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Training camp

From the U9s to the first team – An interview with Samuel Bamba

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Samuel Bamba has been with Borussia Dortmund for more than 10 years and has played for all the youth teams. The 19-year-old made his Bundesliga debut for his hometown club against Augsburg in December. In Marbella, we spoke with him about his time in Black & Yellow, the training camp and, of course, his first match.

The away game against Augsburg was 71 minutes old when the numbers 43 and 48 lit up on the substitution board. Samuel Bamba stood on the sidelines and thought: "Now it's time." The attacking player came on as a substitute for Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and made his Bundesliga debut that day in mid-December. Bamba went about his business on the flank and almost scored a goal. But his best chance struck the side-netting. Nonetheless, his competitive debut with the first team is still the highlight of his fledgling career, of course. "I didn't think that it would be this amazing. You always dream about it as a young child and then the dream comes true. You have to be honest about that," recalled the 19-year-old approximately four weeks later in Marbella. Following the Asia Tour at the end of 2022 and the 2023 Summer Tour in the USA, the current winter training camp is the third big trip that Bamba has undertaken with the BVB first team. "I was a bit quieter in Asia and I was also quiet in the USA. Now I'm still quiet, but I think I'm becoming a bit more open. It's very cool to be integrated here. BVB is my hometown club. It's a big thing for me."

A Dortmund boy from Ahlen

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Samuel Bamba has been with Borussia Dortmund since the U9s and describes himself as a Dortmund boy. Born in Ahlen in February 2004, he is the son of former professional footballer Musemestre Bamba, who made more than 300 second-tier and Regionalliga appearances for LR Ahlen and successor club Rot Weiss Ahlen. Samuel also started his career with the Rot Weiss academy, before starting a spell of 10 years and counting with the Black & Yellows. Bamba progressed through all the youth ranks at BVB, winning the German A Junior Championship (Bynoe-Gittens was among his team-mates back then) and playing a big part in the U19s' successes in the UEFA Youth League: the quarter-finals were reached in both the 2021/22 and 2022/23 seasons – a feat which no Black & Yellow youth team had ever managed before. In last year's round of 16, Bamba netted to level the scores at 1-1 against Paris Saint-Germain and saved his team in a penalty shootout that the team went on to win. "It was a good game that brings fond memories. We've also progressed this year, which is a good thing. I'm happy that I was able to play a part in us getting this far," reflected the youngster. This season, he has moved between the three teams and has already appeared for the U19s, the U23s and the first team.

What are you learning in training with the first team?
"I can learn a lot – especially the fundamentals – from all the players here. They are all complete professionals, so I can take a lot on board."

How is the training different compared with the U23s?
"In many areas. First of all, of course, in terms of intensity, but also in terms of the basics: every pass is spot on, there are few to no mistakes. I'm very impressed when I see that."

Is there a player in particular who is giving you tips? 
"A lot of players now come up to me, for example Mats or Marco, who calmly explain to me what I can do better. But Schlotti is always there for me too. So it does happen that players who play a different position approach me. That was also the case with Sabi today."

10 years is a long time to play for your hometown club. There were never any considerations about a transfer. Even if things didn't always go smoothly for Samuel Bamba. "For example, I didn't always play in the U23s, that was tough. But Otto always said to me: 'Sammy, I was in exactly the same situation during my first months in Dortmund.' I tried to give my best when I played." Top talent coach Otto Addo is one of the coaches who has shaped Bamba the most during his time at BVB. "He is really always there for us young players. He does everything for us. When you have problems, you can go to Otto, whether it is about football or not. He is always happy to lend an ear." U19 coach Mike Tullberg, assistant coach Sebastian Geppert and head coach Edin Terzic have also accompanied Samuel Bamba on his journey.

Mike Tullberg
"He's like an uncle to me. He always pestered me, even though I sometimes thought: What does he want from me? But in hindsight. when I think about it, he always wanted to get the best out of me. That's why I sometimes got one or two more interventions than the others. At the time, I perhaps didn't want to accept it, but looking back, it was for my own good. It really helped me a lot."

Sebastian Geppert
"I've known Geppi for a long time, he was my U17 coach. He built me up back then and saw my potential." 

Edin Terzic 
"I've also been in contact with Edin for a long time already. When he was the technical director two years ago, he told me: 'Sammy, I believe in you.' There are a lot of people who didn't believe in me, but he told me what I needed to improve. 'Then you will get there.' You don't believe it at first, but he put his trust in me."

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Terzic already included Bamba in his squad for the cup tie away to Schott Mainz in August but he did not play on that occasion. At the final training session prior to the Augsburg game, the coach told the youth player that he would be in the squad once again. "I thought: I'll take that experience for now," recalled Bamba. When he then speaks about his substitution, he brims with enthusiasm. "When I was warming up, our athletics coach Flo called my name. I thought first of all that he wanted something from me, but he said: 'You're coming on now.' As I went from the touchline to Edin, there was only one thing on my mind: Now it's time! I was thinking the whole time: Now it's time! I had to go past Edin and he told me: 'Stay cool. Get dressed first and then come to me. I put my shirt on faster than ever before. When I was standing next to Edin again, he said to me: 'Now it's time. I've always believed in you. Now you have to show everyone what you can do.' It was really emotional. Then I ran onto the pitch and it was – to be honest – a normal football match."

Praise for his debut

As soon as he entered the pitch, it was a matter of routine. Bamba did what he has done his whole life: play football. He flew down the wing, had some good moments and almost scored. "Today Sammy showed that he can be a difference-maker with his qualities not only in the U19s, the Regionalliga or the third division, but also in the Bundesliga," Edin Terzic subsequently said. Lars Ricken, the director of the youth performance centre, praised the youngster: "Samuel Bamba's Bundesliga appearance was one of the biggest stories for the entire youth system." Bamba had to take a deep breath when he heard that: "Thanks to Lars, it's lovely to hear something like that. Many people have always said: 'Talent doesn't come through at Dortmund.' I hope that I was able to show the younger players that you can make it if you always train hard and trust in your coaches and yourself." The press also labelled it a successful debut. Bamba described himself as self-critical and his performance as "okay. If I had gotten a goal or an assist and we had won, it would have been better, of course." He hopes to score his first Bundesliga goal soon and has already found the net in friendlies.

And what does Samuel Bamba hope for from the future? "That I'll be able to cement my place in the first-team squad and that a few more Bundesliga appearances will come my way. But will definitely be hard work. Now I first have to show what I can do here at the training camp. Then we'll see what happens."
Christina Reinke