What were you doing when you were 19? Certainly not breaking Bundesliga goalscoring records or netting seven times in 136 minutes. For Borussia Dortmund pair Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland, however, that’s just how they spend their weekends.
Thanks to another dose of inspiration from their two 19-year-old superstars on Matchday 20, BVB routed Union Berlin to become only the fourth team in the Bundesliga’s 57-year history to score at least five goals in three successive matches. Lucien Favre’s men are up to third in the standings, remain firmly in the mix in the title race and have momentum well and truly on their side.
That the source of much of that momentum should be two teenagers is simply remarkable, and yet with each passing matchday, Sancho and Haaland continue to post numbers that confound even the most optimistic supporters. London-born Sancho has 12 goals and assists apiece this term is now the youngest player in Bundesliga history to reach 25 goals, while Haaland has netted seven in three appearances, to go with the 28 he plundered in just half a season for Red Bull Salzburg.
The two players have struck up an excellent understanding and fully appreciate the other’s qualities. “We combine very well and we’re able to bring that into the games and help the team,” said Sancho after the win against Union, adding “I’m really happy that he’s here.”
Haaland returned the compliment. “You can see on the pitch it’s very good. He’s a great guy,” the Norwegian told reporters.
“I’m enjoying my time here so far. My teammates are so good, as you can see, and that makes it easier for me. There’s a lot more to come. It was a normal Saturday for me, and I’ll go to bed early tonight.” All in a day’s work for one of the hottest goal-getters around.
Consider other teenage players currently making headlines in world football and nobody comes close to the type of contribution Dortmund’s deadly duo are making.
In England, Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood (19) has scored four Premier League goals, while Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli (18) has three; in Spain, Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr (both Real Madrid, 19) and Ansu Fati (Barcelona, 17) have all enjoyed a strong season so far; in France, Eduardo Camavinga (17) and William Saliba (18) are regulars for Rennes and St Etienne respectively.
In Serie A, Sebastiano Esposito (17) is causing a splash for Inter Milan but has played just a handful of matches, while closer to home in the Bundesliga, Alphonso Davies (19) is a star in the making for Bayern Munich but does not have a fellow teenager in his side making the same kind of impact.
Sancho and Haaland, by contrast, are both scoring or making goals and deciding matches at the top end of an elite division. Keep up their current form and BVB will be many observers’ favourites to lift the Bundesliga title for the first time since 2012, thus distinguishing the two, both full internationals, from their peers in terms of trophies as well as goals and assists.
And there is a second, perhaps more salient point to make regarding the comparisons between Sancho and Haaland and the aforementioned crop of players above. It is not easy to find two teenagers playing together regularly in Europe’s top leagues because that type of responsibility is not lightly given by top-level coaches to inexperienced players. But that is where Dortmund, and the Bundesliga as a whole, are different: if you are good enough, you are old enough.
There is barely two months difference in age between Sancho and Manchester City’s Phil Foden, but Sancho, who left City in 2017 due to a lack of first-team action, has made 64 Bundesliga appearances, starting 50 times and playing 4,596 minutes in total. Since his Premier League debut in December 2017, meanwhile, Foden’s stats read: 30 appearances, five starts, 629 minutes played. Though he is a double Premier League winner, you wonder how he might feel when he considers the ascent his erstwhile teammate has taken since 2017.
As for Sancho and Haaland, the future will no doubt bring more games, more goals and more assists, and there is time enough before their teen years come to an end (25 March and 21 July respectively) to add plenty more of each. Then will come the trophies, likely by the bucketload.