Ansgar Knauff has just enjoyed “an unbelievable week” at Borussia Dortmund, but it has been a long time in the making after a chance discovery by Jürgen Klopp at a youth tournament in 2014.
Knauff, who only turned 19 in January 2021, made his full first-team debut for Dortmund as a surprise inclusion against Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg last Tuesday, before coming off the bench to score his first Bundesliga goal - the winner in a 3-2 triumph away to VfB Stuttgart on Saturday - that kept alive BVB’s hopes of securing a top-four finish.
None of that might have been possible, however, without an intervention from former Dortmund head coach and current Liverpool supremo Klopp.
Watch: Highlights of Dortmund's win over Stuttgart
Over the weekend of 13/14 September 2014, Knauff, who was 12 at the time, played in the OPEL Family Cup youth tournament. His boyhood side, SVG Göttingen U13s, were one of eight to have reached the final phase, with 70 teams from across northern Germany having participated in earlier rounds.
As OPEL sponsored Dortmund at the time, Klopp attended the event as guest of honour, going into what would be his last season at the club.
Göttingen ended up losing the final 2-1 to Bayrussia 04, but Knauff’s displays not only earned him the ‘Player of the Tournament’ award, a Golden Boot trophy and a pair of Marco Reus’ actual boots - they also caught Klopp’s eye to such an extent that he invited him to have a trial with Dortmund’s U13s.
Knauff duly accepted and made a good impression in training, but as Dortmund lies over 130 miles to the west of his hometown, the youngster initially opted against joining their academy.
“Dortmund was too far away for me back then,” Knauff told Sky Deutschland after his strike against Stuttgart on Matchday 28. “So I joined Hannover 96 first. Obviously I’m happy that things have worked out and that I’m here now.”
The fact Knauff replaced Reus in the 67th minute against Stuttgart lends a certain poetic sense of his story coming full circle. Yet there is also plenty of substance to the attacker’s fairytale rise from small-town youth player to fully fledged Dortmund pro.
He has seven goals and six assists in 22 appearances for Dortmund’s reserves in Germany's fourth-tier Regionalliga West, and made his senior debut for the club as a late substitute in the Champions League group stage match away to Zenit St. Petersburg in December.
The right-footer also had an instant impact on his Bundesliga debut on Matchday 26 in March. Brought off the bench in the 80th minute with his side 2-1 down away to Cologne, Knauff set up Erling Haaland for a last-gasp equaliser following a brilliant run and cross on the right wing.
His goal in Stuttgart offered further evidence of his talent. Receiving a pass from Haaland on the edge of the area, Knauff jinked past a couple of defenders in a tight space before curling a brilliant shot into the far corner. That his strike had a goal probability of just five per cent offers further evidence of just how good it was.
“I came in and wanted to do my best and desperately wanted to win, and I’m delighted we did it,” he said afterwards.
“I always give my best when I get the chance and I want to win every game and it’s been an unbelievable week for me, with my starting debut and my first Bundesliga goal. I just hope it continues.”
Watch: Skip to 01:26 for Knauff's stunning assist against Cologne
The chances of that happening are good, especially as interim head coach Edin Terzic is a big fan. “One of his qualities is that he can get away from defenders,” the 38-year-old said last week. “That’s what sets him apart and that’s what he’s been doing for a long time with us in our youth teams and in the reserves.
"Ansgar’s not just a guest with us anymore; he’s been a part of our team for a long time.”