Jadon Sancho, Gio Reyna, Erling Haaland (l-r.) were all born in England, but choose Germany's Borussia Dortmund as the place to further their professional careers. - © imago
Jadon Sancho, Gio Reyna, Erling Haaland (l-r.) were all born in England, but choose Germany's Borussia Dortmund as the place to further their professional careers. - © imago

From Christian Pulisic to Erling Haaland via Jadon Sancho: why do Borussia Dortmund attract the game's best young players?


Matchday 18 hat-trick hero Erling Haaland is the latest teenager to have chosen Borussia Dortmund as the best place to fulfil his obvious potential. But why do the five-time Bundesliga champions keep getting their hands on the world’s best young players?

bundesliga.com takes a closer look…

In the past decade Dortmund – not to mention the Bundesliga – has become one of the best places in which an up-and-coming young player can develop.

Haaland looks set to be the latest example, with the Norwegian announcing his arrival in Germany with a 23-minute treble during his devastating debut against Augsburg. The 19-year-old had obviously established himself at Salzburg – and starred in the UEFA Champions League – before linking up with Lucien Favre’s side. Amidst a host of proposals, though, one of the most in-demand youngsters in Europe still saw Dortmund as the perfect destination.

Watch: Erling Haaland's 23-minute hat-trick in all its glory

BVB have a healthy habit of recruiting promising young players who have yet to make their professional breakthrough. Think Jadon Sancho and Gio Reyna amongst the current crop, or United States international Christian Pulisic in the past. But why have the 1997 European champions become such an attractive option?

If you’re good enough, you’re old enough

In recent years, the likes of Pulisic, Reyna and Sancho have all made their Bundesliga debuts at the age of 17. But Dortmund have been giving opportunities to young players – and getting the best out of them – for quite some time now.

Think back to their last title-winning sides under current Liverpool head coach Jürgen Klopp. Nuri Sahin – a key member of the 2010/11 championship-winning squad – still holds the record as the Bundesliga’s youngest ever player. Now at Werder Bremen, he made his league debut for Dortmund in August 2005, at 16 years and 335 days old.

Future Dortmund captain Marcel Schmelzer and future FIFA World Cup winner Mario Götze also came through the club’s youth academy, before being given every chance to shine at senior level. Hopes are high that 15-year-old goalscoring sensation Youssoufa Moukoko could be one of the next home-grown players to storm through the ranks.

"We'll be doing this together in the Bundesliga before long" Reyna and Youssoufa Moukoko (l-r.) are two of Dortmund's brightest teenaged prospects. - imago images/MaBoSport

Serious financial difficulties in 2005 forced Dortmund’s hand in terms of taking a new approach to recruitment, and they soon cast the net far and wide. Sporting director Michael Zorc explained last year that they began trying to identify young players who had serious scope for improvement.

Reyna is the latest teenager to feature for BVB, showing some glimpses of his obvious talent after coming on against Augsburg. Zorc previously said that “almost every club in Europe” had wanted to sign the USA youth international, but Dortmund’s track record clearly helped them win the race.

A global network

In the summer of 2010, ahead of winning the first of their back-to-back league titles, Dortmund made two key signings from abroad. Japanese attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa was an unknown in Europe, but BVB’s scouts felt the 21-year-old was worth taking on.

Another unfamiliar name was Robert Lewandowski. Catching the headlines with Lech Poznan and already capped by Poland, the 20-year-old certainly had potential. The volcanic ash cloud that downed flights across Europe that summer scuppered his potential visit to Blackburn Rovers, and one of the greatest strikers the world would ever see instead decided to move to Germany.

Robert Lewandowski blossomed into one of the world's best strikers in a four-year stint at Dortmund. - 2013 Getty Images

Just like with Haaland, Dortmund were willing to stump up the cash for a young player that they hoped would prove a top quality signing. Lewandowski’s first goal came in a win at Schalke in September 2010 – Kagawa got the other two in a 3-1 win – and he went on to score 103 times in 187 appearances for the club.

