Cologne - For fans of the beautiful game, there is nothing better than watching one of your very own make it to the top.
At Borussia Mönchengladbach and FC Schalke 04 that watershed moment is a fairly regular occurrence, and there was no better illustration of what homegrown talent means to both clubs than on Bundesliga Matchday 9.
Already Schalke regulars in their own right, Leroy Sane and Max Meyer - aged 19 and 20 respectively - combined with virtually the last kick of the game to give the Royal Blues a hard-earned 2-1 victory over ten-man Hertha Berlin. Their dynamism, attitude and maturity belied their years, but then again they have made 94 Bundesliga appearances between them.
Meyer’s Bundesliga breakthrough came three years ago at the age of 17, while Sane announced himself on the scene with a stunning goal against Real Madrid CF in last season’s UEFA Champions League round of 16. Both were born and raised in the industrial Ruhr district area Schalke calls home and both earned their stripes - like Benedikt Höwedes, Joel Matip and Ralf Fährmann before them - in the club’s renowned Knappenschmiede youth academy.
Much like their north-west rivals and opponents this Sunday afternoon, Gladbach are no slackers when it comes to developing top local talent. Vice captain Tony Jantschke, wing sensation Patrick Herrmann and Germany international Marc-Andre ter Stegen - now of FC Barcelona - all passed through the Fohlenstall system, setting the gold standard for younger prospects such as Julian Korb and Mahmoud Dahoud.
Syria-born Dahoud, for one, left the field of play at Eintracht Frankfurt’s Commerzbank Arena last weekend to a standing ovation, having had a direct say in three of Gladbach’s four goals in an eventual 5-1 success. The 19-year-old midfielder only made his Bundesliga debut last April, but now appears to be an integral part of Borussia’s long-term plans following Christoph Kramer’s return to parent club Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the summer.
"I'm very grateful that I've been given the chance to play so often this season and I'm just enjoying the moment, but I'm not just going to sit back and think that I'm now a regular," Dahoud said following his man-of-the-match performance in Frankfurt. "I'm prepared for when it goes downhill and when it does I'll battle through it again."
In youth we trust
Unsurprisingly, there have been instances in other European leagues where fame has got the better of some undeniably gifted individuals. It is, however, great testament to humble family clubs such as Gladbach and Schalke that their endless supply of academy graduates mature with such pride and humility.
Matchday 10’s grand finale is a meeting of two sides with genuine designs on a top-four finish, but it also represents a true meeting of minds on the subject of grassroots principles. If teams outside Germany’s top two divisions invested half as much time and energy into local talent, the world of football would be a better place.
Dennis-Julian Gottschlich/ Christopher Mayer-Lodge