Sometimes, geniuses are not recognised in their time. Vincent van Gogh died without knowing the impact that his paintings would have on the world of art for centuries to come. The same can be said of Nick Drake and his seminal folk albums, unheralded before his tragic passing.
Putting Michael Mancienne in the same company may seem a strange choice, but if he takes a moment to look back as he settles into life in MLS (with New England Revolution), he can perhaps appreciate the trail that he helped to blaze burning into full force.
Frustrated by the lack of opportunities at Chelsea, the young English defender took the decision to take his chance with a move to the Bundesliga with Hamburg his destination. He was hardly the first Englishman to move to Germany – that honour of course falls to Kevin Keegan, still seen as a legend at the Volksparkstadion, but discounting the Canadian-born Owen Hargreaves, he was the first since the 1990s to play in Germany’s top flight.
Mancienne will never be as fondly remembered as Keegan was, his low-key three-year spell with the club coinciding with their decline from a Bundesliga force to perennial strugglers, and when he left for Nottingham Forest few could have anticipated that a wave of young Englishman would soon follow in his footsteps.
Last summer saw the breakthrough. Kaylen Hinds, Ryan Kent, Reece Oxford and Jadon Sancho all moved from English clubs in search of an opportunity in a league where youngsters are given a chance. Ademola Lookman then joined RB Leipzig in January. Only one is still there, but it’s fair to say he’s doing rather well.
Fresh from what must have been a surreal England debut in an empty stadium in Croatia, Sancho added further to his glowing reputation with the opening goal, his second of the season, as Borussia Dortmund recorded a comfortable 4-0 win at Stuttgart on Saturday, set up by another of the club’s bright young talents, Dane Jacob Bruun Larsen.
It was the eighth time Sancho had been involved in a goal for Dortmund this season and although he couldn’t add to his six assists, his team mates did the rest. Marco Reus, Paco Alcácer and Maximilian Philipp gave the home manager Markus Weinzierl a rude awakening in his first game in charge of die Roten.
He had taken the plunge last year with the chances of first team opportunities at Manchester City unlikely, and after a season to bed himself in he is more than taking his chance now and he’s grateful that Dortmund have given it them. “Them giving me opportunities at such a young age, I just have to thank the club and all my family that have been behind me from the start,” he said after the Stuttgart win.
Yet Sancho wasn’t the only one taking the headlines from an English point of view this weekend. Reiss Nelson made the move to Hoffenheim on loan from Arsenal on Deadline Day, and after his own star turn for the England under-21s, he scored two impressive goals as his side came from behind to beat Nürnberg.
Hanno Behrens’s spot kick and a number of important saves from Christian Mathenia had kept Julian Nagelsmann’s side at bay. Yet in the space of eight second half minutes, Nelson had turned the game on its head. His first came from a clever cross from Pavel Kadeřábek, scored with a delightful volley. The Czech helped with the second too, with Nelson placing the ball over Mathenia after he was found by Kerem Demirbay.
Ádám Szalai scored a third to secure the victory for Hoffenheim, but it was Nelson earned the plaudits. “I don’t think I was the match-winner today,” he said humbly after the game. He was “very happy” though, adding he had never scored twice in a match before. Teammate Kevin Vogt had plenty of praise for him though. “He always ran into the box quickly, that made him so dangerous,” said Vogt.
The 18-year-old, three months older than Sancho, who had convinced him to come to Germany, now has four goals in German football, coming from as many appearances. His current coach has compared him another ex-Arsenal man, believing that he has helped to fill the void left by the return of Serge Gnabry to Bayern Munich, albeit “just not as well developed” yet. That may not be the case once Nagelsmann has finished working with him and the youngster attempts to break back into the Arsenal side next season.
There is little doubt right now that the both he and Sancho will continue to keep tearing up the Bundesliga as the season progresses, whilst the Borussia Mönchengladbach duo of Keanan Bennetts and Mandela Egbo will be eager to join them in the spotlight at some point. Yet whilst Mancienne will be unlikely to get any more credit for the success, he laid the seed of thought that has led to this English invasion of German football.
1 | As well as Sancho or Nelson are playing, they are unlikely to match what Luka Jović achieved for Eintracht Frankfurt on Friday. He became the youngest man to score five goals in a single Bundesliga game as he inspired the Eagles to a 7-1 crushing of Fortuna Düsseldorf. A stunning volley that gave his side a 2-0 lead was the best of the lot, although the game could have been very different if a controversial handball VAR decision was given in their favour, with Sébastien Haller converted the resulting penalty to get the evening’s scoring underway. They even managed it all without the suspended Ante Rebić. Düsseldorf though, like Nürnberg, look ill-equipped for the Bundesliga at present.
2 | There is unrest in the air at Leverkusen after Bayer stumbled to a 2-2 draw against Hannover. They came from behind twice, the second equaliser coming from Karim Bellarabi deep into stoppage time. That was not enough to please some of their fans, with whistling and cries of “Herrlich raus” on the final whistle as the side remained stuck in the bottom half of the league. Rudi Völler was quick to jump to the defence of the embattled Heiko Herrlich though. “We will give him every opportunity to work in peace,” said the Leverkusen sporting director, insisting it was not time to level his coach with an ultimatum. European football will, as always at the BayArena, be the bare minimum expectation of his side though.
3 | Any talk of a crisis there has been overshadowed by what’s been going on with Bayern Munich. The pressure was on their players as they travelled to Wolfsburg on Saturday considering the extraordinary press conference held by Uli Hoeneß, Karl Heinz-Rumennigge and Hasan Salihamidžić a day before. Robert Lewandowski rose to the occasion with two fine poacher’s goals. A spanner was thrown into the works as Arjen Robben was sent off, before Wout Weghorst pulled a goal back, however James Rodríguez made the most of a Lewandowski assist to make the game secure for the ten men. Results elsewhere though meant they were still only in fourth place at the end of the weekend.
4 | Dortmund naturally still lead the Bundesliga, but three points behind them is Gladbach, as they followed up a famous win against Bayern two weeks ago with an even more resounding 4-0 success against Mainz. Their attacking renaissance continued with some finely worked goals, including a hat-trick for the seemingly-reborn Jonas Hofmann, although the third was made rather easy by Florian Müller rushing out of his goal. Thorgan Hazard also scored to add to his two assists and the fit-again Lars Stindl showed signs of his old self as well. Dieter Hecking’s tactical shift to a more free-flowing 4-3-3 this season is paying huge dividends. Bremen are level on points after their win at Schalke, with Bayern a point and place further back.
By James Rees.