Born in Bottrop in the industrial outskirts of Gelsenkirchen, Borussia Dortmund's virtuoso talent Felix Passlack grew up supporting his current club's local rivals FC Schalke 04.
When BVB signed the then-14 year old from Rot-Weiß Oberhausen in 2012, Passlack defied peer pressure to sign with Die Schwarz-Gelben. If that act hinted that the diminutive midfielder had the character to dwarf his 1.70m tall frame, his Bundesliga debut against SV Darmstadt 98 left little doubt. Allow bundesliga.com to elaborate…
Passlack started the 2-0 win on the right flank, with assist-king Henrikh Mkhitaryan rested. Up against two left-backs at once in the shape of the combative Konstantin Rausch and former Italy U-21 captain Luca Caldirola, the 17-year-old was utterly unfazed for the 69 minutes he was on the pitch. How did Thomas Tuchel know Passlack would thrive?
Fellow U-19 graduate Christian Pulisic may have beaten Passlack to a first-team debut by six weeks, but after winning the Fritz Walter Medal as the most promising player in his age group as recently as 2015 it was little surprise to see Tuchel fast-track Passlack to the senior squad in January 2016 at the club's Dubai training camp.
"He has all the athletic requirements to succeed at the very top of professional," said Dortmund's U-19 coach Hannes Wolf. It is a sentiment echoed by Lars Ricken, who made his own BVB debut before his 18th birthday in 1993: "With Passlack you can see what can be achieved when you combine natural talent with a tremendous willingness to improve. In recent years he has made great progress in technical and tactical areas."
Little wonder, then, that Passlack bypassed the U-19 squad after captaining Dortmund's U-17s to the German title in the 2014/15 campaign. Passlack came close to adding international glory at the end of last season, helping Germany to the final of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Bulgaria, where they eventually fell to France in the final.
Not that Passlack is getting carried away with his stratospheric progress. "I do not want to be the star player," said the youngster. "Maybe I'm the best-known of the youth team, because of how the media and the fans have reacted, but we are a team. I am happy when I can make fans happy with a photo."
The ability to shine at the tender age of 17, allied with a humility rarely seen at such an age, means we're likely to see a lot more of the academy star in the weeks and months ahead.