Jadon Sancho’s rapid ascent at Borussia Dortmund has not only captured the imagination of the Yellow Wall, but also that of a swathe of emerging British talent now making the same journey to Germany. On a promise of greater opportunity and the hope of replicating the England international’s meteoric rise, these lads are here to kick down the door left ajar by Sancho and tear it from its hinges.
The notion of Brits abroad doesn’t tend to conjure the most positive of images; rather regret-filled hangovers and facepalm emojis. But the same cannot be said for the procession of young British footballers wearing thin the path laid by Sancho to the promised land of the Bundesliga who, in BVB’s 19-year-old winger, have a carved-in-stone general they can march to the tune of.
"There were some people that said they weren't really sure about me coming to Germany because it's a big step moving away from home and everyone that I'm close to, but I think it's worked out really well," said Sancho previously. "I just want to play football and I'm getting that opportunity here. I'm very grateful to Dortmund for giving me this chance. I want to keep working hard and I'm happy to be a part of this club and want to make history with it."
Watch: Jadon Sancho's Bundesliga Mixtape (so far)!
England have benefitted as much as Dortmund. Sancho became a FIFA U17 World Cup winner just two months after signing on at Signal Iduna Park. Two years later, the south Londoner is an integral part of the senior side’s recent revolution under Gareth Southgate and goes into the new season on the back of a campaign during which his 12 league goals and 14 assists so nearly delivered the Meisterschale.
Clearly, more are hoping to emulate Sancho...
Ademola Lookman (RB Leipzig)
Position: Left wing
Country: England (31 youth international caps)
“It's one of the most unusual situations I've been in. We got some deals for him but he was adamant he wanted Germany. His stubbornness means he got his own way in the end. I hope he can prove he made the right decision."
Those were the words of former Everton coach Sam Allardyce following Lookman’s loan move to Leipzig in January 2018, perfectly personifying a dated take on British players pursuing moves abroad. It is a notion shattered by the names on this list and Lookman wasted little time rubbishing Allardyce’s scepticism himself, scoring the winner on debut for Leipzig and adding four more goals and a further four assists to his tally in just 11 Bundesliga appearances.
Watch: Lookman knows all about tearing up the Bundesliga!
After a highly productive loan spell, a season back at the Toffees saw Lookman make just three starts in the English Premier League last term. Now, however, the 5’9” winger is permanently at Leipzig, under new coach Julian Nagelsmann; wings unclipped and ready to take flight.
Ethan Ampadu (RB Leipzig)
Position: Centre back/centre midfield
Country: Wales (8 caps)
Already a full international, Ampadu has found opportunity hard to come by at Chelsea but is highly regarded by his parent club, whose coach Frank Lampard has said is a “big fan” of the 18-year-old defensive all-rounder. And the Exeter-born youngster now finds himself on a first loan assignment of his career in Leipzig, whom Ampadu says he has followed keenly having given the likes of Lookman a platform to develop.
“I’ve been following the club in recent years and saw how fantastic young players have come to develop here and what potential there is in this club. So it’s the perfect step for me,” said Ampadu.
And while just 25 senior club appearances highlight Ampadu’s youth, the eight senior outings for Wales counteract any potential misgivings over perceived inexperience. As highlighted by national team coach Ryan Giggs: "Ethan is a talented player. Even more so than that, as a person, he's so balanced and mature for such a young player. He'll be a magnificent player."
Rabbi Matondo (Schalke)
Position: Right wing
Country: Wales (3 caps)
Another Welsham who sought pastures new in the Bundesliga is Matondo who, like Sancho, swapped the blue of Manchester for Germany in pursuit of greater game time. In fact, by the time Matondo had made his full international debut in November, 2018, he was still to feature for City’s senior side. By the time he moved to Schalke in January the following year, Matondo departed the English champions without a single senior appearance.
Matondo’s decision was immediately justified as the winger made his Bundesliga debut just three days later. He would end the season with seven league appearances, and it is little wonder the Welsh winger sees his long-term future with Schalke. "The Bundesliga's a fantastic league," Matondo said. "Schalke is the right decision for my future as a footballer."
Lewis Baker (Fortuna Düsseldorf)
Position: Centre midfield
Country: England (45 youth international caps)
Six years Matondo’s senior, Baker has, by contrast, had a number of temporary assignments outside of Chelsea. Last season’s stint at Reading in the English Championship was preceded by time with Leeds United, Middlesbrough, Vittese Arnhem, Milton Keynes Dons and Sheffield Wednesday.
It means Baker moves to Düsseldorf with over 100 professional league appearances under his belt, ready to test himself in what the 24-year-old has already hailed as one of the best leagues on the planet. And with Fortuna’s option to buy Baker come the end of his loan spell, it could become the place to settle for yet another talented English player.
“It will be an exciting challenge for me to play in the Bundesliga,” said Baker. “For me, the Bundesliga is one of the top leagues in the world.”
Reece Oxford (Augsburg)
Position: Centre back/centre midfield
Country: England (35 youth international caps)
After spending the bulk of the past two seasons on loan in the Bundesliga, it comes as little surprise that Oxford has made the move permanent, signing a long-term contract with Augsburg. The 6’3” centre back - who can also play in midfield - impressed with the Fuggerstädter most recently, featuring in eight of Augsburg’s final 15 matches last season having joined temporarily in January, 2019.
That followed two loan spells with Gladbach in 2017/18 - separated by just two weeks back at old club West Ham - where the England U20 international made seven Bundesliga appearances, four of which from right back. Compared to just eight Premier League outings in the four years since becoming the Hammers’ youngest ever player at 16, it is little wonder Oxford is so happy to be back in Germany.
