IN PICS: From Sanches to Brandt - Bundesliga's brightest

Kevin McGuinness 22:30 16/02/2017

Rewind to Euro 2000, Germany, one of the most famous and successful nations in world football finished bottom of their qualifying group.

Before this disaster of a tournament unfolded, manager Berti Vogts had repeatedly warned Germany of the ramifications that no talents were coming forth and the country would soon fall behind.

The German governing body for football, the DFB, at long last noticed the severe shortage of potential their nation had to offer and decided to the necessary, long-awaited action to restructure the entire youth system

Known as the ‘Extended Talent Youth Program’ when first launched in 2002, the DFB and professional football clubs all contributed financially to this relaunch of scouting and coaching, with a substantial network of academies established to reach even the most remote, often neglected, areas of the country.

Just fifteen years later, Germany won the World Cup in Brazil, from the foot of a player who was brought up in the illustrious, incomparable system.

The football revolution has given Germany many fine heroes since that period in the form of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Miroslav Klose and Toni Kroos, to name a few.

While not all of the players listed have grown up in this world-renowned development, it’s clear they will all benefit from those who have.

1 FC Köln – Timo Horn

Despite being relatively old to be considered one for the future at the age of 23, goalkeeper Timo Horn has already proved he is one of the best in the league having a full four vital seasons to his name.

Fiercely loyal to the club since 2002 and growing up in the cultured city, the Colognian already has the maturity that has seen him represent Germany at all levels, bar the senior side, including the Olympics.

As is the case with countless others in his position, Horn’s height and stature is a crucial part to his success with the Billygoats. Standing at 6 ft 4, the man mountain uses his long arms to strong effect and thus increases his reach — keeping out close-range shots, as well as those from afar, which were destined for the corner.

In addition to his reliable, acrobatic nature and fast reflexes, Köln can afford to sit deep and absorb enemy bombardments, which is a crucial factor to manager Peter Stöger’s side finishing the Hinrunde in a strong 7th place.

Despite not being the first in a long line of potential successors to Manuel Neuer’s throne, Horn has established himself as one of the country’s finest, and though he may not get the credit or silverware like Marc-André ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp, his consistency between the sticks is a key aspect which should be fully incorporated into Germany’s next generation of golden talent.

Notable mention(s): Leonardo Bittencourt, Sehrou Guirassy, Sven Müller 

1 FSV Mainz 05 – Levin Öztunalı

After seasons of earlier struggles, Levin Öztunalı is finally showing why he was highly tipped as one for the future with a convincing start to his Mainz career.

It was evident Öztunalı was not in Leverkusen’s plans, so game time was hard to come by and, after stalling to loan him out to earn minutes, a desperate Werder Bremen side fighting to stave off relegation couldn’t afford the risk of fielding an inexperienced player.

After three stale, wasteful seasons, the ex-Hamburger youth captain joined the Karnivalsverein, who had a recently notable record in developing youth talent and resurrecting careers — both appealing to Öztunalı.

Playing more often than his two former clubs could ever afford, Öztunalı blossomed into a youngster keen to ply his trade for an outfit who were deprived of key stars like Loris Karius, Julian Baumgartlinger and more recently Yunus Mallı.

Like many footballers eyeing for the top, the 20-year-old has been used as a utility man throughout his dotted, short career, from occasionally playing in the anchor role for Leverkusen to on the wing for Bremen.

Now, though, Öztunalı the Germany under-21 star has been consistently trusted to perform his duties on the right, picking up 6 goalsists in 18 Bundesliga fixtures, and contributing much to die Nullfünfer’s wide, aggressive game.

Although he may not reach quite the level of his grandfather and football legend Uwe Seeler, Levin Öztunalı is back on track to fulfilling his potential.

Notable mention(s): Jhon Córdoba, Suat Serdar, Aaron Seydel

Bayer 04 Leverkusen – Julian Brandt

Ousting defender Jonathan Tah from the top spot, comes versatile winger Julian Brandt. With Leverkusen mired in obscurity, Brandt has been a symbol hope for the forthcoming and uphill Rückrunde as he, and only a few others, have consistently put in performances worthy of a European spot.

Under the vital tutelage of Roger Schmidt and his high-octane pressing philosophy, Brandt adapted to life in the top tier very quickly following the departure of Heung-Min Son.

Predominantly playing on the left, Brandt uses his fast feet to cut in and greatly aid the attack of play, in the manner of opening up the opposition and linking up with teammates.

Not your typical winger, the Bremen-born youngster stands at a towering 6 ft 1, making full advantage of this dominance in being able to win aerial duels, while his pace, albeit slightly affected, is still impressive for said height, and greatly contributes to easing pasting full-backs and centre-backs alike.

