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How statement signings keep Union Berlin improving


Union Berlin have kept their fans buzzing with a number of ambitious summer signings as they prepare to battle again in the Bundesliga and compete in the UEFA Champions League for the first time.

Harry Kane might have stolen the show as far as transfers are concerned this summer, but something very special also appears to be brewing in Berlin.

Union are not only the German capital's sole Bundesliga representatives following Hertha's relegation to Bundesliga 2 last season, they are to take on the UEFA Champions League for the first time in club history following their fourth-placed finish last time around.

The East Berlin side are in no mood to close the book on their fairytale with that achievement though. By splurging on a number of high-profile international signings, they are clearly aiming to make their mark this campaign - at the business end of the Bundesliga table again if they can, and on Europe's elite club competition. 

Union Berlin coach Urs Fischer has built something special in the German capital and doesn't look to be stopping any time soon. - Getty Images

The transfer deadline day signing of Italy captain Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus was the kind of statement that not only reverberated around the Bundesliga but also around Europe. UEFA Champions League group stage opponents Real Madrid, Napoli and Braga can be in no doubt that Union Berlin mean business.

Bonucci is a man, after all, who has been there, seen it and won it all - well almost all, that is. He may not have lifted the Champions League trophy yet, but who's to say Berlin won't be home to Europe's next champions? 

He packs an immense experience of European nights though, being a beaten Champions League finalist twice, which is certain to benefit Union on their first appearance on Europe's greatest stage. The living legend is quite simply a dream addition sure to tighten up the already steely defence.

Brenden Aaronson was one of the first new additions of the summer in July, and his signing on a season-long loan from Leeds United immediately sent out a statement of its own kind. The 22-year-old, who is still known fondly as the Medford Messi in his native New Jersey, has made 32 appearances for the US national team, scoring seven times.

Aaronson has Champions League experience already despite his young age, with eight appearances in the competition for Red Bull Salzburg and two assists - both against Bayern Munich. He is an enthralling prospect in a Union shirt precisely as his playing style is not a natural fit, with trickery and dribbling in his repertoire. A red card in the 4-1 victory against Darmstadt, only his second Bundesliga appearance, is hardly the start he would have been looking for, but there is still plenty of time left to show his worth.

Watch: Brenden Aaronson arrives in Berlin

David Fofana soon followed Aaronson's footsteps as another season-long loan arrival for Die Eisernen, this time from Chelsea. The 20-year-old Ivorian attacker only joined the London side in January and may well still be in the English Premier League club's long-term plans given his explosive pace and eye for goal. 

His new club stand every chance of benefiting, though, even if Fofana's stay in Berlin ends up a relatively short one. Fofana's two goals in a 4-1 friendly win against Atalanta in August, a club who finished fifth in Serie A last season and have put a serious stamp on the Champions League in recent years, have seriously whetted appetites among the Union faithful.

A week after Fofana's signing, a bold statement of a very different kind was made. In Lucas Tousart, Union enticed a firm fan favourite of city rivals Hertha, no less, to jump ship.

Tousart, 26, is primed with the kind of midfield muscle Union thrive on, and boasts impressive European experience to boot - playing 15 times for Lyon in the Champions League, and volleying a winner against Juventus in the 2020/21 competition's round of 16.

Watch: Gosens and Union - the perfect fit

The squad might have been shaping up nicely with the start of the Bundesliga approaching, but Union made it very clear that their business was a long way from finished. You couldn't dream up a more promising signing than a hard-working international with bags of UCL experience who already knows the language and culture - and the club got just that by securing the services of Robin Gosens

He boasts an appearance in the 2023 Champions League final, a goal and two assists in a single game for Germany in EURO 2020 (a 4-2 win against Portugal) and the kind of energetic playing style virtually tailor-made to fit straight into the left wing-back position under Urs Fischer. The arrival of Gosens could not fail to further ramp up the excitement levels in the capital, and he enjoyed the best possible beginning to his Union journey, scoring twice in the Darmstadt triumph.

Why have one German international, though, when you can get two?

Kevin Volland was in a similar situation to Gosens in being eager for more playing time than he got last season at his former club, Monaco. The 31-year-old striker has, you guessed it, Champions League experience, and also knows the Bundesliga inside out - rattling in 77 Bundesliga goals in the past for Hoffenheim and Bayer Leverkusen.

Alex Kral's recruitment as a free agent in June went a little under the radar among all the star signings that followed, but the 25-year-old Czech former Schalke, Spartak Moscow and West Ham player has every chance of making an immediate impact. With Tousart and Rani Khedira ruled out of the start to the season with injury, Kral has slotted straight into a defensive midfield position at Union.

Experienced goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow was also signed from rivals Hertha - after a season-long loan at Schalke, while Diogo Leite has joined Union on a permanent basis after his loan from Porto was completed.

It can't be forgotten that the Berlin club's eye-catching summer activity is adding to a squad that achieved heroics last season and is mostly intact - including the likes of last season's club top scorer Sheraldo Becker and Josip Juranovic, who impressed after joining in January. They too were once new signings looking to take Union to the next level and, having achieved that themselves, they are now being pushed on by the latest influx of talent to keep the club moving in an upward trajectory.

And, as they sit top of the table with six points from their opening two Bundesliga games, the excitement represented in a new level of player quality is already palpable, especially as they prepare to embark on a ground-breaking European journey as well.