A year after signing his first professional contract with Werder Bremen, talented American teen Josh Sargent has put pen to paper on a fresh, long-term agreement with the four-time German champions. bundesliga.com looks into why the decision was a no-brainer for both parties.
Sargent has come a long way since officially linking up with Bremen on the day he turned 18 in February 2018. The Missouri native’s signing came too late for him to be eligible to play in the 2017/18 campaign, so the up-and-coming striker had to make his presence felt in other ways initially.
A goal on his senior international debut for the USA in May of last year helped, as did a couple more cameo appearances in summer friendlies against the Republic of Ireland and soon-to-be world champions France.
Since then, the 19-year-old has quietly gone from strength-to-strength – making it an easy call for Bremen to offer him a new contract.
Watch: See Sargent's dream start to life in the Bundesliga
A smooth transition
For both club and player, there’s always an element of risk when signing a youngster – especially one that has travelled a long way from home to a country where they speak a different language.
Sargent, though, has consistently spoken of feeling at home in Germany, albeit with the steely focus of someone who knows that there are plenty more hurdles to overcome before he can truly establish himself in the professional game.
“Obviously when you take steps up from youth level to the men’s national team, it’s going to a big step,” Sargent told bundesliga.com after the USMNT’s 2-1 defeat against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin last June. “But I definitely think I can hang in there and compete. It’s been a good test so far, but I really think I can do this.”
In the same interview Sargent discussed his frustration at not being able to play at club level that season, but also said his new teammates had been providing a “really good support system” and encouraging him that his chance would come.
Sargent’s patience and determination would pay off. He kept working hard, scoring in pre-season friendlies and for the Green-Whites’ U23 team, before finally being given his opportunity in the Bundesliga. Just like at international level, the 2017 US Soccer Young Male Player of the Year would go on to seize the day.
A natural goalscorer
No matter where he has played, Sargent has found a way to get on the scoresheet regularly. The teenager scored multiple times at both the 2017 U17 and U20 World Cups, and became the fifth-youngest player in U.S. history to score a goal for his country by netting on his senior debut in a 3-0 win over Bolivia.
He got his first goal for Bremen in a pre-season friendly in July, and added further strikes that month and in additional first-team test matches in September and October.
The level-headed teenager from O’Fallon has struck seven times in 12 matches for Bremen’s U23s this term, and he got his second goal for the USMNT in a friendly with Peru last October.
With that success rate, a first-team bow had to come sooner or later. Sargent marked it in style – scoring two minutes after coming on in his side’s 3-1 home win over Fortuna Düsseldorf in December. An admirer of Tottenham Hotspur and England star Harry Kane as well as D.C. United’s former Manchester United attacker Wayne Rooney, he followed up by netting in a 3-2 loss at RB Leipzig later that month.
On Matchday 23, he was handed his first Bundesliga start in the 1-1 draw with VfB Stuttgart. Scoring at all levels, and with two top-flight goals in less than 200 minutes, no wonder Bremen were keen to prolong Sargent’s stay at the Weserstadion.
A replacement for Pizarro
Sargent is clearly improving gradually, and Bremen will be hoping that he can continue learning from club legend Claudio Pizarro.
“He’s like a father to me,” Sargent said of his teammate during the winter break. “But not a strict one – he’s laid back.
“He shows me little things I can do to play a bit smarter, like how I should position my body in a challenge.”
The American is roughly the same height as Peruvian veteran Pizarro (just over 6’), something that also goes for Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, with whom Sargent shares a similar frame and style.
At 40 years, four months and 13 days, Pizarro became the Bundesliga’s oldest-ever goalscorer when he netted an injury-time equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Hertha Berlin in February. It was the former Bayern forward’s third goal of the campaign, but the league’s record foreign-born scorer – 195 and counting – can’t go on forever.
Johannes Eggestein and Milot Rashica are used to attacking from wide, so Sargent is perhaps the best like-for-like replacement at Bremen coach Florian Kohfeldt’s disposal.
A help for Kruse
Sargent told bundesliga.com last season that Max Kruse had been “a great mentor” following his arrival, and the teenager could end up returning the favour by allowing his club captain to play to his strengths.
Kruse played in behind the 19-year-old during the Stuttgart game, and the Bremen number 10 generally likes dropping deep and pulling defenders out of position. In his best season with the club, the former St. Pauli, Freiburg, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Wolfsburg attacker scored 15 goals and provided seven assists. For that 2016/17 campaign, he was often paired with Pizarro in attack, or had either Serge Gnabry or Fin Bartels to link up with.
This term the 30-year-old German has been directly involved in nine goals to date, and with Sargent to supply he could certainly add to the five assists he has already recorded.
Watch: Hear what Florian Kohfeldt thought of Sargent's Bundesliga bow
A team player and a good mentality
It’s not just Sargent’s goalscoring that has stood out, as Werder scouting director Tim Steidten once explained.
“The first thing I recognised was not something like skills or technical things – it was his mentality on the pitch,” Steidten said. “How he’s talking to his teammates, how he was running for every ball.. he was a team player.”
When the American’s new deal was announced, Kohfeldt backed the forward to become “a very important part of the squad.”
“If you see Josh in the dressing room, in training or on a matchday, you see someone who wants to watch and learn – not just a very talented young footballer.”
Pizarro is another key figure at the Green-Whites who has been impressed by his young teammate’s attitude.
“What I didn’t have to tell him was to keep his feet on the ground, because Josh is a calm guy and that [getting overconfident] does not happen to him,” the former Chelsea frontman said recently.
“I’ve told Josh he needs to continue like this. When you score goals, you gain self-confidence and if you also have quality, more and more goals will come. That’s why Josh has to keep going, and so far he has done well.”
Sargent recently told the Werder website that his favourite pre-game song is Till I Collapse by Eminem. The teenager has already worked tirelessly to get this far, but many people are now backing him to go the extra mile.