From Özil and Firmino to De Bruyne, Rakitic and Kroos (l-r.), some of the best players in the world were mined and refined in the Bundesliga. - © © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA
From Özil and Firmino to De Bruyne, Rakitic and Kroos (l-r.), some of the best players in the world were mined and refined in the Bundesliga. - © © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA

Kroos, Özil, Firmino, De Bruyne, Rakitic... World-class players made in the Bundesliga


Germany has brought the world some of its best cars, finest beers and unbeatable bratwursts. But perhaps its top export is its footballers, bred in the Bundesliga before taking their talents to foreign climes where they have put the lessons learned in the German top flight to spectacular effect. takes a look at ten of the finest Bundesliga expats now shining beyond its borders.

Toni Kroos

Age: 28 Made in: Bayern Munich Now: Real Madrid

Born in former East Germany, Kroos' initial steps in the game were taken at Hansa Rostock before he was cherry-picked by Bayern, and hand crafted into one of the world's finest midfielders. The youngest Bayern Bundesliga debutant in September 2007, the 17-year-old hinted at the greatness within by chalking up two assists in a 5-0 rout of Energie Cottbus. Competing with Ze Roberto, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mark van Bommel meant an 18-month loan to Bayer Leverkusen made sense, and he returned to Bavaria for the 2010/11 campaign ready to stake his claim for a first-team place. He got it, winning the Bundesliga-DFB Cup double twice as well as the UEFA Champions League before heading for "a new challenge" in Madrid after Germany's 2014 FIFA World Cup win.

Watch: The Top 10 goals scored by the 2014 World Cup winners - including stunners from Kroos and Özil!

Mesut Özil

Age: 29 Made in: Schalke Now: Arsenal

Wayne Rooney once demanded Sir Alex Ferguson sign him for Manchester United while he was described by Philipp Lahm as "the most talented and intelligent player in Europe". However, like Dortmund-born Marco Reus, the Gelsenkirchen boy, one of the game's smoothest performers, had a bumpy ride to his hometown club. Rot-Weiss Essen snapped him up before the Royal Blues finally pounced when he was 16. He made 30 league appearances for Schalke, dipping his toe into the Bundesliga waters before diving in headfirst after joining Werder Bremen in January 2008. The 2008/09 season, though it ended mid-table in the top flight, was marked by Özil's matchwinner in the DFB Cup final and his string-pulling that was central to the Green-Whites' run to the UEFA Cup final. In fruitful collaboration with Claudio Pizarro and Diego, he registered 15 Bundesliga assists — second only to Wolfsburg's Zvjezdan Misimovic — before going two better the following campaign as he spectacularly shouldered the burden of Diego's departure for Juventus.

Roberto Firmino

Age: 26 Made in: Hoffenheim Now: Liverpool

Luiz Gustavo, Carlos Eduardo, Maicoseul… Hoffenheim have shown a discerning eye for Brazilian talent, and Firmino is their biggest success so far. Like his compatriots, he arrived as an unknown quantity at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena when he joined from Figueirense in January 2011, but had certainly made a name for himself by the time he left for Anfield in 2015. Inspired by the thought of being part of the Brazil squad to play for the World Cup on home soil, Firmino made his 2013/14 season stand out spectacularly. Two goals and three assists in a breathtaking Matchday 2 performance against Hamburg set the tone for a season that ended with sixteen 16 and 11 more goals laid on for his team-mates.

Watch: Firmino's 5-star display as Hoffenheim beat Hamburg 5-1 in 2013!

Kevin De Bruyne

Age: 26 Made in: Bremen Now: Manchester City

Neither Bremen nor Wolfsburg can claim to have discovered De Bruyne. That was Genk in his native Belgium before Chelsea then felt he was worth investing in. But unlike the Bundesliga sides, the Premier League club did not feel he deserved a first-team place. Ten goals and nine assists on loan at Bremen in 2012/13 suggested there was substance to the speculation De Bruyne could play; his sensational 2014/15 spelled it out in capital letters. De Bruyne was the common thread in the Wolves' successes that led to their best season since they were crowned champions in 2008/09. He had an artfully-gifted hand in 40 of the club's 72 goals, including a league record 27 assists, three of which came in a 5-3 win over former club Bremen. The Player of the Year award that followed surprised no-one, nor did the frenzy of interest that ended in his move to City.

