Amid all of the chaos that is the summer transfer window, spare a thought for Thomas Tuchel. The Borussia Dortmund manager took the reins at Signal Iduna Park last year and — after inheriting a side low on confidence, that had finished seventh in the previous Bundesliga campaign – rejuvenated BVB and transformed them back into title contenders.

And just as the former Mainz 05 coach would have been planning a summer holiday in which he could put his feet up and admire his 12 months of handy-work, the exodus began.

Captain Mats Hummels announced his desire to return to Bayern Munich, midfielder Ilkay Gündoğan joined Manchester City, and playmaker extraordinaire Henrikh Mkhitaryan forced a move to Manchester United.

Three of the players around which Tuchel had built his new-look Dortmund side, gone. A team which had finished runners-up in the title race to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern, with a points tally of 78 – which would have been enough to secure first place in all but four seasons in Bundesliga history – had been dismantled.

But rather than sit around and lick their wounds, Dortmund immediately set around rebuilding the pieces of their shattered side, by acquiring some of the brightest young talents on the continent, as well as a couple of experienced heads to steady the ship.

In has come Sebastian Rode from Bayern, and Marc Bartra from FC Barcelona. Rode is a workmanlike midfielder with plenty of Bundesliga experience. He will be unlikely to pull up trees with his performances, but he is tactically astute and won’t let Tuchel down.

Bartra, now 25, is a full international for Spain, and a product of Barça’s famed La Masia youth academy. Although undoubtedly a downgrade in overall quality when compared with Hummels, Bartra’s ability to bring the ball out of defence and pass forward accurately will mean that Dortmund can usher in the post-Hummels era with little need for a tactical rethink.

Another Spaniard, 20-year-old Mikel Merino, has been signed from Osasuna. Much like Julian Weigl, who moved to Dortmund last summer after captaining 1860 Munich in the Bundesliga 2 at the same age, Merino has been a regular for Osasuna in the Spanish Segunda División for the last two seasons. Tuchel will likely use the 6ft 2in midfielder sparingly next season, but he has been recruited because his skill-set and temperament will allow him to transition to top-flight football with ease

Left-back Raphaël Guerrero has already got BVB fans excited by the prospect of seeing him in the famous yellow shirt next season, thanks to his impressive displays for Portugal at Euro 2016. The 22-year-old has been signed from Lorient, where he was consistently excellent last season. Blessed with pace, skill and a wand of a left foot, the young Portuguese is regarded as one of the finest young full-backs in Europe, and will provide competition for long-time fan-favourite Marcel Schmelzer on the left side of Dortmund’s defence.

Emre Mor has been playing senior football for less than a year, but already the 18-year-old has appeared for Turkey at the European Championship and sealed a move to BVB.

Mor is a pacey, skilful winger who, despite his small stature, in unafraid to take a leading role in his team’s attacks. Signed from Danish side FC Nordsjælland, Mor is another player who is likely to be introduced gradually to first-team action, but the gifted youngster has all the attributes to succeed in the Bundesliga.

Dortmund’s most exciting summer recruit, and perhaps one of the coups of this transfer window, is Ousmane Dembélé, who has been signed from Rennes for a fee in the region of £12 million.

The 19-year-old Frenchman, like Mor, only made his professional debut last season. But that didn’t stop Dembélé from setting Ligue 1 alight with a series of dazzling displays. The Vernon-born youngster is genuinely two-footed, meaning his defence-shredding dribbles are completely unpredictable for opposing defenders, as he is able to move sharply in either direction.

With his 12 goals and five assists in the French top league last season, Dembélé caught the eye of scouts from all of Europe’s elite clubs. But Dortmund moved quickly to sign him, fending off interest from Bayern as well as from the Premier League.

Able to play on either flank or centrally as a number 10, Dembélé’s eye for a defence-splitting pass and ability to shoot powerfully and accurately with either foot, mark him out as one of the continent’s brightest talents. Former Manchester United defender turned Rennes presidential advisor, Mikaël Silvestre, has likened Dembélé to a young Cristiano Ronaldo, and tipped the teenager to be a future Ballon d’Or contender.

And the Yellow and Blacks haven’t closed their chequebook yet, with the confirmation today that former star Mario Götze has returned from an unsuccessful spell at Bayern and rumours of a move for André Schürrle gathering pace.

The options for how Tuchel will line his side up next season are almost endless, but a 4-3-3 starting Bürki – Piszczek, Sokratis, Bartra, Guerrero – Kagawa, Weigl, Castro – Dembélé, Aubamayang, Reus, would serve the 42-year-old German coach very well. A place for the likes of Mor, Merino and Rode can be found on a rotational basis, and Götze (and potentially Schürrle if signed), can easily slot into the front three.

