- Mkhitaryan's departure makes way for Pulisic, Dembele and Mor.
- The three teenaged attacking midfielders impressed at home and abroad in 2015/16.
- BVB coach Tuchel renowned for blooding young talent.
The departure of Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Manchester United presents an opportunity for young stars Christian Pulisic, Ousmane Dembele and Emre Mor at Borussia Dortmund.
Armenia captain Mkhitaryan weighed in with 11 goals and a Bundesliga-high 15 assists in the 2015/16 season as . A tough act to follow? Yes. Impossible? No. Not if - like Thomas Tuchel - you have not one, not two, but three of Europe's most talented teenagers in your ranks.
Not 18 until September, Pulisic is the youngest of the teenaged trio, yet he is at the front of the queue when it comes to inheriting Mkhitaryan's berth on the right behind lone striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Promoted to the first-team squad after all-but bypassing the U-19s last winter, the young American made his BVB debut in the 2-0 victory over FC Ingolstadt 04 in January, and went on to topple an unprecedented number of records utilising a first touch and game-awareness well beyond his years.
Pulisic's goal against Hamburger SV in April made him the youngest foreign-born scorer in Bundesliga history; his second top-flight strike just a week later - against VfB Stuttgart - saw him become the youngest player ever to have tallied two Bundesliga goals; and he ended the season as the USMNT's youngest scorer in the modern era after scoring the final goal in a 4-0 friendly victory over Bolivia in May aged 17 years, eight months and 12 days old.
"It shows our huge appreciation of his talent that we see him as a full-time member of our team," Tuchel told Dortmund's official website bvb.de in April. "He's a teenager in his first year of professional football… [but] he has looked really good."
Tuchel's first piece of business this summer was the acquisition of France U-21 winger Dembele, and a perusal of his performances in Ligue 1 in 2015/16 leave little question as to why the tactician was so keen to sign the now 19-year-old. Stade Rennais FC waited until 14 games into the season to give Dembele his debut, and he made a mockery of their reluctance to blood him, with his languid style masking a positional awareness and killer instinct that saw him conclude the season with 12 goals and five assists as Rennes finished just outside of the European places.
9 - Ousmane Dembélé is the top scorer among the U20 players in the top 5 leagues this season (9 goals). Prince. pic.twitter.com/64U8REJFdj— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 6, 2016
"I have never seen such a phenomenon at that age," said former SC Freiburg midfielder Gelson Fernandes - a teammate at Rennes last season. "We are aware we have a jewel in our ranks." On signing the attacker, Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc concurred. "Ousmane can pretty much play in every position in attack," he said. "He's strong in one-on-ones, can use both feet, is a real handful, quick and dangerous in front of goal."
With Marco Reus and Shiniji Kagawa also competing for attacking midfield spots next season, breaking into the Dortmund first team might seem daunting for Mor, but when coaches and pundits alike are comparing your style to a certain Lionel Messi, perhaps dislodging the aforementioned players will prove easier than meets the eye.
Left-footed, Mor's turn of pace and low centre of gravity are what draw the comparisons with the FC Barcelona legend, and he is already proving that he can perform on the biggest of stages. With two goals and two assists in 13 games for FC Nordsjaelland in the Danish Superliga last season, Mor was something a surprise inclusion in Fatih Terim's Turkey squad for UEFA EURO 2016, but he shone on his first start for his country, setting up Burak Yilmaz for the opening goal in the 2-0 win over the Czech Republic in Group D.
"What he is capable of is extraordinary," says Nordsjaelland head coach Kasper Hjulmand, previously of 1. FSV Mainz 05. "He has got so much speed in his feet, and he is so unpredictable. Just when you expect him to pass, he makes another dribble instead and changes direction. And when he does that, you do not catch him - that is plain impossible."
Mkhitaryan may have followed Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gündogan out of the exit door at the SIGNAL IDUNA PARK, but with Pulisic, Dembele and Mor in his ranks, the future looks bright for Tuchel and Die Schwarzgelben.