Last weekend, Albin Thaqi celebrated his debut in the starting line-up for Borussia Dortmund U23s. The BVB youth defender had started the current season in the U19s.

The date is 24 October 2020. Borussia Dortmund U19s are celebrating a convincing 6-0 home win over RW Essen. Four wins from four games at the start of the A-Junioren Bundesliga West to go with the triumph over Wehen Wiesbaden in the 1st round of the DFB Cup. After that, it was all over again for the U19s. The league competition was suspended and normal training was only possible to a limited extent. For central defender Albin Thaqi, 19, and the rest of coach Mike Tullberg's team, it was an uncertain situation.  

In the new year, there were the first signs of light at the end of the tunnel. Training could be resumed, and even friendlies took place under strict conditions. However, it was increasingly rare for Albin to take part in the U19s sessions. He regularly trained with the U23s – and this was not due to the coronavirus pandemic. U19s coach Tullberg explained: "I am very pleased that Albin was able to impress in the U23s. He is able to keep up with senior players in the Regionalliga. We have already seen that in our friendlies against Lippstadt and Rödinghausen. The fact that he is now a regular fixture with them is a normal process." 

Thaqi took his place in the U23s squad for the first time in the draw in Lippstadt in November 2020. He sat on the bench for the full 90 minutes, but was able to get a feel of how everything works on match day. His first brief appearance, lasting around two minutes, followed in late March in the game in Düsseldorf, before he added a further 26 minutes in the big match against Preußen Münster one and a half weeks later. Henri Weigelt sustained an injury in a tackle, so Albin Thaqi replaced him on the right-hand side of the back three. What makes Albin stand out? "Albin if very unfazed when he plays. He is a relaxed guy and has an incredible calmness on the ball," says Mike Tullberg. "His build-up play is very good and he tries to play his way out of any situation."

And because the 19-year-old also impressed against Preußen Münster, three days later he was named in the starting eleven for the away match of the U23s in Mönchengladbach. Thaqi played the full 90 minutes and his current coach Enrico Maaßen was full of praise after the match: "Albin did a very good job against Mönchengladbach, but also before that. He has fitted in seamlessly." Referring to the risk he took in fielding a youngster who had started his last game five months ago, Maaßen said: "Due to the lack of match practice, he had no rhythm. But what he does with us in training won us over. He got into the game very well. His calmness on the ball in particular is very impressive." And Thaqi himself? He was just cool as he is on the pitch when he gave his first interview as an U23s player: "I had a good feeling for the match against Mönchengladbach and I gave it my all. I got a great reception from the lads. I prepared exactly the same way as always."

"As always" – a fitting phrase. Because even in his third appearance, Thaqi played as if he had always been a part of the team. It came as no surprise for U19s coach Tullberg: "I expected nothing less. In Niklas Dams, Lennard Maloney and Franz Pfanne, he has experienced players around him. That will certainly help him a lot. I'm very happy for the lad." 

Not only because of the first start for Albin Thaqi, the weekend was a real success for the Dortmund youth department. In Gio Reyna and Ansgar Knauff, the first team featured two other players from the class of 2002 on the pitch, who also came from the Dortmund U19s. Knauff even scored the winner in the 3-2 away win in Stuttgart. Next up for Albin Thaqi and the U23s is the away match at RW Oberhausen in the Regionalliga next Sunday. 
Timo Lammert