Englishman Tim Kirk is coach of the U12s at Borussia Dortmund. - © Borussia Dortmund
Englishman Tim Kirk is coach of the U12s at Borussia Dortmund. - © Borussia Dortmund

Meet Tim Kirk: Borussia Dortmund's former PE teacher turned youth coaching guru


Borussia Dortmund have already established their reputation as one of Europe's leading clubs in terms of youth development, and the arrival of English coach Tim Kirk should only help in their pursuit of unearthing the next Jadon Sancho.

In the perpetual bid to steal a march on the opposition in an increasingly competitive world, the area of youth development continues to grow in significance, which is why Dortmund have invested not only a significant amount of resources in the field, but also focused on finding the best in the business.

USMNT star Christian Pulisic was spotted by one of the Westphalian club's talent scouts while playing in a youth tournament in Turkey, aged 15, while Ousmane Dembele earned them a sizeable profit when he moved to Barcelona, just a year after being spotted and signed as a 19-year-old making waves for Rennes in Ligue 1.

Sancho's story is already widely known: with no sign of a route into the Manchester City first team in England, he joined BVB as a 17-year-old keen on earning his break, and he was given it at Signal Iduna Park.

Watch: Jadon Sancho's Bundesliga mixtape

In all three cases, Dortmund moved quicker than the competition both in identifying the talent and then securing their services; convincing them of the virtues of representing one of Germany's biggest football clubs and – crucially – giving them a fair opportunity to demonstrate their true value.

If it is so easy, why are other clubs not as successful? Well, it takes more than just a good pair of eyes and powers of persuasion to succeed, and this is where Dortmund stand out from the pack. As Ed Smith wrote in The New Statesman: "Identifying exceptional talent is hard; knowing what to do with it is even harder."

Nurturing talent is critical with boys of an impressionable age needing not only the right training, but also the right advice and – above all – the necessary support to make the step up from academy to pro-status.

Dortmund ensure all this is in place before a player enters their academy. "We don't collect players – only the very best," said Lars Ricken, Dortmund's academy director, to The Mail. He knows what he is talking about too, being one of the many illustrious names to have emerged from the academy in the suburb of Brackel.

Heard about how Jadon Sancho rose from being a teenage prodigy to England international, thanks to Borussia Dortmund? - 2019 DFL

With a track record which pricked the ears of the Bundesliga club, the former English and Physical Education teacher Kirk was consequently a perfect fit for Dortmund's academy. Contact was made via former Dortmund U19s coach Benjamin Hoffmann – now at Mainz – and Kirk was invited to Germany to explain the philosophy behind the Bath & Wiltshire Boys programme he helped set up in 2003.

Producing professional footballer was never the objective of the BWB programme, but it became a natural bi-product which has led to almost 80 of the boys who came through the system moving on to academies at professional clubs.

According to the BWB brochure, the programme "is built upon the nurturing of four values, responsibility, resilience, compassion and curiosity. These particular values were chosen specifically to counter a trend in modern culture which has seen our efforts to ‘protect’ children resulting in a lack of vital skills such as resourcefulness, independence, common sense and self-regulation."

To prepare prospective players for the impact of the famous Gelbe Wand, they get to stand in the largest terrace in Europe to hear the noise for themselves - as part of a holistic educational programme. - 2018 DFL

It is therefore not merely about teaching a boy how to kick a football, how to dribble round a cone or make a tackle, but more about helping to develop their minds to make the right choices, and then providing the necessary support for them to physically achieve this. In practice, as Kirk told The Financial Times, his players are not assessed on winning matches, but on whether they reach a specific target. This can be, for example, how well they press or chase down a defender, which could be a weakness which needs improving.

"It's challenging them intellectually," Kirk told FT.com. "I would say up to the under-12s, 70 per cent is technical, just getting them to become familiar with the ball and execute actions. As soon as you get into ages 12 to 15, you want them to start thinking two, three, four phases ahead in the game."

Kirk currently finds himself laying the foundations at Dortmund's U12 level, giving them a leg-up on their path to professionalism, each in their own, individually unique way.

The best tools in the trade are laid at his disposition too, including the famed Footbonaut – an expensive yet effective installation which only Dortmund's Bundesliga rivals Hoffenheim also invested in. The concept behind the state-of-the-art equipment is for predominantly younger players to receive balls from a variety of angles, different trajectories and diverse speeds and they need to react quickly to control the ball and then send it to a panel which lights up randomly.

"By the time they get to [Mario] Götze’s level, everything they do is pretty much automatic, because they've just honed it, they've trained it," Kirk says to FT.com. "It's all about pictures. At a young age, you've just got to build and give them as many pictures about the game as possible so that they can choose the right one when the time comes."

It's a bit like Dortmund's own club philosophy – finding the right player when the right time comes.

Watch: Dortmund's cutting edge training aid - the Footbonaut

World Cup winner Götze is just one of the many examples, with Marco Reus also benefitting from being part of Dortmund's academy, even if he then took his first professional steps elsewhere only to return home in 2012. And the headline-making stories of Youssoufa Moukoko suggest even more in-house talent is already on its way through the system.

He became the youngest player ever to score in the UEFA Youth League when he shaved almost two years off the previous record, netting at the age of 14 in Dortmund's 4-1 defeat at Inter Milan in October 2019, after scoring 40 goals in 28 games for the club's Under-17s, punching substantially above his weight as a 13-year-old.

Youssoufa Moukoko has scored 19 goals in 16 appearances for Dortmund's U19 team so far in 2019/20, despite only just turning 15 in November 2019. - imago images / Revierfoto

Further diamonds are bound to be being cut by Kirk and Co. as we speak, as Dortmund push on with a policy which has already produced impressive results, and one they swear by.

If Götze, Reus, Pulisic and Sancho say anything, then it is that Dortmund are backing winners by throwing their weight behind youth development, with Kirk a captain of a star-studded enterprise.