Jadon Sancho’s star is on the rise. If he continues to impress as he did in his first two official starts for Borussia Dortmund, the English youngster will join a select group of British players who left a profound mark in the Bundesliga.
Sancho originally seemed to be a long-term investment for Dortmund after signing last summer for the Schwarzgelben from Manchester City at the age of 17. Upon arrival, he was given Ousmane Dembele’s vacated No. 7 jersey in the first team squad, a gesture that seemed more symbolic than prophetical at the time as he spent the first half of the 2017/2018 season with the reserves and the U-19 squad for the UEFA Youth League.
However, the Rückrunde proved to be his big break as coach Peter Stöger gave him his first Bundesliga start against Wolfsburg on Matchday 18. Although Dortmund drew that match, Sancho’s composure and dribbling caught the imagination of fans and pundits across Germany. On Matchday 19, he started again for Dortmund and provided a vital assist for Shinji Kagawa to save a point in Berlin after going 1-0 down against Hertha, cementing his newfound status.
If the trend continues, Jadon Sancho will join a pantheon of British players who came to Germany and triumphed in one of the world’s toughest leagues, such as...
When Kevin Keegan landed in Hamburg in the summer of 1977, he had already won every single title available with Liverpool, including three First Division crowns and the European Cup under legendary manager Bob Paisley. He became the highest-paid player in Germany and was seen by many as the missing piece in the puzzle for the Northern giants to rise to their potential. He had a big reputation to live up to.
In his first season, the club finished a disappointing 10th in the table, but Keegan’s individual performance was so outstanding that he was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1978. The following year, Yugoslavian coach Branko Zebec arrived and imposed a disciplinarian regime and led the club to their first title in 19 years in 1979. Keegan performed at his very best. He scored 17 goals that season, earning him a second consecutive Ballon d’Or and the nickname “Mighty Mouse” (after a beloved children's cartoon) from his legion of adoring fans.
During the 1979/1980 season, he inspired Hamburg to reach the European Cup final, where they lost 1-0 to Nottingham Forest. Keegan may have returned to England after this achievement, but he had already lit the footballing spark that eventually led Hamburg to European Cup glory in 1983.
Speaking of European Cup glory, Tony Woodcock was a key member of the Nottingham Forest squad that surprised the world by earning promotion to the English top flight in 1977, winning the league title in 1978 and then conquering the top continental prize in 1979. No doubt inspired by Kevin Keegan’s success with Hamburg, Cologne searched the British Isles for a star striker and signed Woodcock for the 1979/80 season.
At the time, the Billy Goats were enjoying a particularly successful period. Just a few years before, In 1978, Cologne had conquered a historic league and cup double and were looking to remain among the elite in Germany. Woodcock’s signing, along with a recent infusion of young talented players like Pierre Littbarski and Bernd Schuster, were supposed to aid this achievement.
Woodcock’s three-year spell at Cologne saw the club fight constantly at the top and even reach the DFB Cup final once. In 1982, he signed for Arsenal, where he scored 68 goals in 169 appearances for the Gunners over four seasons before returning to Cologne in 1986 for two more years of Bundesliga action. He ended his Bundesliga career in 1988 with 46 goals to his name over 152 matches with the Billy Goats.
When Borussia Dortmund fans think about British football, one name immediately comes to mind: Paul Lambert. Although the Scotsman’s time in Germany was brief, he earned a place in BVB history by being instrumental in achieving the club’s biggest success to date: the 1996/97 UEFA Champions League.
He came to the Bundesliga in the summer of 1996 at the request of coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, who had put together a special mix of locally-bred talent and solid international signings like Portuguese midfielder Paulo Sosa. With the Schwarzgelben, Lambert became one of the most feared defensive midfielders in Europe. He was so integral to the squad, that of the 11 games in that Champions League campaign, he only missed 54 minutes of play.
In the final against Juventus, Lambert produced arguably his best performance at the club, neutralizing Zidedine Zidane and providing an assist for Karl-Heinz Riedle to open the score, which ended 3-1 in their favour. The following season, Scottish giants Celtic signed the midfielder, who could not decline a return to his native Glasgow. In little over a year, he had earned the hearts of the fans, who gave him an emotional Yellow Wall send-off.
England international Owen Hargreaves’ case is closer to Jadon Sancho’s than other members of this illustrious list. Hargreaves was born in Calgary, Canada, to an English father and a Welsh mother. At the age of 16, he was spotted by Bayern Munich and in 1997 signed on to finish his development as a player with the Bavarian giants. He made his first team debut in 2000.
Although he spent most of the first half of the 2000/01 season with the reserves, by the end of the year he had gained the trust of coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. In the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, Hargreaves was chosen to replace club legend Stefan Effenberg, who had accumulated too many yellow cards.
The young midfielder impressed and was selected again for the final against Valencia, which Bayern won in a narrow penalty shootout. In only his first season as a professional, he played an active role in winning the Bundesliga and the Champions League. After three further league titles with Bayern, Hargreaves moved to Manchester United, where he won the Champions League once more.