Despite the loss of some key players, Dortmund fans can rest assured that Tuchel will be able to keep them nipping at Bayern’s heels in the title race.

And, having held on to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marco Reus, while adding some of the hottest young prospects in the game, there is plenty of reason for excitement at Signal Iduna Park next season.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here.

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB


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France have the chance to establish a new footballing dynasty with Euro 2016 victory

The 2016 UEFA European Championship will get underway when hosts France face Romania at Stade de France on Friday.

Didier Deschamps’ men are among the hot favourites to win this summer’s title and a quick look through Les Bleus’ squad illustrates why they are fancied by so many to claim their third continental crown on home soil.

The current French crop boasts the likes of Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann, Juventus’ Paul Pogba, Paris Saint-Germain’s Blaise Matuidi, Manchester United’s Anthony Martial, West Ham United’s Dimitri Payet and Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris.

Deschamps’ group looks extremely balanced on paper. Added to the fact that they have been handed a favourable draw in Group A, France have the potential to go far in their own backyard.

The 47-year-old tactician’s squad already looks formidable but when you consider that Real Madrid pair Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane, Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho, Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma, Olympique Lyonnais duo Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir, as well as OGC Nice’s Hatem Ben Arfa are all missing, the hosts could be more formidable than they already are.

The crazy thing is that Les Bleus’ well of talent does not run dry there. In fact, if anything, that is only scratching the surface.

PSG pair Alphonse Areola and Adrien Rabiot, not to mention Borussia Dortmund’s teenage sensation Ousmane Dembele, Athletic Club’s Aymeric Laporte and Lyon’s Samuel Umtiti (who is actually in Deschamps’ Euro squad), are yet to make their senior debuts for the French senior side.

The likes of Inter Milan’s Geoffrey Kondogbia and Stade Rennais’ Paul-Georges Ntep only have a few caps to their name and the under-21 side is loaded with talents capable of making the step up to senior level in the near future.

France has an opportunity with this summer’s European Championship to establish a footballing dynasty that could last for many years.

If the hosts can hoist the Henri Delaunay trophy at Stade de France next month, there is a very good chance that we could see the same thing happen in Russia at Luzhniki Stadium in 2018, in England at Wembley in 2020 and perhaps even in Qatar at Lusail Iconic Stadium in 2022.

The likes of Griezmann, Pogba, Martial and Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman all should have at least three more major international tournaments left in them after Euro 2016, arguably more for the latter trio.

With so many top talents on the fringes of Deschamps’ squad or yet to be integrated into the senior setup at all, it is easy to see Les Bleus becoming the world and European order sometime in the next few years.

Germany may well win this summer’s tournament and add the European title to their world crown but France are the most likely side to wrest it away from them in the coming years, should that happen.

What Deschamps’ team needs now is experience; the experience of playing in big international tournaments like the Euro and the experience of going on deep run to the latter stages and possibly all the way.

Once the key younger members of this group have tasted that, the seed for future success will have been sown. All that will be left to do then is for Deschamps, or a similar figure, to harvest the glory that many of these phenomenally talented players are destined for.

The FIFA under-20 World Cup success of 2013, featuring the likes of Pogba, Zouma, Areola, Umtiti, Kondogbia and Lucas Digne was a taste of what should lie ahead of many members of this emerging generation of talent.

What France need now is for some of those players to acquire the necessary experience so that the next wave of gifted footballers can be brought into the senior setup. Once that happens, once Les Bleus enjoy that initial success, they should become a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

This summer’s European Championship on home soil is the perfect opportunity to take that next step and Deschamps’ men could then realistically target World Cup success in Russia after that.

Even if ultimate success does not await the French at Stade de France in July, it surely will not elude them for much longer. One thing is for sure, the future is bright and the future is Bleu.

About the author – Jonathan Johnson

Ligue 1 and French football journalist. Covering PSG in English. Work is published regularly on @EPSNFC,@br_uk, @YahooSportUK and @beINSPORTUSA.

twitter: @Jon_LeGossip


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Having taken Ligue 1 by storm since making his professional debut in November, Ousmane Dembélé has been catching the eye of scouts from a host of Europe’s top clubs.

Considered the latest — and perhaps most naturally gifted – attacking player to emerge from the French production line, the 18-year-old Stade Rennais prodigy has already been lined up for a summer move to Borussia Dortmund, if German newspaper Bild is to be believed.

