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Ansgar Knauff: Dortmund’s latest prodigy who could step into Sancho’s shoes

The 19-year-old winger has entered Signal-Iduna Park’s first team in recent weeks after an impressive youth career.

When Borussia Dortmund lined up to face Manchester City in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final, they knew he was going to have to do without the injured Jadon Sancho.

The choice of interim manager Edin Terzic to replace the England international came as a huge shock, however.

Despite only having 44 minutes of first-team experience under his belt, teenager Ansgar Knauff was tasked with starting at the Etihad stadium in what was Dortmund’s first appearance at this stage of the tournament since 2017. .

“I was in a good flow during this phase of the season,” Knauff recalls, speaking exclusively to Goal and SPOX. “I had played my first minutes in the Bundesliga, helped a goal against Cologne after I arrived and I was also feeling good in training.

“Then Jadon Sancho got injured and the door opened for me. Suddenly being in the starting XI of this game is something I will never forget in my life.

“Previously, Edin had taken me aside in training and explained a lot of tactical things to me. After a video conference he showed me again exactly where the space could be where I could run. Ultimately he chose me because against such a very pressing team like Man City we could counterattack using my pace and ideally create scoring opportunities.

“Of course, I was really looking forward to the whole experience, but I also tried to suppress my nervousness. In such a situation, however, you will probably never be able to turn it off completely. When the game was launched, I was fully involved and didn’t think much about it anymore.

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“What impressed me the most was how extremely strong City are as a team. Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan’s ball retention was also amazing. The assists they choose to play with. ease in midfield are truly exceptional.

“Still, we did very well against them and only lost both games by a narrow margin. With a little luck, we really could have done more.”

Spurred on by the confidence shown in him, Knauff backed up this performance by scoring the winner against Stuttgart four days later, cementing him as another youngster to watch at Signal-Iduna Park.

Dortmund, of course, have built a reputation for being the ultimate finishing school for the world’s top teenage talent, with figures like Sancho, Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham choosing the Bundesliga outfit to run for the world before joining probably one of the richest in Europe. teams in the not too distant future.

The club, however, still produce their own players, and while Youssoufa Moukoko is currently the standard bearer of the BVB academy, Knauff is another who owes much of his football education to the Black and Yellows.

The 19-year-old joined Dortmund in 2016 from Hanover, although he had already had contact with the club two years earlier when playing for his first junior team, SVG Göttingen.

Having been named Player of the Tournament at the Opel Family Cup, Jurgen Klopp presented his trophy to the Opel Family Cup, with a photo of the pair that went viral this year after Knauff’s memorable week in early April.

“We qualified for the final tournament in Dortmund in four rounds played across Germany,” said Knauff. “It was a huge success for our team.

“The trips there or the overnight stays in hotels were great experiences. We were then at a BVB match in the stadium.

“He (Klopp) was there most of the time – he was like the face of the tournament. When he handed me the trophy, he told me I had played well and congratulated me.

“Part of my reward was that I received a pair of football boots and my mom and I were invited to Dortmund for two days. Then I trained with the U-13s, and we went back to a game in the stadium.

“At that time, however, there was no prospect of ever moving to BVB. It was still too far away.”

Knauff eventually moved to Dortmund at the age of 15, where he lived in the boarding halls alongside a number of other young prospects.

He impressed almost immediately and by the time he reached the U17s he was a key player, scoring four goals and providing 10 assists in the 2018-19 campaign.

This included direct contributions to five of Dortmund’s six goals in their play-off semi-final victory, as well as a final goal against Cologne; an event which allowed sporting director Michael Zorc to see him live for the first time.

A year later, Zorc oversaw Knauff’s promotion to the first team for preseason training after a 2019-20 campaign in which he scored seven goals, both of which were in a 2-1 win over Inter in the UEFA Youth League, and seven assists for the U19s.

“Knauff is a very talented young offensive player with good speed and good dribbling,” Zorc said at the time, with some predicting that the fast winger, who models his game on Kylian Mbappe, could become a winger for Lucien Favre. . favored the 3-5-2 formation.

He continued to be used as part of the front row, however, playing mostly from the left so he could cut inside on his stronger right foot, although in the first team he was used on both flanks. until now.

His form for the Dortmund ‘B’ side in Germany’s fourth row, for whom he has scored seven goals and assisted six more this season, earned him a permanent call in the senior squad in March, although that he has already made his first-team debut against Zenit in the Champions League in December.

Now that rumors are starting to revolve around Sancho’s future again this summer, there could be a gap in the Dortmund squad that Knauff could exploit next season.

“I want to play as much as possible next season, but I’m not looking for a place in the starting XI yet,” he said. “I just hope that things will continue as before and I will put all my efforts into it.

“It would be great if I could take another leap in my development then.”

If that turns out to be the case for Knauff, the next time he starts a Champions League knockout game it might not be so surprising.

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