The 60-second story
Date of birth: September 8, 1995
Place of birth: Bad Aibling, Germany
Height: 6ft 1in
Position: Defensive midfield
Current club: Borussia Dortmund (8 apps, 0 goals)
Former club(s): 1860 Munich
International: Germany U21 (1 app, 0 goals)
This time last year, Julian Weigl was simply hoping for his chance to impress bigger suitors at struggling second division German side 1860 Munich. Then-head coach Ricardo Moniz (now of Notts County) was sacked on September 24 after just 96 days in charge and replaced by Markus von Ahlen, who himself lasted only 15 matches. But Moniz made a serious impact on Weigl, who at that time was an 18-year-old boy trying to make his way in his first professional season.
The Dutch coach immediately made Weigl captain of one of Germany’s most traditional teams. “Julian is now a man,” Moniz told journalists when asked about his decision.
The tall, slender midfielder started 18 of the remaining 27 league fixtures under Von Ahlen and, his third head coach of the season, Torsten Fröhling. He was relieved of his captain’s duties, but had made a lasting impression in helping to keep one of Germany’s historical names out of the third division, if only just – 1860 needed a relegation play-off win over Holstein Kiel courtesy of a 91st-minute second-leg winner.
Weigl played for one of the worst teams in the country last season, in a position – holding midfield – which often goes unnoticed in the best of sides. Despite the players around him struggling for form, Weigl’s performances were impossible to miss for one of Germany’s biggest clubs. Borussia Dortmund picked up their man for just €2.5 million over the summer, seeing him as a future first-team player.
Why you need to know him
“In this [second] division, it is all about headed duels and long balls, dynamics that he still needs to work on,” were the departing words of former boss Fröhling, who didn’t start him in either leg of that relegation play-off. “With Dortmund he is showing his true quality in a league that allows him to. He always demands the ball, it’s a courage I’ve never seen from such a young player before.”
Fröhling’s words were strong and put expectations high on Weigl’s young shoulders. When he arrived at Dortmund over the summer, many didn’t expect to be hearing his name blasted out around Signal Iduna Park alongside 10 others. Yet the 20-year-old has started in all but two games for Borussia this season, even forcing one of his idols, Sven Bender, onto the substitutes' bench.
As well as Bender, new signing Gonzalo Castro has made hard work of his start in Dortmund, thanks partly to Weigl’s brilliance. Former Bayer Leverkusen man Castro’s only chance this season came at right-back in the Europa League against Odds and didn’t end well (he was withdrawn at half-time with Dortmund 3-1 down). The lanky but stylish Weigl – who once said “I can eat what I want and not change shape, so I do” - already looks a secure piece of Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund puzzle.
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) September 8, 2015
Operating in the ‘6’, Weigl is an unfussy distributor who does his work quietly without asking for appreciation. What makes him stand out is his sense of space, range of distribution in his passing and confidence with the ball at his feet. He is tall but lean, and can often be nudged off the ball.
But Weigl has evaded this weakness with an elite sense of positioning, not allowing himself to play into tight situations in which he can be brushed aside. His height also provides a presence in the Dortmund midfield. Weigl’s long limbs glide across the pitch to make tackles, blocks and, most commonly, interceptions.
While he averages an impressive 82 passes per Bundesliga game at 93% accuracy, Weigl’s defensive work is also worth noting. Two tackles and three interceptions per game help protect what was a shaky Dortmund defence in Jürgen Klopp’s final season in charge last term.
Weigl’s aforementioned slight build can often let him down. His first season as a professional in a lower division taught him vital lessons about avoiding these situations, but strength and conditioning will become a stable part of his development, if it hasn’t already. His eagerness to impress can also become a hindrance, but at 20, as Tuchel says: “I’d rather have him want the ball than hide away from it.”
"You can see every day that things are moving forward, that he enjoys it so much, which is why we play him so often,” said Tuchel.
“Julian has made a very good impression the whole time he's been here. He is thrilling us with his briskness and carefree attitude. At the same time, he displays the ability to learn and to soak things up. He is a totally clear, cordial and open young man.”
Did you know?
Weigl became the youngest captain in 1860 Munich’s illustrious history last year, aged 18. Last week he also made his debut for Germany Under-21s, coming on at half-time against Denmark.
What happens next?
The dream start Weigl would have been wishing for has come true with Dortmund. Now is his chance to cement a place within one of the most exciting teams in Europe so far this season. Being rewarded internationally is deserved, but the midfielder has already broken through the ceiling at Signal Iduna Park.
"In this squad, I see myself as a challenger,” he explained. “I came here and just wanted to see how quickly I would be able to cope with the pace and wanted to learn from the huge quality the other players have.”
Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc confirmed during the close season that Weigl was signed for the future, but that time is coming much sooner than expected.
For Weigl, it’s all about keeping consistent. Having already forced Bender and Castro out of the team, it looks unlikely that the returning Nuri Sahin will dislodge the youngster from his current perch, but the pressure is now on him to keep as close to the level he has set himself. If he does, the future could be incredibly bright for the Bavarian metronome.
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