Dembélé’s agent moved quickly to deny the rumours of a Bundesliga switch, but it’s easy to see why BVB — or any top club for that matter — would want to snatch this young star away from the Stade de la Route-de-Lorient.

Since making his first-team debut against Bordeaux on 22 November last year – a game in which he also scored – Dembélé has amassed an impressive tally of 12 goals and five assists from 23 Ligue 1 appearances. In doing so, Dembélé has become the youngest player in the history of the French top division to reach double figures in terms of goals scored.

What sets Dembélé apart is his incredible pace and dribbling ability; dribbling skills that are further augmented by the fact that, although nominally right-footed, the France under-21 international is extremely comfortable using his weaker foot. This ambidextrousness allows Dembélé to change direction quickly and comfortably, making him an unpredictable proposition for opposing defenders.

Dembélé’s ability to effectively use either foot has also made him a versatile attacking weapon for Rennes. Indeed, in his 19 Ligue 1 starts he has played on the left of the attack five times, eight times on the right and six times as a central number 10-type attacking playmaker.

Despite a willingness to operate anywhere across the forward line, Dembélé certainly appears to prefer a central role. This notion is evidenced by his productivity in the position: seven of his eight goals have come while playing as a central attacking midfielder, along with averaging a rating of 8.5 when playing through the middle.

To add to his positional versatility, Dembélé also possesses a diverse skill-set. The aforementioned dribbling skills are complimented by an assuredness in front of goal when presented with a chance. A sound striker of the ball from distance with either foot with an acute eye for a killer pass – all goes toward justifying the hype that has surrounded the young man.

In March, Dembélé registered his first professional hat-trick in a 4-1 victory over Nantes. His broad tool-box of attributes was again on full display. His first goal was a toe-poked shot from 18-yards out after a poorly cleared free-kick; a long distance free-kick which bounced in off the post gave Dembélé his second; and the treble was completed by a dribble from the half-way line, before cutting inside to beat his marker and finish neatly past the goalkeeper.

Were it not for the fact that France already boast an enviable array of attacking talent in his position – the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial, Dimitri Payet, Kingsley Coman and Hatem Ben Arfa – Dembélé would likely have already made his senior international debut, and be a strong contender to be included in his country’s squad for EURO 2016. As it stands, the youngster remains one for the future for France boss Didier Deschamps, but it surely won’t be long before we see Dembélé tearing apart defences for Les Bleus.

Read all about another Les Bleus star, Kinglsey Coman.

Whether or not Dembélé is set for a summer switch away from Ligue 1 remains to be seen. But purely from a style perspective, the Dortmund link makes perfect sense.

Thomas Tuchel’s men are a team who, though comfortable in possession, thrive on rapid transitions from defence to attack. The pace and ball-carrying ability of Dembélé makes him a perfect match for the Black and Yellows.

A parallel could also be drawn between Dembélé and another former Ligue 1 stand-out, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. When Aubameyang joined Dortmund from Saint Etienne in 2013, he was utilised primarily as a right-winger by then BVB boss Jürgen Klopp. But when Robert Lewandowski joined rivals Bayern Munich on a Bosman in 2014, Klopp gave Aubameyang the opportunity to replace the departing Polish international as Dortmund’s primary central striker. Aubameyang has since gone on to become one of the hottest goal-scorers on the continent, terrorising defences with his blistering pace and ever-improving finishing.

Whether at Dortmund or elsewhere, it is not too difficult to imagine Dembélé’s career taking a similar trajectory. Already a more skilled dribbler than Aubameyang, and with pace to burn, the Rennes player’s confidence in front of goal could see him leading the line at some stage.

Meanwhile, Dembélé will continue to learn his trade as a position-shifting attacker, sharpening his tools before honing in on one set position. And if he does indeed end up joining Dortmund – much will depend on whether rumours of a €100m move away from Signal Iduna Park for Aubameyang are true – his versatility will mean he is able to slot in comfortably in several positions.

Wherever Dembélé plays next season, hopefully he will be given the time to iron out the deficiencies in his game, without being under too much pressure to perform every week. The areas in which the 18-year-old’s game is lacking – understanding of defensive responsibility and decision making – are common in most players of his age. Given the time to mature, the young Frenchman promises to have a bright future

“I saw Cristiano Ronaldo come to Manchester United at the same age, and Ousmane has some of the characteristics that remind me of a young Ronaldo,” Said Rennes presidential advisor and former Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre, when speaking to France Football. “I’m going to go out on a limb, but he could win the Ballon d’Or.”

High praise for and high expectations for Dembélé, but the young player has all the skills to back it up.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here. 

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB



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