Watch: De Bruyne comes of age for Wolfsburg against Bayern

Ivan Rakitic

Age: 30 Made in: Schalke Now: Barcelona

Though Basel played a role in the Swiss-born midfielder's early years, his three-and-a-half seasons at Schalke moulded him into the world-class player he is today. Though the turbulent times at the VELTINS-Arena that coincided with his time there made consistency an elusive commodity, the Croatia international's ability was clear when he was given free rein to express it. "I had had the feeling that he could do it at one of the big clubs in Europe," former S04 team-mate Lewan Kobiashvilli said. Sevilla and now Barcelona can confirm that!

Julian Draxler

Age: 24 Made in: Schalke Now: Paris Saint-Germain

A precious find even in the rich seam of talent mined from the coal-rich Ruhr lands around Gelsenkirchen, Draxler joined Schalke before he turned eight, and was an ultra-precocious Bundesliga debutant at 17 years and 117 days, the fourth-youngest in top-flight history. The baby-faced exterior masked man-mountain-sized talent that dazzled across 117 Bundesliga matches for the Royal Blues before he joined Wolfsburg, inspiring them to an unprecedented UEFA Champions League quarter-final place. He scored on his debut in four competitions for PSG and captained Germany to their FIFA Confederations Cup win last summer, adding to his FIFA World Cup winner's medal. Oh, and he's still only 24…

Antonio Rüdiger

Age: 25 Made in: Stuttgart Now: Chelsea

One of a growing list of names to add to the meandering collection of VfB Stuttgart's homegrown successes, the imposing centre-back was voted Germany's top U19 player in 2012, the same year he made his Bundesliga debut two months shy of his 19th birthday. It says much that he excelled in Italy, a country where the defender's art is held in high esteem, doing enough to force himself into Joachim Löw's plans for the Confederations Cup and earning a subsequent move to reigning English Premier League champions Chelsea.

Leroy Sane

Age: 22 Made in: Schalke Now: Manchester City

With a former Senegal international for a father and a gymnast for a mother, Sane had a headstart. Still, he worked hard on the ability his genes had given him, turning himself into one of the most exciting prospects Europe has seen in recent years. But for an instructive three-year hiatus at Leverkusen's youth academy, Sane's talent was hewn and fashioned at Schalke where he quite brilliantly put it to the club's service during his 2015/16 coming-of-age campaign. As his reputation swelled exponentially, his head certainly didn't with the mega-gifted youngster describing his breathtaking counter-attack matchwinner against Stuttgart as "one of my nicer goals".

Watch: Sane's Top 5 Bundesliga goals!

Sami Khedira

Age: 31 Made in: Stuttgart Now: Juventus

Stuttgart's 'junge Wilden' of 2003 are the stuff of VfB legend; Khedira made a major contribution to a second generation joining them in his hometown club's pantheon. Born and bred in the south-western city, Khedira emerged from the vaunted and productive youth academy with Andreas Beck and Serdar Tasci to lift the Meisterschale in 2006/07. His goal capped the come-from-behind win over Cottbus on the final day of the season to pip Schalke to the title by two points, and ensured a happy ending to a fairytale that was to prove just the start of his own.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Age: 29 Made in: Borussia Dortmund Now: Arsenal

Jürgen Klopp christened him 'Micki' as his surname was too complicated to pronounce, and the Armenia star initially found the transition from Shakhtar Donetsk to Dortmund just as tricky when he swapped Ukraine for the Ruhr in 2013. After two seasons in which his talent fizzled excitingly but frustratingly, it exploded in 2015/16 when he and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struck up a consistently devastating understanding. The Gabon international hit 25 goals and laid on a further six, but Mkhitaryan was just as influential with 20 assists and 11 strikes of his own to catch Manchester United's eye with just a year left on his BVB contract, before joining Arsenal in January 2018.

Watch: Mkhitaryan's stunning 2015/16 campaign

Click here to read 10 reasons Germany are football's greatest force!