The first player born in the 2000s to be called up for England duty, Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho is the latest in a growing line of youngsters to have used the Bundesliga as a springboard to international stardom.
The 18-year-old's stock has risen to astronomical heights since he left English Premier League club Manchester City for Dortmund little over a year ago, adding weight to the theory that the Bundesliga - where untapped talents develop, learn, play (yes, PLAY!) and prosper - is the best foundation in world football today for all kids bright and gifted.
Don't believe us? bundesliga.com takes a then-and-now look at five bright sparks whose careers have taken off in the German top flight...
He's got the call-up 🏴 pic.twitter.com/KAN4EjQF4i— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) October 4, 2018
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Man City must be kicking themselves for letting Sancho slip through their mitts. The London teen had already made waves in the youth teams for club and country, when he decided to take a career-changing leap of faith with Dortmund in August 2017. A move no one saw coming, it might just be the best decision the turbo-charged winger has ever made.
Last season, Sancho wrote his name into the history books as Dortmund’s first, and the Bundesliga’s youngest, English goalscorer. This term, the 2017 FIFA U17 World Cup winner is currently outdoing Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the creative stakes, with a Europe-leading five league assists. England are blessed to have him, and Gareth Southgate wants the world to know it.
"He’s been brave enough to go abroad," the England coach said after calling up Sancho for UEFA Nations League matches against Spain and Croatia in October. "He’s played twice in the Champions League and excelled from the bench in the Bundesliga. Playing at a big club in front of big support every week, and with the psychological strength to deal with that and to excel."
Watch: Jadon Sancho put the 'super' in 'super sub' against Bayer Leverkusen in September
Club: VfB Stuttgart
Most Lille fans — if they were being honest — would admit Benjamin Pavard’s hair made more of a lasting impression on them than his football. The versatile defender, who started playing in his hometown Jeumont - also the birthplace of former Bayern Munich forward and Ballon d’Or winner Jean-Pierre Papin - had an impressive mop of tight curls when he made just 21 league appearances after breaking into the first team during the 2014/15 season. Never an established regular under the rash of coaches that rushed through the northern French club, and frustrated by his lack of opportunities, he sought an exit and found one at VfB Stuttgart in summer 2016.
Dropping down a division and moving country appeared to be a risk. It was, but one that has paid off handsomely. After admitting "the coach yelled at me a lot at the start", Pavard was a solidly impressive performer in the Swabians’ successful promotion push before playing every minute of a every Bundesliga game in a 2017/18 campaign that would change his life. First called up by France in November 2017, 12 caps later, he was Les Bleus’ first-choice FIFA World Cup-winning right back. Not bad for a man who, two years earlier, had watched UEFA Euro 2016 with friends in Lille’s Fan Zone before leaving his native northern France, because he had "been playing in a position anywhere but my own, which is centre-back".
Watch: What makes Benjamin Pavard so good?
Club: Bayern Munich
Unlike Pavard, Tolisso was an established Ligue 1 performer when he made the move to Germany having played over 100 league games for Lyon, but like his fellow World Cup winner, it was his jack-of-all-trades qualities that had helped get him there. His 2013/14 first-team debut came at right-back, though no-one saw it on TV - he came off the bench as a replay was being shown, and the referee then immediately blew for full-time. It was as the roving midfielder Bayern fans have come to know and love that 'Coco' forged his reputation as yet another high-performance Lyon youth academy product, but despite his match-turning displays — and even captaining the seven-time French champions at times — he won just one senior cap in their colours.
With the likes of Moussa Sissoko, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Yohan Cabaye and Morgan Schneiderlin for competition for a place alongside Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi in his country’s midfield, Tolisso was losing the race to be a Bleu in Russia. Enter Bayern, and one club record transfer later, and Tolisso - "one of the best midfielders on the market," according to then coach Carlo Ancelotti - had taken a step up in status. He won round Ancelotti’s replacement, Jupp Heynckes, at the same time as France coach Didier Deschamps, and thirteen appearances for Les Bleus, including a 17-minute World Cup final cameo, followed until his seemingly unstoppable rise was brutally halted by a knee ligament injury against Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 3 that is surely only a temporary setback.
Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach
Thorgan Hazard has come a long way since accusations that Chelsea only bought him from youth club Lens because they’d signed older brother Eden. "They don’t just sign every player’s brother. [Frank] Lampard and [John] Terry’s brothers never played for Chelsea," Hazard remarked. "They signed me because I showed potential. They had to pay Lens a transfer fee to get me. And they were right. I might not be following the same path as Eden, but I am improving step by step." That path has seen him spend two years in loan at Zulte Waragem in his native Belgium before a year in Borussia Mönchengladbach. There the Foals realised the potential they had on their hands and snapped Hazard up on a permanent deal. And the Belgian hasn’t looked back since.
In 2017/18, Hazard finally stepped out of the shadow of his older sibling. It was his fourth season at Gladbach as he reached double figures for goals for the first time in the Bundesliga, featuring in every single match. He started all but one of those, but came off the bench in the other to score a brace and turn around a 1-0 deficit to Hertha Berlin. These are the sorts of performances that haven’t gone unnoticed in his homeland, and he’s been called up to all but one Belgium squad under Roberto Martinez since UEFA Euro 2016, even appearing alongside brother Eden at the 2018 World Cup, where the Red Devils finished third. "More than just Eden" indeed.
Watch: How Thorgan Hazard has become one of the Bundesliga's deadliest forwards
Club: RB Leipzig
When RB Leipzig eventually get round to creating their own Hall of Fame, it’s fair to assume Yussuf Poulsen will be one of the first players to be honoured. Poulsen has made over 185 appearances since joining the club from boyhood outfit Lyngby in summer 2013, banging in the goals that have helped Leipzig power their way up through the third and second divisions to where they are today, in the Bundesliga.
Poulsen made his Denmark debut, whilst still playing in Bundesliga 2, and - despite turning down the chance to represent his country at the 2016 Summer Olympics in order to focus on matters closer to his adopted home - remains an irreplaceable part of the Danish plan. He's approaching 35 senior international caps, having recently turned out three times at the 2018 World Cup, and is still only 24. Not bad for a striker, who is everything but a regular goalscorer.