The adage “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” applies to football, and nowhere is that more true than in the Bundesliga, the world’s best environment for developing A grade players. Don’t trust us? Then merely inquire of people like Jude Bellingham and Jamal Musiala.
Nowhere else in the world of sports are as many elite young players regularly blooded. While other nations might occasionally produce a standout performance every few years, in Germany hardly a season goes by without the next youngster making a splash on the senior stage.
— Borussia Dortmund (@BlackYellow) May 29, 2023
Bellingham and Musiala, although being only 19 and 20 years old, respectively, were two of the Bundesliga’s top players in 2022/23, finishing in the official Team of the Season. The Borussia Dortmund midfielder, who displayed maturity well beyond his years to wear the captain’s armband on multiple occasions and therefore become the youngest captain in BVB history, was even voted Player of the Season.
Second only to 24 years old Eintracht Frankfurt player Randal Kolo Muani in terms of direct involvement in league goals with 22, Musiala also had the honor of scoring the game winning goal for Bayern Munich on the last day.
Our cameraman got a little excited when this went in 😅
— FC Bayern Munich (@FCBayernEN) May 27, 2023
There are other players aged 22 or younger that are establishing a name for themselves, with Bellingham and Musiala being just two of the baby faced miracles now lighting up German football: There are other others on the list, including Youssoufa Moukoko, Mathys Tel, Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, Florian Wirtz, Gio Reyna, Josko Gvardiol, Karim Adeyemi, Dominik Szoboszlai, and Jeremie Frimpong.
And this phenomenon is by no means new. Since its inception, the Bundesliga has been polishing up rough diamonds, whether they are domestic stars like Christian Pulisic, Jadon Sancho, and Kai Havertz, or foreign stars like Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, and Julian Brandt.
What is the German method then? Simply put, by having faith in their children to perform. Instead of hurling handfuls into the mix and praying one of them survives, it involves gradually raising them to the required standard. They begin to play once they arrive.
“You’re in and around the first team and you see all these top players training, and I was just trying to learn and watch what they did,” Musiala said earlier this season to bundesliga.com. “I tried to pick up as much as I could from them, and just being around them was an amazing experience for me.”
Bellingham stated immediately after his 2020 transfer from Birmingham City, “I’ve been in a professional environment since I was 15, always with the first team. So, it ideally positions you. Coming into the Bundesliga, I felt really at ease. Why did I choose Dortmund? As I’ve already stated numerous times, I believe that what they offer young players in terms of field opportunities is the game time.
The statistics support those opportunities. In the Bundesliga in 2018/19, players under the age of 20 clocked 33,741 minutes, with 24 of them making regular appearances (in at least 10 games). That was a lot more than what was played in the Premier League (19,081 minutes/12 players), La Liga (20,688 minutes/14 players), or Serie A (21,761 minutes/14 players). It makes sense why people like Sancho, Musiala, and Bellingham chose to leave England and seek their fortune in Germany.
Only in Ligue 1 (46,014/31 players) were U20s given more playing time, but it’s important to remember that there were 380 games in France’s 20 teams top division that season, 74 more than in the Bundesliga.
That being said, what about the why? It largely has to do with the resurgence of German football following the nation’s underwhelming performance at UEFA Euro 2000, where they finished last in Group A with only one point from three games.
Since then, professional clubs all around the nation have been required to operate and manage young academies that must adhere to stringent requirements each year in order for the club to be given its license to compete the upcoming season. In other words, it only makes sense to take use of it rather than just making significant investments on the transfer market, given the time, effort, and financial expenditure required to establish such an infrastructure.
According to Bellingham, who once told BBC Sport, “I kind of feel like Germany is my second home now.” People talk about money and such nonsense, but I wouldn’t play for a team if I wasn’t truly in love with it, you know? I had a close relationship with the Dortmund residents. They promised to develop me, give me game time, and make me an international in two years if I came. I was confident in my choice from the very beginning.
Bellingham has advanced in the ranks, and it took him only four months not two years to make his England debut. He has subsequently changed and is now probably the best midfielder in the world, becoming a vital figure for both club and nation.
Similar claims may be made about Haaland, the best striker on the planet. It is therefore not surprising that the 22 years old spent two and a half of his formative years in the Bundesliga perfecting his skill. His incredible potential was made clear by a stunning 29 goals in 27 games for Salzburg, which was later refined into world-class ability in the German top division. The Norwegian scored a staggering 86 goals in 89 club games by the time he departed Dortmund.
Musiala, who turned 20 in February, has already made 125 appearances for Bayern in his senior season, in addition to winning four Bundesliga championships. In addition to Dortmund’s teenage titans Moukoko and Bynoe-Gittens, who have combined for 12 goals and 10 assists this season, he will undoubtedly be one of the young players to watch as the record champions look to continue their winning streak.
And who will be the most recent undiscovered youngster to appear in 2023 or 2024? The next world beater is always just around the corner in the Bundesliga, but only time will tell.