Since then, the hits have kept on coming. Pulisic [2015] and Ousmane Dembele [2016] both made their mark at Dortmund before the club earned a healthy profit by selling them to Chelsea and Barcelona.

The race to find the next star of the game is clearly heating up, and players from all over the world are being scouted from an early age. But if Dortmund invest in a promising teenager, they feel obliged to look after him.

“You don’t just make signings to win the junior Bundesliga title,” BVB youth coordinator Lars Ricken said after Reyna joined in 2019.

Dortmund received roughly 10 times the fee they paid for Ousmane Dembele (c.) when he joined Barcelona for €105 million. - 2016 Getty Images

“The club has a responsibility to the player and his family when you take them out of their social environment at such a young age.

"We only consider bringing in youngsters from abroad when we're 100 per cent sure that the player has the potential to play for the first team."

Scouting and coaching

Dortmund’s scouting network deserves substantial praise for consistently finding the next big thing, and for convincing the club that these players are worth acquiring. But the coaches, too, require acknowledgement.

Almost without fail, youngsters who arrive at the club will leave it as better players. Pulisic eventually blazed a trail for American teenagers in the Bundesliga, but it was Dortmund’s standing and attitude that had initially made all the difference.

“When he was 15 and playing in the national sides, he realised he had to make the move quickly for the development of his game,” his father Mark told The Guardian in 2016. “Once, as parents, we felt he was ready and it was something he wanted, we went to visit Dortmund.

Watch: Christian Pulisic - made in the Bundesliga

“All of us decided we felt it was the right move and the club was great with us, so we took the plunge.”

The price of success for honing such talents, of course, is that other clubs come calling. Götze, Kagawa, Lewandowski, Sahin, and more recently, Dembele, Pulisic and Julian Weigl have all been enticed away from Dortmund. But the reputation the Black-Yellows earned for developing players in the process has allowed them to become a very attractive destination.

“I don’t need to say much anymore," Zorc told espnfc last year, when discussing the appeal the club has for foreign youngsters and their representatives.

"I just show them the teamsheets. There are three or four players under 21 there. It excites them to get the chance to measure up against the best players in the world in the Champions League.”

Dortmund coach Lucien Favre (l.) does not hold back when it comes to giving youth a chance at the top level. - imago

Game time at a top club

Indeed, it’s not just the fact that young players are given first-team opportunities that makes Dortmund an ideal club. It’s that they’re given considerable game time at one of the top teams in Europe.

Achraf Hakimi is one such beneficiary. The 21-year-old – named African Young Player of the Year for 2019 – has excelled during his two-year loan spell from Real Madrid. The Morocco international had played a handful of matches with his parent club’s first team before joining Dortmund, of course, but – with four goals in this season’s Champions League – he has now grown into a player that clubs around Europe fear.

Sancho is another example. Finding his path to the first-team blocked by a large of cast of recognised stars at Manchester City, the wily wide man found a welcome home in Dortmund. His educated gamble – a move to Germany in August 2017 – has paid off handsomely. The 19-year-old made his debut in October of that year, and 12 months later he was a full England international.

Watch: Jadon Sancho on the "buzz" he gets playing for Borussia Dortmund

“It speaks for itself,” Sancho told FourFourTwo magazine, when asked last year why he chose to join Dortmund. “Youngsters get opportunities. You’ve got to thank Dortmund, because it’s unheard of for a team that gets 80,000 at every home game to put so much faith in youngsters.”

Sancho wasn’t playing in low-pressure league games or dead rubber European group-stage matches, as Zorc highlighted when asked specifically about why Dortmund have become an obvious choice for English teenagers.

"They can't get into their first teams because the squads are so big,” he told espnfc. “But they understand that we can provide a platform for them to play – that our coaches have the courage to play them.”

Trial and error is involved, of course, especially with younger players. But for Dortmund, it’s become a tried and tested winning formula.