John "Berlin Wall" Brooks and "top talent" Ulysses Llanez fortifying Wolfsburg's USA connection
The USA is a goldmine of footballing talent, according to Wolfsburg's sporting director Marcel Schäfer, who claims that Ulysses Llanez, John Brooks and Bryang Kayo have all improved the Lower Saxony club.
Llanez is spending the current season out on loan at Heerenveen, but Schäfer could not be more unequivocal in his views on a player he believes represents the future for Wolfsburg. "He is our top talent," Schäfer told Transfermarkt about the 19-year-old winger.
"He had an impressive first season in our U19 Bundesliga team where he scored a lot of goals and assists. But our second team is in the fourth league, and our first team plays in the Bundesliga and wants to play internationally, at the very least in the Europa League may be the Champions League.
"So we decided that maybe the best step was to go to Heerenveen for one year and have as many appearances and develop at a high level in the first league in the Netherlands."
Llanez has appeared in three of Heerenveen's final four fixtures of 2020, and is primed to play an even greater role for the Dutch club in 2021, before returning to Lower Saxony when he is truly ready to make an impact in the Bundesliga.
Schäfer knows that is not something which happens overnight, though in the case of Kayo, the speed of his development is a positive surprise.
"The plan was to start him in the U19s, but it was quickly apparent that he was ready for the next step," Schäfer said. "What he needs to do is to improve his first touch. In the fourth league, you have more time than in the first league."
For both rookies, the sight of Brooks holding things together in defence with glue-like adhesion is as good an inspiration as you can get.
Indeed, even Schäfer admits he is often in awe at the 27-year-old.
"He is like the Berlin Wall," Schäfer said. "He could become one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga." And that should happen while wearing a green and white shirt, with the sporting director confirming the defender's contract "runs as long as mine," allaying fears he could soon leave the club he has helped to establish in the top six this season, with an eye on UEFA Champions League football next term.
For what is looking like an increasingly likely return to European football next season, Wolfsburg are always on the lookout for new talent, and thanks to their good experiences tapping into North America's resources, Schäfer insists the USA will continue to be a market under close observation as he plots these further improvements.
"We have many American players at the club and had very good experiences with them," he told Transfermarkt, explaining how the Bundesliga club are on the lookout for a mutually-beneficial partner in the US.
"I think it definitely makes sense to work together to have some partnerships, not only in the US, even in some other countries too," Schäfer said. "To learn from each other on the pitch, even outside the pitch, you can learn a lot because the MLS system and the Bundesliga system are totally different. Scouting is totally different for MLS clubs when you compare it to German clubs. Yes, it is on our list, and we are definitely looking for a partner in the US."
Such a partnership would only further strengthen Wolfsburg's presence in a fertile field where Schäfer has personal experience, having ended his playing days at the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
"It was a huge benefit for me," said Schäfer, who is now benefitting in a different way, together with Wolfsburg.
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