‘It is an obvious strategy not to buy superstars but to create them.’
The plan at Borussia Dortmund is clear… and it’s clearly working. Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho are just the latest off the production line of players that the club have brought in, not for mega-money, before turning them into top-level stars.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Christian Pulisic are previous examples, the former costing under £14m and the latter a free transfer, before Dortmund recouped a combined £115m by selling them to desperate English clubs.
And so, who’s next? Well, according to reports in Belgium, it could be Club Brugge’s Emmanuel Dennis – a striker who has shone this season. But who is he? Here, Sportsmail takes a look…
Emmanuel Dennis signed for Club Brugge in 2017 and is now being chased by lots of top clubs
Who is he?
Emmanuel Dennis is a Nigerian striker, born in the east of the country, close to the border of Cameroon. He made his way to the capital to play in the Accademia di Abuja at the age of 13, before a huge move – both logistically and otherwise – to Zorya Luhansk in Ukraine.
Then 19, he impressed in a trial with the club before going on to score on his debut in July 2016. He was immediately linked with a move away in the winter – to Manchester City among others – but opted to stay in Ukraine for the rest of the campaign.
In the summer, a year after he had moved to the country, Dennis was snapped up by Belgian side Club Brugge for a fee in the region of £1m. He netted five in six to start with a flourish and is now in his third season at the club. His defining moment perhaps came in November last year, when he scored twice against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the Champions League group stages.
Dennis scored twice against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the Champions League this season
What position does he play?
He is a striker by trade, and played up top in a 4-4-2 formation in that impressive 2-2 draw with Real Madrid at the back end of last year. That said, versatility is one of his better attributes, and this season he has played on both wings and through the middle, so could likely fit any style.
Dortmund have this season played with both a 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 style, and Dennis would fit anywhere across the front threes in both. In truth, he could be a straight swap for Jadon Sancho if Dortmund do get their way and sign him as a replacement.
He has been labelled the next Jadon Sancho (right), who could leave Dortmund in the summer
What are people saying about him?
Ever since his arrival in Europe, the praise has been pretty resounding for the young Nigerian star. In the last six months, he has also made his Nigeria debut, and as the weeks go by, more and more football fans are beginning to sit up and take notice.
Newcastle, Sheffield United, Watford, Monaco and Sampdoria are also said to be scouting him ahead of a summer scramble for his signature, but it looks like Dortmund is the most attractive offer should they sell Sancho and stump up the necessary cash for Brugge to let him go.
The majority of comments about Dennis by the wider football public came in the wake of his two-goal showing at the Bernabeu, in which he celebrated with Cristiano Ronaldo’s trademark jump, as if to mock the home support.
Gary Lineker, true to style, tweeted ‘Dennis: The Menace’ in the aftermath, while many picked up on his pre-match promise to get a tattoo if he scored. Whether he did or not is unclear…
Dennis has just started playing for Nigeria too, and is quickly proving his worth in Belgium
Has he done it for his country?
Not just yet. At the age of 22, Dennis is very much a player on the up, but Nigeria fans are yet to see his full potential. Of course, they’re aware of him given his roots and performances for the younger age ranges, but his breakthrough to the senior side is only just occurring.
He made his senior debut back in September, coming on for the final eight minutes of a friendly against Ukraine, before coming on for 11 minutes against Brazil a month later.
Why has he stood out this season?
In his position up top for Club Brugge this season, he has been the club’s stand-out performer, and it is no surprise that he has attracted attention from some of the big boys across Europe.
Dennis constantly displays his lightning pace, and has an explosive way of playing, making bursting runs off the shoulder of the last defender and regularly timing those runs to perfection.
Off the ball, his energy is infectious and he constantly presses his opponents – a sure-fire way to keep the crowd on-side and ensure he is the first name on the team-sheet.
Dennis (left) constantly presses his opponents off the ball and has an explosive way of playing
Is he a realistic target in the summer?
Absolutely. He wanted to leave last summer, before a change of coach and the arrival of Philippe Clement prompted him to stay for a further year. ‘I like this coach,’ was his response at the start of the campaign.
By way of a thank you, Club Brugge upped his wages and awarded him a lucrative new contract through until 2022… but that is unlikely to stop him leaving if the right offer comes in. In truth, all the new contract does is ensure Brugge can demand a hefty fee for his services. He is likely to cost his suitors around £21million.
If Dennis continues performing at the top level, those bids are sure to arrive in a flurry come June.
Dennis opted to stay at Club Brugge for another season, but around £21m would seal his exit
Would Dortmund be the right club for him?
On paper, most definitely. The club’s desire to sign some of the best young, untapped talent has worked a treat over the past few seasons. The likes of Ousmane Dembele, Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho, Christian Pulisic, Jacob Bruun Larsen and Gio Reyna have all come through the ranks to either star for the first team or move on for big, big money.
In a recent interview with the BBC, the club’s head of youth Lars Ricksen spoke openly about their recruitment policy and the way they try to do things in North Rhine-Westphalia.
‘Technical skills are very important,’ he said. ‘And the quickness and speed of action. Players in our first team are all so fast. It is unbelievable.
‘A few months ago, we had a player from a foreign country who was playing for our Under 17s and he wasn’t fast enough, so we decided not to make the transfer. It made no sense.
Gio Reyna (left) and Erling Haaland are two examples of the incredible talent at Dortmund
‘The other thing is the mentality. The loads we put on the players are very high. School, football, national teams. This can all take 70 or 80 hours a week. These boys have to be grown-up, focused and disciplined at a very young age.
‘Our aim is to educate players from Dortmund and the surrounding area. But if we find players from abroad with potential, we will take the risk to try and sign them. But we won’t take them from the USA or England or Spain just to make our Under 17 or Under 19 team a little better.
‘We want to find the special one. We were quite successful with Pulisic, Gio Reyna and Jacob Bruun Larsen.’
They were, indeed… and perhaps Dennis is next.