“I’m delighted to have joined Augsburg on a permanent basis. I felt very comfortable in the city during my loan spell last season and would like to take the next step in my development here in the Bundesliga,” said Oxford; sentiments echoed by FCA sporting director Stefan Reuter.
“We’re delighted that we have been able to sign Reece permanently. Reece already knows the club values and what the club stands for. We are convinced he will help us to progress over the course of the next few years,” said Reuter.
Jonjoe Kenny (Schalke)
Position: Right back
Country: England (56 youth international caps)
Having represented every England age group from U16-U21, Kenny is clearly a senior international in waiting. The Liverpudlian has never failed to impress when given the opportunity for his boyhood club, but following 40 first-team appearances across four years, he is another of his countrymen seeking a place of real opportunity in Germany. Not only that, the right-back is hoping to grow as much as a human being as a professional, and hopes to benefit from taking in a new culture away from British shores.
"I couldn't say 'no'," Kenny said of Schalke’s approach for a season-long loan deal. "To be at such a big club like Schalke will mean that I will become a better footballer. To be away from home will mean that I will develop as a person as well."
Keanan Bennetts (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
Position: Left wing
Country: England (10 youth international caps), Germany (2 youth international caps)
The 6'0" forward joined Gladbach from English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur last summer, arriving at Borussia-Park with Gareth Bale comparisons padding out the reference section on his CV. It’s easy to see why when you take in his weapon of a left foot, the dribbling at pace and ability to play anywhere behind the striker.
"Keanan can play a variety of attacking roles," said Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl. "We back him to make the step up to the Bundesliga. We're delighted he's chosen to sign for Borussia."
His Hamburg-born mother taught him her mother tongue growing up, so Bennetts speaks fluent German and even represented the country at U15 level. Since then, Bennetts has gone on to feature for England’s youth teams, but is yet to make his professional debut. After a year to settle in at Mönchengladbach, that should all change soon.
Chima Okoroji (Freiburg)
Position: Left back
Born in Munich, Okoroji qualifies for England through his mother and, having moved to Bayern Munich’s academy as a seven-year-old, the 5’10” full-back spent a decade moving through the ranks of Die Bayern. It’s as good a grounding as any player could wish for, but in January 2015, Okoroji swapped the record German champions for Augsburg before then joining Freiburg in 2018, unable to ignore the burning desire for more chances at senior level.
"It was the right decision to join Freiburg; I'm really sure I will make it here,” he told Planet Football. “In England the chance to play first-team football is not great, whereas here there are more opportunities."
Okoroji has already benefited and in October 2018, the 22-year-old made his senior debut for Freiburg, coming on as a 73rd-minute substitute in the 1-1 draw with Hertha Berlin. A full Bundesliga debut followed in the 5-1 demolition of former club Augsburg, a fitting bow to announce Okoroji’s readiness for first-team football. In 2019/20, he will seek further opportunities with Jahn Regensburg, having signed a season-long loan deal with the Bundesliga 2 side.
Mandela Egbo (Darmstadt)
Position: Right back
Country: England (18 youth international caps)
Egbo is a great reference point for Bennetts, having been handed his Bundesliga debut by the Foals in February, 2018. The 21-year-old, who moved to Germany in the summer of 2015 from English Premier League side Crystal Palace, has himself cited Sancho’s breakout as being an inspiration.
"It may not have been looked at as something that people did before, but now there's me, Jadon and a few other boys out here and now people are looking at it and saying 'hold on, this is doable, why not look into this?' and I think that's a good thing."
This season he will continue to carve out his own career in Germany, and in turn carry the torch for others to follow, with Darmstadt. Egbo joins the Lilies after four seasons in Gladbach and will be one to watch bloom in Bundesliga 2 in the coming season.
Xavier Amaechi (HSV)
Country: England (11 youth international caps)
The latest Brit to come to German shores, Amaechi joined Bates at Hamburg at the end of July from English Premier League side Arsenal. Born in Bath, towards the south-west of England, Amaechi was raised in London within the youth academies of Fulham and then Arsenal. The 18-year-old winger amassed 39 appearances for Arsenal's U18 and U23 teams, scoring 12 goals with his lethal left-foot and assisting nine more along the way.
"I'm really impressed with the team, the fans and the stadium and I think it's a great opportunity for me to play for this club," Amaechi said on arriving in Hamburg.
Amaechi will no doubt have spoken to former Arsenal colleagues Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe, who both embarked on loans in the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig respectively. Helping to bring Hamburg back to the Bundesliga in his first season would already make Amaechi a legend for fans in the northern city.
As if that’s not enough, how can we forget the likes of David Bates (HSV, currently on loan at Sheffield Wednesday), Reiss Nelson (Hoffenheim), Ryan Kent (Freiburg), Emile Smith Rowe (RB Leipzig), Denzeil Boadu (Dortmund), Danny Collinge (Stuttgart) and Kaylen Hinds (Wolfsburg)?
Watch: Reiss Nelson on life in the Bundesliga!
They have 26 Bundesliga appearances, seven goals and one assist between them, not to mention a bucket load of stellar youth performances in Germany. Some, like Nelson, made an instant Bundesliga impact, others such as Hinds were given their pro debut, while Collinge and Boadu further developed their trade abroad. They have each played their part in setting the trend and furthering the growing tendency for young British players flourishing on the fertile soil of German football.
One player at a time, they are reimagining the phrase 'Brits abroad'.