For a few years now, perhaps due to the rise of Bayern Munich led by Jupp Heynckes and the re-emergence of Borussia Dortmund, the spotlight of football has shone brighter on German football than at any time in the last 10 years. The Premier League has imported hundreds of millions worth of Bundesliga talent in the last few years: City alone have spent more than £120m on Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sané and Ilkay Gündoğan in the last two years. And this shows no signs of abating.
Today we will look at one of the latest rising stars from Germany, one whom has been routinely linked with City, even after he signed a new deal with his current club lasting until 2021: Julian Weigl, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder. Julian has gone from 1860 Munich captain after just his 15th game for die Löwen at the age of 18 (eighteen!), to prominent member of the Borussia Dortmund midfield and has now made 4 appearances for the German national team.
Weigl made his debut for Sechzig when he was 18 in February 2014, and by the first game of the 2014/15 season Weigl would be club captain. However, Weigl was part of a scandal where he and three other members of the 1860 squad would be caught slandering the club on a night out, resulting in Julian being relieved of the captaincy shortly after by then manager Ricardo Moniz. Despite this, Weigl would go on to make 24 appearances for 1860 in the 14/15 season, getting a solitary assist before earning himself a move to the big time, in the shape of Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund. He was sold for the extremely low price of just over £2m: though this is perhaps testament to the financial troubles of Sechzig rather than the value they placed upon Weigl.
Though teams in England often seem to sign young players simply to collect them (see City and to a greater extent Chelsea as examples of this), Tuchel signed Weigl and put him straight in contention for his starting eleven: he would go on to play 2,246 minutes in 30 games in the Bundesliga that season, coming 4th in the amount of minutes played by any Dortmund outfielder, with WhoScored rating him at an impressive 7.05 average for the Bundesliga season. Which, all things considered, is an even greater achievement considering he was just 20 by the end of the season. Playing regularly for a team such as Dortmund at a high level is not a record many players that age can boast.
This is where the City-Weigl chasing began: in January 2016 it was alleged City were preparing a bid of around £19m for Weigl, ‘seeing him as the replacement for Yaya Toure’ (Sky Germany). This surely was in anticipation of Pep, but a bid never materialised. Between then and the summer, numerous sources, most prominently Bild, consistently linked Weigl with City, almost on a weekly basis. Weigl helped Dortmund to a second place finish to Pep’s Bayern, and over summer he lost counterparts Henrikh Mkhitarayan and Ilkay Gündoğan to both sides of the Mancunian football world.
Weigl said Gündoğan was ‘a close member of the team’, but surely saw his chance to solidify his position at the very heart of BVB’s midfield. This season, he’s started 13 out of Dortmund’s 16 games and played 5 out of 6 Champions League group stage games: even getting an important goal – an effortless shimmy followed by a great finish from 20 yards against Sporting Lisbon, despite claiming ‘he didn’t know how he did it’. City’s interest continued, as Txiki went to watch him in action as recently as mid-December.
Then, as far as City are concerned, disaster struck.
Weigl signed a new deal meaning he will stay at Dortmund until at least 2021. At least, that’s the intention. Because not one week after him signing the new deal, both Mundo Deportivo and AS reported that City were, and still are, as interested as ever in Weigl, going as far to say that Pep is, ‘in love’ with him, ordering City to sign him.
So, you’ve beefed up on your Weigl facts, why, you may ask, is Pep ‘in love’ with him? Here are important three statistics from last season!
Weigl had a 92% pass completion compared to Busquets’ 90%, Gündoğan’s 88% and Touré’s 86%. This high level, it goes without saying, fits with the possession philosophy implemented by Pep.
He made on average 92 passes per 90 minutes, which is more than 20 surplus to Busquets: again, indicatory of his ability to aid the simple game, keeping the ball moving. This means that Weigl makes 84 successful passes a game, compared to the 64 Busquets made last season or Touré’s 60 per game.
Weigl successfully made 2.48 interceptions per 90 minutes compared to Touré’s lacklustre 0.97, Fernando Reges’ 2.25 and Fernandinho’s 1.85.
These three stats (pass completion, rate of passes and interceptions) paint a good picture of Weigl, one which shows a budding midfield marshal who can not only link play but has a defensive aspect to his game. However! I saw someone use Squawka stats to prove that Kolarov is better than Pogba, so stats alone are not worth too much.
Weigl, simply put, is one of the new breed of midfielders. Following the path mostly cut by Sergio Busquets at Barcelona, it is often noted that Weigl is extremely intelligent when it comes to positioning on a pitch, often taking up the deepest role on the pitch but for the centre halves, receiving the ball and taking a defensive situation forwards, aiding the transition. This is further proven by the majority of his passes being to more creative players, who would then take the attack forward, simply put, he could be described as a succinct connecter of play. With his abilities, he can shorten the length players need to pass and making them more successful, allowing for quicker more potent play, and it can be seen on post-match heat maps that when his midfield counterparts move forward, he will occupy the space to stop any potential counter attacks, testament to his special awareness and intelligence. To add to this, he often is able to resist pressing from the other team, able to either pass his way out of trouble (or making himself available for others to do so) or even dribbling out of danger using quick feet.
But would he be a success at City? Undoubtedly. His youth, his intelligence, his ability to weave play together and essentially be the beating heart of the Dortmund team demonstrates why, especially considering our midfield problems: surely only Ilkay Gündoğan has more than 3 seasons left in him out of our centre midfielders, as the rest are either old (Yaya, and to a lesser extent Fernandinho), forever injured (Fabian Delph) or they’re Fernando Reges. He has gone from 2. Bundesliga to the Champions League with Dortmund without a hint of difficulty or transition, and if City don’t sign him I’m certain Bayern Munich will try and lure him back to the Allianz, albeit to the red side of Munich, at some point in the future. If City had bid for Weigl in January 2016 as was reported I would imagine the £19m fee being speculated wouldn’t be too far off the mark, though since he has signed a new deal, and the going rate of players such as Sané, further coupled with Dortmund’s loss of very important players recently, that fee could be in excess of double what it was last year. However; as I alluded to in the ‘What We Learned’ post-Liverpool, City need to spend big on a spine: Weigl would probably be the best player to buy to create a strong, young spine from the middle.
My rating is 10/10. Despite the high potential price, Weigl is one of a new age of midfielders, one who City have had their eye on for some time. If Txiki was willing to pay the reported £42m for Eliaquim Mangala, anything less than £45m for Julian Weigl could prove to be a great deal for the future: at 21 he has a season and a half of top level football under his belt, and the admiration from Pep (as well as the glances he has received from Madrid and Barcelona) are clear signs that City need to sign him.