Malik Tillman: Who is the Bayern Munich forward called up to the USMNT?
Malik Tillman kicked off 2021/22 with his first senior goals for Bayern Munich, and ended the season with a maiden call-up to the USMNT squad. bundesliga.com profiles the up-and-coming German-American forward...
bundesliga.com has the lowdown…
Club: Bayern Munich
Position: Striker/attacking midfielder
Country: USA (two U15 caps)/ Germany (two U21 caps)
Born in Nuremberg in May 2002, the son of a German mother and a US military father, Tillman grew up in Fürth, a 20-minute drive west of Bavaria's second-biggest city. Having kicked a ball almost since he could walk, the youngster was soon in the youth system of nearby Greuther Fürth, and made the move to Munich with Bayern a few months past his 13th birthday in the summer of 2015.
Two short seasons later and Tillman - at this point still very much a midfielder - was captaining the record champions' U15 side. Fast filling out into his now 6'1"-frame, Tillman essentially bypassed the U16s and was given a central role in the U17 set-up when he was still only 15. Within 12 months, he was leading that age group out, too.
It was the 2019/20 campaign when Tillman really made the step up, though, leaving coaches throughout the Bayern academy with little doubt that he had the tools to progress into the full professional game. With his pace, strength, control and awareness, Tillman was soon put up front on a full-time basis, and the results were impressive.
With the No.9 jersey on his back, Tillman plundered 13 goals for Bayern's U19s before the coronavirus-enforced break in play, making him the top scorer league-wide in the U19 Bundesliga. Throw in his seven assists and Tillman had a hand in a goal every 70 minutes he played at that level.
Bayern II coach Sebastian Hoeneß's hand may have been somewhat forced when reserve team football returned following the DFL's Hygiene Concept - something that didn't apply to the underage levels - but he was richly rewarded for giving Tillman his chance in the third tier of German football. Fiete Arp may have had possession of that particular No.9 shirt, but the 18-year-old Tillman was unfazed, finishing the season with five goals in eight games as Bayern climbed from eighth to first in the Rückrunde.
Hansi Flick duly promoted Tillman to the first-team squad for the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League's final eight tournament in Lisbon en route to wrapping up a first continental treble since 2013. A new contract until 2024 is another statement of the club's faith in the nascent talent, while the youngster scored his first senior goal in the 2021/22 DFB Cup first round. He also debuted in the Bundesliga and Champions League before the year was out.
At international level, Tillman first turned out for the USA at U15, just five days past his 14th birthday, even assisting Borussia Dortmund's Gio Reyna for the only goal in a 1-0 win over Montenegro's U16s at a tournament in Croatia. He produced two goals in two appearances up to U21 level with Germany, before pledging his allegiance to the US on the back of a seven-appearance season with Bayern, earning an immediate call-up to the June 2022 roster.
Plays a bit like: Paul Pogba
It may seem strange to describe a player who ended the 2019/20 campaign as an 18-goal striker as being similar in style to Manchester United and France midfielder Paul Pogba, but take it from the man himself.
"When I play as a No.8 or No.10 [in central midfield], my playing style is similar to Paul Pogba's," Tillman told SportBild. "I like him a lot. I really like how he plays. He's something of a role model for me."
It's true that Tillman has a similar combination of physical and technical brilliance that the French World Cup winner boasts - and his ability to find a teammate with a laser-sighted long ball forward is well worth a few minutes spent on YouTube. What Bayern spotted, though, was that Tillman was just as effective at getting on the end of such passes as delivering them.
Closer to the opposition goal, Tillman still threads neat through balls to better placed teammates when he's not tucking away chances coming in the opposite direction. Perhaps it is what Pogba would look like in attack. Lars Stindl - scorer of the goal that won Germany the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2017 and captain of Borussia Mönchengladbach - is perhaps the Bundesliga player closest in profile.
Did you know?
Tillman is now on the cusp of an extremely promising Bayern career, but actually only ended up at the club at all because of his elder brother, Timothy. An attacking midfielder or winger, Timothy - three years Malik's senior - was regarded as one of the most promising prospects in world football back in 2015, and Bayern fended off reported interest from Barcelona to sign him from Fürth.
Being a two-hour drive from home as opposed to in a different country 1,000 miles away may have helped swing the deal, but so too did the fact that young Malik was also offered a place at the FC Bayern Campus.
Timothy, 23, returned to Fürth at the start of the 2020/21 campaign after a fruitless spell on loan at Nuremberg and is a first-team regular. Malik, as we have seen, appears to be on a similarly upward trajectory.
What they're saying
"Malik is a top quality young striker" - Bayern head coach Julian Nagelsmann
"We regret Malik's decision - it surprised us a lot. We promoted him as a young player in the U21s, we placed a lot of trust in him and gave him match practice. In addition, we were in intensive talks regarding his prospects in the senior national team." - Germany U21 coach Antonio Di Salvo on Tillman's decision to represent the USMNT
"In general, he's very good on the ball. He can create combinations, chances. He can also score. He's a good midfielder, a No.8 for us, who can work defensively. But he's better in attack. He has very good skills to spot the other players." - Germany U17 coach Michael Feichtenbeiner, speaking at the 2019 European Championship
"Malik's one of the younger lads in the U19s, but he's a beast physically. He has very, very good technique. He's difficult to nudge off the ball. He'll get even better if he becomes more dynamic. It helps him to play as a striker sometimes. He's got a very good tally for goals and assists." - Bayern's academy boss, Jochen Sauer
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Official Bundesliga transfer centre: summer 2023
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Official Bundesliga transfer centre: summer 2023
Find out all the ins and outs across the Bundesliga ahead of the 2023/24 campaign...