Despite representing Germany at all possible levels and excelling at a top club, Brandt is still heavily overlooked by many for those who fit the stereotype of a winger more accurately, but 8 goalsists in 18 Bundesliga games in a faltering side is no mean feat, and with valuable experience in the bag at the age of just 20 years old, it’s safe to say he will attract many more in watching the Werkself.

Notable mention(s): Jonathan Tah, Benjamin Henrichs, Kai Havertz.

Borussia Dortmund – Ousmane Dembélé

To say Ousmane Dembélé’s recent rise to prominence has been impressive is an understatement, considering the Frenchman signed his first professional contract, with Stade Rennais, at the start of last season.

Acting as Dortmund’s pièce de résistance of the growing youth project, which boasts prospects such as Emre Mor, Christian Pulisic and Felix Passlack, Dembélé has come leaps and bounds ahead of his time in his homeland.

While the Ruhrgebiet club beat many a Premier League giants and the common sight of Bayern to his coveted signature, the 19-year-old made good on his hyped-up and promising talent straight from the off at the fabled Westfalenstadion.

As the season steadily progressed, Dembélé went from erratic and often selfish to composed with a considerable increase in decision-making capability to the extent where he became a more important cog in Thomas Tuchel’s hard-working machine.

In plain terms, Dembélé is an incredibly enjoyable player to watch as per his fast change of pace, plethora of skills and all-round creativity.

Such an emphatic start to life in Germany can be epitomised by the fact Dembélé has notched 17 goalsists in a mere 25 games, and his importance is equally as crucial to aiding a struggling Dortmund side, starting in 18 of those matches spanning the Champions League, DFB-Pokal and, of course, the league itself.

But it’s not just the Vernon-born starlet’s remarkable on-the-ball virtuosity that has caught the eye of many, but also good his aptitude and work-rate when attempting to win back possession — showing a determined nature to work as a team, for the team.

To move to a different country and culture and excel, under mounting pressure, in such an impressive fashion bodes extremely well for this hotly-tipped future Ballon d’Or winner.

Notable mention(s): Julian Weigl, Emre Mor, Christian Pulisic, Felix Passlack.

Borussia Mönchengladbach – Mahmoud Dahoud

The gem of Gladbach’s team comes in the form of none other than Mahmoud Dahoud. Like Dembélé, Dahoud has enjoyed a rapid ascension at a young age and is already knee-deep in rumours linking him with a move away from the Foals.

Described as an intelligent midfielder, the 21-year-old has already lit up the Bundesliga with his exceptional displays as an influential box-to-box midfielder whom specialises in aiding the build-up play, whilst also playing a decisive part in the final third of the pitch.

The Syrian-born youngster has featured for Germany at under-18 and under-19 level, but is standing out amongst his compatriots with the under-21s in just the six appearances he has made.

Dahoud has frequently been likened to İlkay Gündoğan and the similarities are clear as day in respect to his sublime vision and tactical reading of the game in a variety of midfield positions. Such a commendable all-rounded ability is reflected by the fact the academy graduate notched 2.3 interceptions and won 2.9 tackles per 90 minutes in the campaign of last, whilst also earning 13 goalsists in 32 league games.

Like the Manchester City midfielder, Dahoud has excellent, natural dribbling skills and ball control as to evade swift tackles and escape compact areas on the pitch.

This, in conjunction with his sharp mind, has meant Gladbach have often side-stepped their opponents’ targeted pressing and retained possession to exploit vacated half-spaces.

Taking the reins of the midfield from Granit Xhaka, who left for Arsenal in the summer, has maintained the art of distributing possession via an effective passing range, but, unlike the Swiss, has a more mature discipline fitting to that of a team lynchpin.

Notable mention(s): Thorgan Hazard, Nico Elvedi, Mamadou Doucoure

Eintracht Frankfurt – Aymen Barkok

While the Eagles have soared from the brink of relegation last season, many of the players have put themselves high up the pecking order in return for putting the club back in the midst of European contention.

While Jesús Vallejo is thriving on loan from Real Madrid, Aymen Barkok is proving to be the stand-out prospect in Niko Kovač’s permanent and rejuvenated side.

In just seven games, the 18-year-old has bossed opponents’ defences with his tactical awareness, incisiveness and neat footwork.

Indeed, a struggling Werder Bremen side found that out the harsh way as the Frankfurter curled in an expertly timed winner on his debut in injury time.

However, Barkok saved his best for the Rhine-Main Derby against regional rivals Mainz — while already a goal to the good, the midfielder picked the ball up on the right wing and scythed past a defender before rounding the ‘keeper and slotting home the second of the match.

It was a moment of pure magic and more was to come as Barkok spearheaded another attack and assisted the final goal to cap off an excellent display.

