With their coffers swelled by eye-watering amounts from television revenue, Premier League clubs are increasingly scouring the Bundesliga for talent. Germany’s top-flight clubs are often happy to do business at inflated sums, as they are confident that excellent youth development will provide replacements. Here are some of the completed deals.
Ilkay Gundogan – Borussia Dortmund to Manchester City
When Pep Guardiola’s switch from Bayern Munich to the Etihad Stadium was confirmed, the media was ablaze with speculation about who the Catalan coach might bring with him from Sabener Strasse. However, Guardiola’s first signing as City boss was a player from Bayern’s old foes Borussia Dortmund.
Guardiola’s tactical approach hinges on retention of the ball and the ability to control midfield. Ilkay Gundogan suits that style perfectly. The 25-year-old is an accurate passer, is brave and positive in possession and always looks to beat players to create extra space in midfield. Skilful and agile, he won the Bundesliga title in his first campaign Dortmund.
The following season, Gundogan scored a goal in the Champions League final at Wembley, as Dortmund’s hearts were broken by Bayern. He was then side-lined by a serious back injury which cost him a place in Germany’s World Cup-winning squad.
Gundogan rediscovered his best form in a sparkling Dortmund team last season. I expect him to be one of the chief architects in Guardiola’s rebuilding of Manchester City.
Granit Xhaka – Borussia Monchengladbach to Arsenal
For years, Arsenal have been crying out for a dominant presence at the base of their midfield. A man who can grab games by the scruff of the neck and bark orders at team-mates who are hiding or not pulling their weight. In Swiss international Granit Xhaka, the Gunners may finally have filled that void.
To give you an idea of how tough the 23-year-old is, he has played matches with a broken rib and has recovered from tearing ankle ligaments within a matter of days. He thrived when given the responsibility of captaining Gladbach at a young age and growing up in Switzerland, he rose above discrimination and abuse relating to his Kosovo Albanian heritage. Perhaps his first name needs an “e” on the end.
Xhaka can pick a pass, loves the physical challenge of winning the midfield war and has a powerful shot. By his own admission, he loses his temper too often and he was sent off three times in the Bundesliga last season. He’s not shy about discussing matters with referees and often talks himself into trouble. However, if he can channel all that energy and aggression in the right way, Arsenal might finally have the warrior they’ve needed for so long.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg – Bayern Munich to Southampton
Danish international Hojbjerg is only 20 but it already feels like his career has reached a crossroads. Once compared by Pep Guardiola to Sergio Busquets at Barcelona, Hojbjerg couldn’t live up to those lofty standards in Munich. Of course, such a failure in elite company is no disgrace but he also didn’t sparkle in loan spells at Augsburg and Schalke.
Before Southampton fans start to panic, there are plenty of positives. Hojbjerg uses his big frame to break up play, employing the ball intelligently and he has plenty of experience for his tender age. New Saints coach Claude Puel needs to find a way to get Hojbjerg to affect games more and score more goals. The talent is there – now Hojbjerg must believe in himself and show everyone what Guardiola once saw in him.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United
Manchester United aren’t messing around this summer, as they look to provide new boss Jose Mourinho with a trophy-winning squad. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is one of several eye-catching signings and the Armenian playmaker has already made an impression.
After struggling for much of Jurgen Klopp’s final season in Dortmund, Mkhitaryan bounced back under Thomas Tuchel. He scored 11 goals and set up 15 in the Bundesliga, scoring freely in the German Cup and Europa League too. He is beautifully balanced, has delightful technique and almost superhuman awareness of where teammates are in attacking situations. He is versatile but his early deployment as a number 10 by Mourinho doesn’t bode well for a certain Mr Rooney.
Lorus Karius – Mainz to Liverpool
Simon Mignolet has polarised opinion amongst the Liverpool fanbase. The Belgian keeper is capable of breath-taking saves, but often resembles a young boy who’s been asked at short notice to cope with the rigours of a Sunday League game. His judgement on crosses is often poor and he simply doesn’t inspire confidence.
I believe new recruit Karius is already better than Mignolet. The 23-year-old has been a top-flight keeper since November 2013 and has come on leaps and bounds in that time. He dominates the box, giving defenders confidence. He has great reflexes and his kicking has improved markedly. He already has experience of English football, having spent time at Manchester City.
A recent error in a pre-season friendly against Wigan led some fans to compare him to Mignolet, but supporters needn’t worry. Karius could be Liverpool’s keeper for the next decade.
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