Jadon Sancho is old news at Borussia Dortmund - Erling Haaland might yet be, too. But Donyell Malen is the future.
Dortmund wasted very little time in spending the Sancho millions, splashing out an estimated £27m on PSV's Malen. The 22-year-old is also a client of Mino Raiola - just like Erling Haaland. You'd expect that this signing - like Sancho, Haaland, even Ousmane Dembele - is merely a stepping stone to a richer club.
Liverpool were interested in Malen; Arsenal apparently wanted to resign him, too. But in Dortmund signing the youngster, perhaps they've addressed a key weakness in their side, while bringing in quality to replace their outgoing no.7.
After breaking through in an Ajax set-up with Matthijs De Ligt and Justin Kluivert, Malen joined Arsenal in 2015. Ajax were less than happy; they believed their gem was destined for the first team - and though Malen impressed on preseason tours for the Gunners, PSV offered him the minutes that he craved. There were reports around the time that fellow Dutchman Andries Jonker, who ran the Arsenal academy from 2014 to 2017, was unimpressed with Malen's physique and called him "fat".
Along with a number of young Guns at the time, including Ismael Bennacer, Rangers' Glen Kamara, Serge Gnabry and Joe Willock's elder brother Chris, Malen jumped ship from what seemed like a somewhat dysfunctional academy from the outside. Malen left Arsenal for just £200,000 to head back to Holland, where he's developed into a phenomenal goalscorer for PSV, striking 19 goals in 32 matches last season.
Malen doesn't have the same creative talents as Sancho. He plays on the shoulder of a defence, hangs in the halfspace and looks to make bursts beyond rather than play with the ball to feet. He's a finisher rather than an assister and has played both through the middle and on the left.
This leaves new Dortmund manager Marco Rose with a conundrum of where to play his starlet - and either way, it asks questions about the future of Dortmund.
Rose is a big fan of a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation but equally, he's used a more common 4-2-3-1 at Borussia Monchengladbach. In either system, Malen is a natural fit for the inner channel on the left, making the same penetrating runs that Eredivisie viewers became accustomed to seeing at PSV.
Whether Rose plays a front two or not, Raphael Guerreiro is expected to get high and become the defacto left-winger, pushing Malen inside - and Haaland and Malen make quite the strikeforce. Haaland is a complete striker with pace and ability on the break - but it's his physical prowess that benefits Malen the most. Similarly to how Timo Werner thrived in the Bundesliga with Yussef Poulsen as a target man to play off, Malen's off-ball running and link-up with another striker can be devastating. In a 4-2-3-1, the shape can be extremely similar.
Rather like Werner too, there's a question of whether the 22-year-old can hack it as a lone striker. With the never-ending rumours of Haaland's exit and Malen's impressive goal return, there are those who question whether his signing was made with the idea of grooming him into Dortmund's next no.9.
Malen lacks so much of Haaland's all-around ability, however. His pressing game is poor - which you think would improve, playing in Germany - while his hold-up play and link-up leave a lot to be desired. His movement is good and he's lightning on the break but he isn't likely to dislodge Haaland from the starting berth. Even pairing Malen with 16-year-old Youssoufa Moukoko up front seems more fruitful than using the Dutchman alone.
👋 Donyell!PSV Eindhoven has given official permission for Donyell Malen to take part in BVB training. There are still details to be clarified between the player and PSV, afterwards the transfer can finally be fully announced.pic.twitter.com/pSDojGV3RNJuly 27, 2021
Dortmund rarely miss when it comes to investing in youth like this. Since Thomas Tuchel was at the club, BVB have invested in the likes of Ousmane Dembele, Mikel Merino, Alexander Isak, Jadon Sancho, Mahmoud Dahoud, Dan-Axel Zagadou, Manuel Akanji, Mateu Morey, Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham. All have either been sold for a profit or become first-teamers.
You'd assume the same will be true of Malen. Whether he becomes the new Sancho or the new Haaland, time will tell.
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