Jude Bellingham and goalscoring sensation Youssoufa Moukoko have grabbed most of the headlines lately, but Ansgar Knauff is another teenager making his mark with Borussia Dortmund’s first team.
bundesliga.com tells you all you need to know about a 19-year-old who was promoted to the senior squad along with Moukoko ahead of the 2020/21 campaign…
Position: Right winger/Right wing-back
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Country: Germany (U19 cap)
Spotted by Jürgen Klopp as a 12-year-old in 2014, Knauff did not immediately join the Dortmund academy as it was too far from home, instead opting for Hannover 96 before eventually accepting BVB's invitation in summer 2016. Knauff was eligible to play U19 football again in the 2020/21 season, but instead he was given the chance to convince former first-team head coach Lucien Favre that he deserved to mix it at a higher level. The sprightly wide man joined the Dortmund U15s from Hannover in the summer of 2016, and was soon linking up with teenage goal machine Moukoko. He scored a couple of goals of his own in his debut season with the U17s as BVB won the 2018/19 U17 Bundesliga West.
Knauff went up a gear with the U19s the following campaign, registering five goals and seven assists in 18 games. As well as making 14 league starts, he also played seven times in the UEFA Youth League, scoring two of his four tournament goals in a 2-1 win over Inter Milan. The youngster's preferred position is on the right-hand side of the attack - he's naturally right-footed - but he can also play on the opposite flank and as a right-back. He extended his stay in November 2020, penning a contract that runs until the summer of 2023, and followed up by making his senior debut as a substitute in December in Dortmund's Champions League group-stage win over Zenit in Russia.
He then came on in the 2-2 draw with Cologne in March 2021, marking his Bundesliga bow with an assist for Erling Haaland's last-minute equaliser. Knauff also featured from the bench against Eintracht Frankfurt before interim coach Edin Terzic gave him his first start in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg against Manchester City. Aged 19 years and 86 days, he was the youngest German starter for Dortmund in the knockout stage of the competition. In the same week, Knauff made himself a fan-favourite with his first Bundesliga goal earning Dortmund a 3-2 win away at VfB Stuttgart.
Plays a bit like: Jadon Sancho
Like everyone connected with Dortmund, Knauff will have watched with wonder as English youngster Sancho developed from a promising teenager into a lethal weapon in the German top flight. Posting numbers like Sancho’s - 17 goals and 16 assists in the 2019/20 Bundesliga - is still a pipe dream for now, but Knauff has shown the potential to bamboozle defenders in a similar fashion. Most notably he glided past three Cologne players before finishing off a memorable goal - with his weaker left foot - in the final of the German U17 championship in June 2019. He did something equally eye-catching on his debut at senior level against the same opposition in March 2021, powering past a defender on the right before whipping over a delightful low cross that was gobbled up by Haaland.
Watch: Could Knauff replicate Sancho's 2019/20 heroics?
Having both filled out and grown in recent months, the latest Dortmund academy prospect will look to prove he has what it takes to last in the more bruising men's game. If he is up to the task, he could well become an option at right wing-back if required - his vision and awareness are among his standout qualities. In that regard, he could look back on how Achraf Hakimi performed in the role last season. But he will also get plenty of advice from Thomas Meunier, since the Belgium international started out as an attacker before becoming a full-back at senior level.
Did you know:
Knauff reportedly first caught the eye of Dortmund's top brass when he scored that wonder goal as BVB finished as runners-up to Cologne in the German U17 championship. The teenager was equally impressive in the semi-final, though, scoring once and making four more goals as Dortmund beat Wolfsburg over two legs.
What they're saying
"They said to me to be brave, to get right into it in order to turn things around. And I did... obviously I was very happy to get my chance to play in the Bundesliga and that things worked out on the pitch with an assist. But it would have been so much sweeter with an away win." – Knauff on what he was told before coming on to make his Bundesliga debut in the 2-2 draw in Cologne
"[Knauff is] a very talented young attacking player with good speed and dribbling skills. He's going to do the pre-season first - then we'll see what happens next." – Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc after Knauff was promoted ahead of the 2020/21 campaign
"We're very satisfied with Ansgar's development." – Dortmund youth coordinator Lars Ricken after Knauff penned a new deal in November 2020