Ansgar Knauff has signed his first professional contract with Borussia Dortmund. It is the realisation of a dream that started with the 2006 World Cup in his homeland. "I watched the matches on TV. And after that I only had one goal," says the now 18-year-old.
He was only four when he started to play football in Göttingen, the town of his birth. Since this season, he has been training with the BVB senior squad. He even made the bench for the games in Hoffenheim and Rome.
"I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to show what I can do there – at the highest level and with the best players that you know from watching on TV. That's just a brilliant feeling," said Knauff. BVB sporting director Michael Zorc labelled the highly promising youngster as a "very talented young attacking player with good pace and good dribbling".
Ansgar Knauff started impressing people with those outstanding footballing abilities at a young age, while playing for his hometown club of SVG Göttingen. Following a short stint at the Hannover 96 youth setup, Knauff moved to the Borussia Dortmund academy in 2016, where he still lives to this day. Recalling his arrival, Youth Coordinator Lars Ricken said: "Ansgar was the smallest player by some distance when he joined us at U15 level." And yet everyone was convinced of his potential. There was a belief that he would catch up physically. There used to be, as Ricken explained, a player at the club with a similarly small and slight stature. His name? Marco Reus.
At one point, Ansgar Knauff sustained an injury and couldn't play for a long time. "Even then, everyone kept their calm, including Ansgar," said Ricken. In the Final Round of the U17 Bundesliga, Knauff played a pivotal role for the Black & Yellows, scoring two goals and setting up a further four. He is now part of the national squad at U19 level. "I train as much as I can and play as many matches as possible," he explained. "Wherever that might be: with the U19s, U23s – and if it works out then hopefully at the top too."
"The top" – that's how the youth players at Borussia Dortmund refer to the first team. Ansgar Knauff has had to make plenty of sacrifices on his journey to get there. "I also used to play basketball and I like to spend some time with friends as well," said the 18-year-old. "But at the moment my full focus is on football." He does not want to be spending all that much time on other things. "I have this opportunity, and to that end I have to give everything and try my hardest. It would be a waste otherwise."
"Ansgar is a very nice lad and very down-to-earth," says academy director Julia Porath of the right winger. "He conducts himself with real calm and focus." The man himself feels he really benefited from his experience with the first team at the Bad Ragaz training camp. "Of course, we had heard a lot from the other lads who'd been part of it before. But it's a very different thing to experience it yourself." It gives you a different perspective on certain things and you learn a lot. "As a young player, you really develop a lot there," says Knauff, adding: "And it's brilliant every day to wake up knowing: today I can train with the first team and improve."
"Experienced players such as Marco Reus, Mats Hummels, Lukasz Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer talk with us a lot. They are all very nice," explained Knauff. "You feel like you're in good hands." But professional football is a different kettle of fish compared to academy life. At U19 level or the levels below that, you play against players of your own age. The age difference is usually two years at the most. "That goes out of the window at professional level: you can play against 16-year-olds, 18-year-olds, 25-year-olds or 30-year-olds. There are players who have been professionals for 15 years and see the whole game in a very different light. They have a very different playing style."
"Professional football is a totally different level to the U19s," explained Youth Coordinator Lars Ricken. "There is maybe not always a steep rise to the top. The young players sometimes also run into setbacks and have to prove themselves again." The important thing is not to let yourself be diverted from your path, to give yourself the time you need and to maintain your emotional resilience."
"Of course, I dream of playing for the first team in front of our fans and even in front of a full South Stand once the corona period is over," said Knauff. "The atmosphere is really crazy. Pure goosebumps."
Ansgar Knauff took a big step towards achieving his objective on 17 October: Lucien Favre included him in the senior squad for the first time. Ansgar travelled to Sinsheim with the first team to face TSG Hoffenheim. Even though he was "only" on the bench, it was another important step on the way to "the top". The next: his first professional contact.