It wasn’t the 5-0 scoreline that made the statement. Borussia Dortmund would fully expect to stuff a few goals past their Ruhr neighbours Duisburg, who play down in the third division.
No, it was the identity of three of their goalscorers, or more specifically their ages. Jadon Sancho, 20, Jude Bellingham, 17, and Giovanni Reyna, 17, were all on target in Monday night’s German Cup rout.
When you add into the equation a certain Erling Braut Haaland, 20, who somehow didn’t manage to score, and second-half substitute Reinier, 18, and you’re not too far off Dortmund’s chosen identity for the season ahead. Brilliant, gifted young tyros and lots of them make Lucien Favre’s team an exiting proposition once again as the Bundesliga kicks off this weekend.
Dortmund start their latest quest to steal Bayern Munich’s crown with a home fixture against Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday evening, one day after the champions kicked off their season with an ominous 8-0 demolition of Schalke.
Perhaps the acid test will come in the Super Cup meeting with Hansi Flick’s Treble winners on September 30 and certainly in the two rivals’ first league encounter at Signal Iduna Park in early November.
Few clubs in Europe rival Dortmund for identifying, scouting and signing talented youngsters. More significantly, nobody matches Dortmund for giving such players first-team opportunities.
Given the abundant crop of youngsters coming through – there’s also Ansgar Knauff, 18, Immanuel Pherai, 19, and Youssoufa Moukoko, 15, on the first-team periphery – even Haaland and Sancho suddenly feel like the old guard.
And spare a thought for 31-year-olds Marco Reus and Mats Hummels, who are pretty much babysitters as they balance things out in the Dortmund team with wisdom and experience. Favre has his critics but there’s been an admirable effort to drive down the average age of the team and the squad.
Young players don’t simply make up the numbers or fill quotas at Dortmund, they play their full part. The club is inching towards the close of the summer transfer window on October 5 and that will mean England star Sancho is theirs for another few months at least and most likely a whole season.
Dortmund have played a blinder amid genuine interest in the winger from Manchester United, sticking rigidly to their £108million valuation as the Old Trafford club moan about the financial impact of Covid-19.
There have been suggestions that United are making some headway over the finer details but also reports that they have changed tack towards other right-sided forward targets. It helps Dortmund that at no stage has Sancho agitated for a move away.
After a phenomenal 2019-20 season of 20 goals and 20 assists in all competitions, he is off and running again with a coolly-taken penalty against Duisburg. The broad smile on Sancho’s face as he celebrated by embracing his team-mates and later congratulated Bellingham on his first competitive goal for the club doesn’t indicate a player desperate to pack his suitcase.
For his part, Sancho knows another good season and a positive Euro 2020 with England will only enhance his value and increase his circle of admirers beyond United next summer. Why rush to leave? Sancho was Dortmund’s leading goalscorer in 2019-20 but he was pushed close by Haaland, who scored 16 times despite the handicap of only playing half the season in yellow and black.
The Norwegian’s class is obviously beyond any doubt and he could well smash all kinds of records in his first full season there. Dortmund scored 102 goals in all competitions and 84 in the Bundesliga last season, their highest league return since the mid-1970s. There’s no reason why their vibrant strike force can’t surpass that.
It’s early days for Bellingham, who earned a dream move from Birmingham after a breakthrough campaign in the Championship so good the Blues retired his No 22 shirt. Any suggestion Dortmund might ease him in with a few appearances in the second team appears to have been dashed.
Favre started Bellingham in two pre-season friendlies and then the first-round cup tie. His goal, the second on the night, made him the club’s youngest scorer in 110 years of history and further landmarks are a given from here.
However, it remains to be seen whether he starts against Gladbach this weekend with Dortmund well stocked in midfield with the likes of Julian Brandt, Axel Witsel, Emre Can, Thomas Delaney and Mahmoud Dahoud offering competition.
But with plenty of football on offer this season, Bellingham is likely to get plenty of chances to impress with sporting director Michael Zorc confirming he is ‘an immediate reinforcement for our first-team squad’ and not back-up.
American rising star Reyna earned a promotion from the under-19 team into the first-team midway through last season and certainly didn’t look out of place in the Bundesliga when brought off the bench.
He’ll hope for more starts this time in an attacking midfield position off the back of a strong pre-season and can only improve as he gains more experience. One of a handful of summer arrivals was the up-and-coming Brazilian midfielder Reinier, who will spend the next two seasons on loan from Real Madrid having just signed for the Spaniards from Flamengo.
Dortmund will hope he can be their next breakthrough star, adding another sprinkling of magic in a team not short of it. Germany youth international Knauff has been moved up to first-team training of late and Dutch youngster Pherai likewise after doing well for the under-19s.
And big things are expected of Moukoko, the Cameroon-born Germany Under-20 international. He was 14 when he made the step up to Dortmund’s under-19 team, scoring six goals on his debut.
He is already the youngest-ever scorer in the UEFA Youth League but under the rules of the German FA cannot make his Bundesliga debut until his 16th birthday on November 20. That could well happen, given Moukoko has been taken under the wing of Haaland and the club’s other strikers in first-team training.
But the million dollar question is whether Dortmund’s young guns can help sustain a Bundesliga challenge to Bayern after they fell away pitifully after the restart last season. They are resisting the temptation to take a Sancho windfall, making the calculation that the Englishman scores and sets up too many goals to be sold.
But without that money, Dortmund are unable to reinforce other areas of their side, especially in central defence and at left-back where options are thin. At least they have signed Thomas Meunier to replace the departed Achraf Hakimi on the right, the loanee of the past two seasons returning to Real Madrid, who sold him to Inter Milan.
While Dortmund’s side looks good on paper, it remains to be seen whether they have the mentality to take that final step and push Bayern all the way in the title race. With Sancho, Haaland et al in their ranks, there will be no shortage of firepower but then Bayern have gone and followed up their Bundesliga, Pokal and Champions League triumphs by signing Leroy Sane.
There will be no resting on laurels in Bavaria and Dortmund need to hope they suffer an early season crisis as they did 12 months ago, but without the Flick-inspired revival. Dortmund will certainly be entertaining with their group of prodigies. Whether they are successful in the season ahead is another matter entirely.