Notable mention(s): Omar Mascarell, Marc Stendera, Mijat Gaćinović.

FC Augsburg – Dominik Kohr

A club that are often raided of their best and brightest players, Augsburg can count themselves thankful to have held onto one Dominik Kohr in their midfield.

Like Levin Öztunalı, Kohr found it difficult to establish himself at a strong Leverkusen outfit. As a result, he was loaned out to the Bavarian side for the 2014/15 side where he was key in helping the club to a famous 5th placed finish ahead of the struggling Ruhr giants and, of course, a berth in the Europa League.

After making his loan permanent, Kohr found himself as an even more important player in Markus Weinzierl’s team.

Despite second season blues affecting Augsburg, the holding midfielder continued to perform amidst poor performances on the domestic front, whilst strangely excelling in Europe, bypassing the group stage.

It’s no secret Augsburg are struggling yet again, this time without the personal experience of Weinzierl, but still owe much credit to Kohr and a few others for keeping them out of the relegation zone.

Embracing the essence of the anchor role, Kohr is gifted at reading the game from a tactical point of view and is often underpraised for his ability to prevent the opposition from creating dangerous chances.

With a lanky, strong nature, the Germany U21 international can easily dispossess opponents on the ball in utilising his superior strength. This applies for the dirty side of football, too.

Despite the decline of his team, Kohr has managed to pick up 2.5 interceptions and just as many tackles per game.

Guilty of poor discipline at times, the 23-year-old also puts his body on the line in blocking the ball, which otherwise would have left the defence exposed.

His concentration is second to none, and such a trait has proven to be an invaluable asset as die Fuggerstädter continue to look prone to counterattacks.

Notable mention(s): Kostas Stafylidis, Philipp Max, Marvin Friedrich.

FC Bayern München – Renato Sanches

It’ll come as no shock to realise the 2016 Golden Boy winner stands heads and shoulders above his already impressive prospects at the home of the champions.

At the age of just 19, Sanches is already establishing himself as the next big thing in world football, having succeeded in his short senior stint with Benfica and, of course, quarterbacking his homeland’s unlikely journey to their first ever tournament win at Euro 2016.

Famous for his seemingly endless stamina and awe-inspiring work rate, the Portuguese naturally plays as a strong box-to-box midfielder and can keep up such a high level of intensity even in the dying seconds of the match, while those around him wither.

Not one short of confidence, Sanches can often be heard shouting for the ball and has full confidence in his abilities, despite the distinct lack of height that makes countless others imposing in the centre of the pitch.

But what the European Championship winner lacks in loftiness, he makes up for in sheer, brute strength. As per his intimidating physique, it is not an uncommon sight for opponents to be shrugged off of the ball in attack and struggling to win it back by force in defence.

Furthermore, Sanches is not one to shy away from the dirty side of the game, and often contributes to nullifying advances in the form of crunching tackles.

Admittedly, Sanches has dwindled while at the Bavarians, but his time on the big stage in France has shown he’s more than capable of churning out a just-as-scintillating year with what is an even better team.

Notable mention(s): Joshua Kimmich, Juan Bernat, Niklas Dorsch, Fabian Benko, Timothy Tillman.

FC Ingolstadt 04 – Max Christiansen

Mirroring Ingolstadt’s phenomenal rise to fame, Max Christiansen has himself enjoyed an inspirational journey to the heights of German football coming through an array of youth academies.

After making his debut for Hansa Rostock at the ripe young age of 16, Christiansen developed from a defensive midfielder into one a player making shifts slightly higher up the pitch.

His performances soon caught the attention of promotion-favourites Ingolstadt who purchased the youngster for a cut-price fee, as Rostock encountered crippling financial difficulties.

In die Schanzer’s first-ever top-flight season, Christiansen often featured for the reserve side as to gain more experience, but so good were his performances he featured in over half of the senior teams’ Bundesliga matches.

Despite Germany’s overload in talent, Christiansen even earned himself a call-up to Germany’s Olympic team in Rio featuring in a team of many gifted individuals.

It’s become abundantly clear as to why Christiansen has been progressively pushed up in an advanced role throughout his career, as his composure in the centre of the pitch at such an intimidating level has caught the eye of many across the league.

Just as commendable is his ability on the ball which has given an often one-dimensioned Ingolstadt midfield a new purpose in attacking.

His ability to linkup so fluently with his teammates looks like he has been playing first-team football for many years, and has definitely given Maik Walpurgis’ side rhythm and influence over other mid-table teams.

Yet again, Christiansen is being nurtured in the reserves, but it will only be a matter of time until he is given the nod to step back into the first-team picture yet again.

Notable mention(s): Florent Hadergjonaj, Nico Ingo Rinderknecht.