It’s a well-trodden path for Gladbach in recent years, with Marco Reus, Roman Neustadter, Dante and Max Kruse all using the club as a stepping stone, but thanks to one superb academy graduate, the load on the shoulders of the scouting department will be much lighter should Xhaka get his transfer this summer.
Even better, the Swiss midfielder could yet stay at Borussia Park and continue to partner fledgling talent Mahmoud Dahoud in the centre of the pitch.
That way, Dahoud can continue to do the fine work he’s done so far this season as Christopher Kramer’s replacement at the heart of the Gladbach side.
But he may be set to replace another key player in Ilkay Gundogan at Borussia Dortmund, with Bild reporting that Dahoud is being lined up by Thomas Tuchel’s BVB for a summer move.
Given the current political situation in Germany, it seems fitting that one of the brightest young talents in the country was born in Amuda, a small town that sits along the Syrian side of the Syrian-Turkish border with a predominately Kurdish population.
In 1996, a 10-month-old Dahoud was taken by his family to Germany, fleeing oppression from the Assad regime.
He is perhaps even a symbol of how one born in Syria can become a part of German, and thus European, society.
Originally part of the Fortuna Dusseldorf academy, he moved to Gladbach in 2010 at the age of 14, and had to wait four years for his first-team debut, playing 35 minutes in the 7-0 thrashing of FK Sarajevo in a Europa League qualifier. His only other appearance in 2014 would come in the competition proper, when he played 20 minutes in a 5-0 win against Apollon Limassol.
Gladbach’s 3-1 defeat of Borussia Dortmund in April 2015 would see Dahoud get his first taste of top flight football, coming off the bench for the closing moments of the game. There was more to come.
Almost exclusively used from the bench by Lucien Favre, the then 19-year-old made his full Bundesliga debut in the legendary coach’s final game with the team. His resignation after a 1-0 defeat to bitter rivals Köln rocked the club to its core, but with Andre Schubert’s appointment, Dahoud became a permanent fixture in the first-team line-up.
His first Bundesliga game under Schubert brought his first ever senior goal – a fantastic strike from the edge of the box (something the midfielder, admittedly, tries a little too often) – that put Gladbach 4-0 up in the 21st minute against FC Augsburg.
Needless to say, Schubert’s new side went on to win their first game of the season. Dahoud, incidentally, went on to be voted the fans’ Player of the Month for September.
Five Champions League starts, 23 Bundesliga starts and one birthday later, it’s little wonder the midfielder is being talked about as a future star of the German national team.
In mid-October, a goal and two assists in a demolition of Eintracht Frankfurt underlined Dahoud’s credentials. He was so good on that Saturday evening at the Commerzbank-Arena that the Frankfurt fans, having seen their team battered, gave the teenager a standing ovation.
But what is it that makes him so good? More technical and less physical than Kramer, his ability lends itself to Schubert’s ‘caution to the wind’ style more than it would’ve suited the relative rigidity that had brought Favre so much success.
On the ball is where Dahoud really excels. A terrific passer of the ball, he pretty much has every pass imaginable in his locker. His short passing game nicely complements Xhaka’s ability to pick-out a long pass, but Dahoud really can do both. The 20-year-old times and weights his passes to perfection, whether in his own half, under pressure, or on the edge of the opponent’s box. That’s the mark of a quality player.
Games against Manchester City and Juventus were huge tests, and he passed them with flying colours. Gladbach performed well in all four games against the Italian champions and the richest club in England’s wealthy Premier League, constantly showing for the ball. When he did get it, he did what he always does; glided away from pressure with ease.
With two or more men covering him, Dahoud uses smart body feints to gain a yard of space before accelerating away with the ball at his feet. It’s a skill that comes in handy in the pressing-obsessed Bundesliga. When he does have a yard of space, he’s deceptively quick to get away from his man, always with control of the ball as his slight frame gives the impression he’s gliding across the pitch.
Thanks to fantastic intelligence and confidence in his technical ability, Dahoud is happy to collect the ball deep or to have it in vital attacking areas, becoming a crucial part of every phase of Gladbach’s attack. He always finds space better than the rest of his teammates, collecting the ball from the defence and passing before moving into an unmarked area yet again. At such a young age, Dahoud has already emerged as the sort of player who seeks to grab the initiative and lead his side by example.
His security on the ball is compounded by his strong decision-making, something you don’t often see in young players. In a side that attacks at speed, he rarely fails to make the right decision when it comes to releasing the ball – the timing and pass selection is flawless.
A first-half demolition of Werder Bremen in Febuary may well have been the best evidence of that particular skill yet. The occasional effort on goal excepted, Dahoud consistently makes the right choices on the ball.
Defensively he’s astute too. Obviously the on-ball work is more eye-catching than anything else, but he’s happy to commit to the cause defensively, something badly needed in a set-up as open as Schubert’s.
Reading the game well not only when his side is in possession, Dahoud can cut off opposition passes. He follows Schubert’s man-marking scheme, but could really come into his own in all aspects of the game if given more freedom.
As with so many young talents, the only thing that seems to hold Dahoud back for now is his physicality. Despite that lack of robustness though, he still manages to dictate games. There’s no telling what he could do as he goes into his early 20s.
This is one talent Borussia Mönchengladbach won’t want to lose before they can build their midfield around him.