Markus Pilawa, head of Borussia Dortmund’s small but vitally significant outfit that scouts potential young football talents even in their early teens, is only too well aware of the heavy responsibility that weighs on his shoulders.
“We are a Champions League club and we are competing with Bayern Munich, so we need a top level of talent and there are not that many guys on the planet,” he emphasized.
“Most of them are coming from abroad, so you need a big personality to come from your own country to a new club, a new language. It’s very, very difficult.”
The latest entry amongst the current crop of young players making their way into the first team is Jude Bellingham, who the club had tried to sign last year but the 17-year-old eventually joined from English side Birmingham for more than $30 million in July, leaving a trail of other European clubs, notably Manchester United, desperately vying for the talented young midfielder’s signature.
Pilawa credits Dortmund’s success in securing such a sought-after talent to the club’s impressive, highly creditable track record, especially when other teams are able to offer higher wages to lure young Bellingham.
“We can show them we are not lying,” he said, referencing the likes of Sancho and Pulisic who have successfully navigated the Dortmund youth system.
“There are a lot of players and it’s not 10 years ago or 15 years ago. It’s last year, it’s two years ago, three years ago. Every year we have the next one.
“We can show them that we have the experience. We know how it works and I think they are trusting us because we are not lying, we’re not telling them fairy tales.”
Whilst Bellingham has made a beeline straight into the first team this season – scoring impressively in his debut on Monday – there are also budding stars graduating from the club’s academy, with US youngster Giovanni Reyna the chief amongst them is.
The American, scion of parents who both played international soccer for the US, joined Dortmund in 2019 from New York City’s youth academy and is now making strides into the first team as the club are placing a lot of expectations on the creative midfielder.
Besides high-quality training, a key component of Dortmund’s success with young players is due to their attention to detail.
The club’s top young talents, identified by the team of coaches, regularly meet for one-on-one sessions skewed towards helping and nurturing their development both on and off the pitch.
The man these carefully selected young guns are most likely to meet is Otto Addo, who played for Dortmund and the Ghanian national team before retiring in 2008. Addo was the main person who worked closely with Reyna as he made his way up to the first team, offering personal coaching on different parts of the game.
Addo works at any one time with three or four ‘top talents’ in every age group and is mainly responsible for creating bespoke training sessions which cover four main topics – technique, tactics, physicality and mentality.
Surprisingly, it’s not always the best players that get the opportunity to work with Addo but instead those who show the most potential.
Addo asserts that Reyna’s potential was obvious from the very start and is excited to see him flourish at the highest level.
“He [Reyna] was one of our top talents from under 17s and under 19s and I worked a lot with him. We trained extra and we also did video analysis after every match he had,” he said.
“I could see Gio [Reyna] straight away. We have a lot of good technical players but it’s his technique under pressure. To make no mistakes under pressure, to change direction under pressure and to accelerate in the midfield.
“He also has game intelligence, to position himself always between the lines, to read the game and he knows what’s next. He brings a lot, way more than other players from his age group.”
Credit: Football Tribe Malaysia