Nico Willig has tripped along the touchline, further and further in the direction of the goal, and when the big jubilation breaks out, he makes the appropriate gesture. Willig, the U-19 coach at VfB Stuttgart, raises both arms vertically. The rest of the bank jumped in too. It’s just a sliding tackle from a Stuttgart defender, who stopped a promising counterattack by Borussia Dortmund.
It’s the U19s’ DFB Cup final last week in Babelsberg. VfB, who went into this game as supposedly hopeless outsiders, led 2-1 in the middle of the second half, and a sensation actually seems possible, even if not very likely. Dortmund is pushing, Dortmund is pushing – and the dispute is increasingly taking on something of a class struggle.
“I think it’s extreme that even a team like Stuttgart only plays on the counterattack,” said Dortmund’s Danish coach Mike Tullberg after the final and his team’s 3-1 defeat. “But in the end it also speaks for the fact that we did something right.”
The BVB U19s enjoy a reputation like Donnerhall – at the latest after they won the first semi-final for the German championship against Schalke 04 5-1. Tullberg and his team had the historic chance this year to be the first A youth team to win the double. After losing the cup final a week ago, the only thing left for them is the championship. In the final, BVB will play Hertha BSC in the amateur stadium this Sunday (1 p.m., live on Sky).
The defeat against VfB was the second in a row for Dortmund, after losing the semi-final second leg against Schalke 0-1. “Of course the team takes it – also because the boys are not used to such disappointments,” says coach Tulllberg. “They flew on a wave, won almost every game, performed well in the Youth League, became West German champions with an eleven-point lead.”
Dortmund’s U19s have an individual quality that is currently unparalleled in German youth football. “Because of the many foreign transfers, BVB is a top international team in the U-19 sector,” says U-19 national coach Hannes Wolf. Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, who moved to the Ruhr area from Manchester City, has already played for the pros in the Bundesliga, just like Tom Rothe, who BVB signed from FC St. Pauli last summer.
Bradley Fink came from Lucerne, Julian Rijkhoff from Ajax Amsterdam, Filippo Calixte Mané from Sampdoria Genoa, and the two Frenchmen Abdoulaye Kamara and Soumaila Coulibaly were trained at Paris Saint-Germain when they were youngsters. “They want to get top talent from around the world,” says Stuttgart’s coach Willig about Dortmund. “It’s their strategy, and it’s legitimate. Even if it is perhaps not ideal for German youth football.”
It is no longer the A-youth football as we used to know it, says Willig, but it is also due to the general price development in football. If a 19-year-old costs ten million, “then you might get it for 100,000 when you’re 16,” he says. “This is how joint stock companies now calculate. That’s why it makes sense from their point of view.” U-19 national coach Wolf also doesn’t want to criticize BVB’s business model, but rather sees it as a motivation to “improve our training so that our players also reach this level. We know that we have some catching up to do in this area.”
Especially since BVB’s path is not entirely new. The Dane Jacob Brunn Larsen, the Englishman Jadon Sancho and the American Christian Pulisic were brought into the Dortmund youth team for comparatively little money before they were later sold on for partly astronomical fees.
But as paradoxical as it sounds: This model in particular could prove to be disadvantageous for the game against Hertha – because junior titles are not the primary goal for Dortmund. VfB coach Willig also took advantage of this for the cup final. “We said: We can live a dream, make a dream come true,” he says. For the Dortmunders, on the other hand, it’s not about dreams, “they’re about setting goals”.
Many of the Dortmund players have already outgrown the U19s. The 17-year-old Bynoe-Gittens, for example, has just played against Hertha – on the last day of the Bundesliga season against the pros.
Dortmund’s U-19 coach Tullberg says that he said to his players last summer: “We want to get people talking about you.” Many players are now being talked about because they are already with the professionals or with the U23 were used in the third division.
“That’s our job: bring players up,” says the 37-year-old ex-professional Tullberg. But when you play for the U19s again, you have to understand that it’s all about team performance: “Everyone who was up there was there because the team worked, not because they all took it apart on their own.”
It is exactly this attitude that Hertha will try to counter with Dortmund. “We’re talking about a really good squad with physicality, mentality and individual quality, which – just like VfB in the cup final – can hurt BVB,” says U-19 national coach Hannes Wolf about the Berliners. Although Hertha will have to do without the injured Anton Kade, Mike Tullberg still expects a duel on an equal footing: “I think Hertha is playing very, very maturely, with a certain toughness. That will be a difficult task for us.”
For the Berliners and their coach Michael Hartmann it is a similar challenge to the one against Paris Saint-Germain in the Youth League three years ago. Hertha countered the individual class of the French with mentality and passion. In the end it was 2:1 for the Berliners.
“It’s just a game. And anything is possible in one game,” says Hartmann about the final against Dortmund, which will be his last game as coach of Hertha BSC in nine years. In the summer he moves to Bayern Munich. “They have to beat us first,” he says of BVB. “I’m not afraid of it.”