Joe Scally set for Bundesliga baptism of fire against Bayern Munich
As Bundesliga debuts go, it doesn’t get much more daunting than facing defending champions Bayern Munich on the opening day of a new season. Yet if Joe Scally’s rapid progress at Borussia Mönchengladbach is anything to go by, it is merely another challenge the 18-year-old American will pass with flying colours
Scally reached an agreement to join Gladbach back in 2019 when he was just 16, and has been in Germany since finally putting pen to paper on contract after turning 18 at the end of December last year.
The New York native spent the second half of 2020/21 with the club’s U23 side as he adapted to his new home environment, but after impressing new head coach Adi Hütter in pre-season training and friendlies, he is now very much a part of the first-team plans.
“I feel most at home on the right side of defence, but I can play on the right wing in a more attacking role as well,” he told the Gladbach website in July. “Last season in the U23s I was also used on the left side of the back four.”
Not only has that positional flexibility impressed the Gladbach management, with sporting director Max Eberl calling his ease at switching to the left “truly remarkable”, it has given him an opportunity in the first team earlier than he might have expected.
Long-serving left-back Oscar Wendt departed for his native Sweden over the summer, leaving Ramy Bensebaini as the only senior player in the squad for the role. Or so it was thought. However, an injury to the 26-year-old Algerian opened the door for Scally to take his chance – and he has seized it with both hands.
I’m not worried [about the injury situation] because I’ve seen how Joe’s been playing in his stead,” Hütter said after his team’s 2-1 friendly win over Groningen, in which Scally was the only outfield player to stay on the pitch for the full 90 minutes.
“I think he’s a highly promising player for the future, and someone who can operate in lots of different positions. He’s only 18 but he’s already got a great physique. He had another very good game today.”
That ties in with the analysis of Gladbach’s academy director, Roland Virkus, who oversaw Scally’s development since his arrival from New York City FC. “Joe has been able to fit in quickly at Borussia,” he told the club website.
“He's really gone from 0 to 100. I have never seen a young player that goes into challenges as hard as he does, while not being nasty. He's very aggressive, athletic and in great shape. He's also a strong player. He made his debut for the U23s when the team was going through a tough time and impressed over time.”
He has done the same in Bensebaini’s absence. And while Gladbach recently signed highly rated Germany youth international Luca Netz from Hertha Berlin for added competition at left-back, Hütter kept faith with Scally in the team’s first competitive game of the new season, a DFB Cup first-round tie away to third division side Kaiserslautern.
“I’m not considering Luca for the starting line-up on Monday,” Hütter said ahead of that game. “Why not? Because Joe Scally has done very, very well. And he’s currently more than just a back-up for Bensebaini.”
All of which bodes well for the coming season. The 22-time USA U17 international repaid his coach’s trust with another composed performance against Kaiserslautern, playing from start to finish in a 1-0 victory.
With Bensebaini still sidelined, Scally now looks set to make his Bundesliga debut for Gladbach on Friday, when the Foals welcome record champions Bayern to Borussia-Park for the 2021/22 season curtain-raiser.
Watch: Highlights of Gladbach's recent pre-season win over Bayern
Even veteran defenders struggle to contain the likes of Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman, Leroy Sane and Thomas Müller, so what chance does a teenager making his debut in a foreign country have?
Eberl is unconcerned about such a daunting baptism of fire, though: “You’d think he's already 21 or 22 when you see his confidence, composure and lack of inhibition in running up and down his side of the pitch.”
“It’s nice to hear praise like that,” Scally told the club’s official magazine when informed of his bosses’ encouragement. “It makes me happy and shows that my hard work is paying off.”
Another fearless outing against Bayern – Scally played 71 minutes of Gladbach’s 2-0 friendly triumph at the Allianz Arena a couple of weeks ago, and even provided an assist for Hannes Wolf – would provide that latest confirmation of that.
And who knows, perhaps after Gio Reyna in 2020/21 and Alphonso Davies in 2019/20, this season’s breakout star will be another North American starlet...?
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