By Matthew Wilson.
17-year-old Jude Bellingham finally put months of speculation to rest when he announced that he signed for frequent German Bundesliga bridesmaids, Borussia Dortmund.
Bellingham opted to go with the Black and Yellow of Germany, dismissing strong advances from 20-time English Champions Manchester United. This same decision was made by Norwegian superstar Erling Haaland just months earlier.
It is not far fetched to think these youngsters and their families based such a decision on Dortmund’s recent history of developing some of the world’s best young talent.
Not only does Dortmund do an amazing job of developing these players, but they are given the opportunity to play in front of the highest average attendance in world football while also getting early exposure to the elite standards of the Champions League.
This combination has allowed Dortmund to both attract and develop some of the game’s most sought-after talents. Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembélé, Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan are just some of the successful graduates of the Dortmund talent university.
None of these might have been more influential to Bellingham than seeing the rise of fellow Englishman Jadon Sancho in Dortmund. Sancho’s decision to turn his back on the fever of Pep Guardiola’s project at Manchester City to focus on his own career has been lauded by all corners of the English press.
Sancho’s sensational performances in Europe and the Bundesliga have seen him evolve into arguably England’s most valuable player. ‘The Dortmund step’ worked for Sancho, and both Bellingham and Dortmund will be hoping for much of the same this time around too.
Such is Dortmund’s confidence in the move the club forked out around £23m, a record for a 17-year old.
While it is difficult to argue Dortmund’s overall success with young players, little attention is given to those players who also decided to make a similar move only to have it come crashing down.
When Sancho’s England U17 team won the World Cup in India, the team they played in the final was a very exciting Spain outfit. Although Sancho didn’t play in the final, summoned by BVB during the tournament, Dortmund kept their eyes on the event and signed Spanish creative midfielder Sergio Gomez, the star of the Spanish U17 team.
Gomez took his team to the final and won the FIFA Silver Ball behind Phil Foden and in front of Rhian Brewster. When Dortmund came calling the then 17-year-old Gomes left Barcelona for Germany. Since then, however, things have not gone smoothly for the promising starlet.
He has only featured twice in the Bundesliga in two years. Last season he went on loan to SD Huesca in the Spanish second division where he started less than half the games, scoring just one goal.
Another player is young Swedish international Alexander Isak. Dubbed by many with the heavy title of the ‘next Zlatan’, Isak reportedly turned down a move to Real Madrid, and like Bellingham was magnetized to the talent developing machine that is Borussia Dortmund.
After three uneventful seasons and Dortmund and just five Bundesliga appearances without registering a single goal, Isak left the club last summer for Real Sociedad. At Sociedad, the forward got the chance he craved in Germany and was instrumental in La Real cementing their place in next season’s Europa League.
Dortmund has experimented with Danish talents as well, snapping up the much talked about Emre Mor and Jacob Bruun Larsen. Mor, who later chose to play international football for the land of his parents, Turkey, actually had a bright start at Dortmund impressing with his mazy dribbling skills. However, at the end of the season with just 12 league appearances under his belt, he was shipped off to Celta Vigo.
Larsen, who came through the Dortmund academy system, spent five years at the club playing an average of six Bundesliga games a season. Larsen left for Hoffenheim at the start of the 2019/20 season.
While Christian Pulisic’s success with Dortmund and now Chelsea has rejuvenated the American football-loving public, Pulisic was not the first or only American Dortmund gave such an opportunity to.
US international Joe Gyau made his debut for the Black and Yellow in 2014, a year before Pulisic even joined the club. It was Gyau’s first and last appearance with the first team. Another American, promising US youth international Junior Flores, signed a four-year contract at Dortmund turning down offers from Paris Saint Germain and several other top European clubs in the process. Flores never managed to make a first-team appearance and is now entirely out of the game at 24.
Admittedly, first impressions from the club’s newest American recruit, Gio Reyna, suggests his trajectory would be more Pulisic than Flores.
Jude Bellingham, whose number was just retired at Birmingham, will have all eyes on him and his development at the Westfalenstadion. With a stacked midfield containing Emre Can, Axel Witsel, Julian Brandt, Mahmoud Dahoud, and Thomas Delaney among others, there is no guarantee that he will get game-time right away.
But at just 17 years old, he is at a club with a strong track record for helping him get closer to his potential over time, it’s just not a guarantee that he will get there.