Manuel Akanji is the rock at the heart of the Borussia Dortmund defence. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga/DFL via Getty Images
Manuel Akanji is the rock at the heart of the Borussia Dortmund defence. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga/DFL via Getty Images

Manuel Akanji: 10 things on Borussia Dortmund's Swiss international defender


Borussia Dortmund's defence is being propped up by Swiss talent Manuel Akanji, but exactly who is the confident centre-back gracing Signal Iduna Park with his defensive prowess? offers ten things on the former FC Basel star...

1) A sports-mad family with African roots
Akanji's father - a financial expert from Nigeria - was an amateur footballer in his younger years and still plays the sport in his spare time. Hailing from a sports-mad family, Akanji also owes his middle name - Obafemi - to former Wolfsburg, Inter Milan and Newcastle star, Obafemi Martins. Akanji's Swiss mother is a former tennis player while his eldest sister, Michelle, is an athlete. Another of Manuel's siblings, Sarah, plays football for FC Winterthur in the Swiss second division.

Manuel Akanji made over 50 appearances for Basel before Borussia Dortmund came calling. - imagoimages

2) From Winterthur to Basel, a steady rise
Akanji was born in the town of Wiesendangen in the district of Winterthur and took his first professional steps at the same club as his sister. At 19, he was snapped up by FC Basel and quickly began to build an impressive reputation with the Swiss Super League giants, making eight top-flight appearances despite an injury-hit maiden campaign with the club.

3) Titles begin to flow
Picking up a league winners' medal in his first season, Akanji subsequently featured 18 times in all competitions as Basel won a league and cup double in 2016/17. He featured in 28 games in all competitions prior to completing his switch to BVB in 2018.

4) The complete defender
Akanji likes to carry out his defensive duties at centre-back, but, comfortable playing with either foot, has also been successfully deployed on the right and left. Standing at 1.87m and weighing 85kgs, he also boasts impressive speed. His speciality however, is bringing the ball out from the back, be it via well-timed runs or long, accurate passing.

Speed is high up on the list of key attributes that have helped Manuel Akanji rise through the ranks at blistering pace. - 2018 Getty Images / Lars Baron

5) Facing his heroes
A self-confessed Manchester United fan, Akanji got to play at the home of his heroes when the English Premier League team triumphed 3-0 against Basel in a UEFA Champions League group stage encounter in 2017/18. The Swiss side - with their trusted defender on board - gained their revenge against the Red Devils, running out 1-0 winners in the corresponding fixture in November 2017.

6) Confidence part of the package
A senior Swiss international on 22 occasions, Akanji was already the bedrock of the Swiss defence at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, where they faced Brazil, Costa Rica and Serbia in Group E before bowing out to Sweden in the last 16. Speaking in an interview prior to being called up by his country, the defender said, "I don't want to sound arrogant, but I have faith in my own abilities. I have to improve my heading and I still need to learn more tactical aspects in terms of my defensive work."

Manuel Akanji may come across as being quite confident - that is because he is. - 2018 Getty Images Alex Grimm

7) Fighting spirit
Akanji suffered a severe setback shortly after signing for Basel when he tore his cruciate ligament. Thus began a nine-month recovery process with some critics even suggesting the player had moved clubs too soon. "There were those who said I changed clubs too early or that I wouldn't be able to return to my best. I was determined to show them," he said following his comeback. Once fully fit, the 24-year-old immediately slotted back into Basel's defence, featuring regularly for the title winners who - perhaps tellingly - have not won the Swiss league since Akanji left.

8) Telling tattoo
The Swiss defender has a tattoo on his left forearm bearing the words, "Prove them wrong," in English. "This saying has been a motto of mine for a long time," Akanji explained. "I had the tattoo done when I was injured as at times it wasn't clear if I would ever fully heal."

9) Friendly face-off
Akanji is good friends with Borussia Mönchengladbach's former Schalke forward Breel Embolo, so much so that the two spent Christmas together in Paris. Both are Swiss international teammates and were also on the books together at Basel. "Breel Embolo is the strongest player I've ever played against," Akanji explained in an interview. "When I was at Winterthur, we played a cup game against Basel in 2014 and he mercilessly showed me just how much work I needed to do to improve."

10) Swiss success in Dortmund
The talented defender is, of course, not the first Swiss player to have entertained the masses at the Westfalenstadion. Akanji joined his international teammates, goalkeepers Roman Bürki and Marwin Hitz at Die Schwarzgelben, while previous Swiss crowd favourites at the club have included Stephane Chapuisat (ninth on the club's top goalscoring list) and Alexander Frei.