself, and the man with the Diamond Eye would later tell The Athletic: "It was a very interesting time but also very tough. Two months after leaving Dortmund, I had to negotiate with my old club but you have to differentiate emotion and friendship from work."

Shinji Kagawa

Position: Midfielder
Signed from: Cerezo Osaka

What happened next?

Few players highlight Mislintat’s eye for talent quite as well as Kagawa. Largely unknown inside his own country, let alone across the wider world, Mislintat travelled to Japan "about 10 times" to watch Kagawa, but knew he’d discovered someone special just half an hour after watching the youngster in action. As we would go on to tell Zeit Online: "[Kagawa] was untouchable on the pitch and could change the flow of the game with little movement."

Watch: the best of Kagawa's 60 goals for Dortmund?

Kagawa was only operating in the second division in his homeland when Mislintat pushed his move through to Dortmund for what, on reflection, was peanuts in 2010. Few others would have foreseen Kagawa’s impact on the team, as Dortmund claimed back-to-back Bundesliga crowns in his first two seasons at the club.

Kagawa then spent two years at Manchester United before returning to Dortmund in 2014. He would spend five more years at the club before moving to Real Zaragoza in Spain in 2019 and in January this year the 31-year-old joined Super League Greece club PAOK. But he will be best remembered for his spell with Die Schwarzgelben and Mislintat also believes the move for Kagawa is his own career highlight: "When you find a young player in a second division and he joins for small money and can make the difference: That's a key moment everyone needs in his career."

Ousmane Dembele

Position: Forward
Signed from: Rennes

What happened next?

Dembele was another player Mislintat pursued both exhaustively and early in the player’s career, with the Frenchman saying: "Dortmund were after me early and always kept contact." It’s that kind of investment and foresight that has so often seen the world’s top talent pick Dortmund ahead of others and Mislintat’s eyes being trained on Dembele so early on meant they could make their move for the French forward well before anyone else caught on.

Watch: All of Dembele's assists in 2016/17

Signed from Breton side Rennes in 2016, Dembele only spent a year at Dortmund but that was plenty of time for him to be named in the 2016/17 Team of the Season, while also picking up the Bundesliga’s Rookie of the Season award. His electric pace immediately struck fear in opposition ranks and after 50 Dortmund appearances, 10 goals and 22 assists, Barcelona broke the bank to bring Dembele to Camp Nou.

The Spaniards saw him as the perfect replacement for Brazil superstar Neymar; so much so that they committed an outlay that is still the fourth-highest transfer fee in the history of the game. It was some way for the club to come a decade on from that meeting at Düsseldorf’s airport.

Mats Hummels

Position: Defender
Signed from: Bayern Munich

What happened next?

Having just turned 19 at the end of 2007, Hummels was plying his trade with Bayern’s second team and growing frustrated by a lack of first team appearances. He’d managed just the one in the Bundesliga before Mislintat saw that perfect blend of talent and opportunity, recommending the 6’3” teenager to the Dortmund hierarchy less than six months into settling under his new desk in the scouting department.

Watch: Mats Hummels: Soccer's best quarterback

It makes Hummels one of Mislintat’s earliest success stories and over 350 Bundesliga appearances later, the 32-year-old centre-back is back at the club a six-time German champion and FIFA World Cup winner. His first spell in Dortmund would see Hummels claim two of those Bundesliga wins alongside the likes of Kagawa and Lewandowski, before first returning to Bayern to pick up four more league titles and then rejoining Dortmund in 2019 with the aim of further adding to that tally.