Melayro Bogarde: Bundesliga record-breaker on Barcelona's transfer radar

Melayro Bogarde NxGn
The Hoffenheim teenager turned down a host of Premier League clubs to move to Germany but could now be set for another change of scenery

Melayro Bogarde's senior debut was a baptism of fire, but it was exactly what the teenager wanted for his career.

The versatile defender had only two days previously celebrated his 18th birthday when he made his Bundesliga bow, becoming the youngest Dutch player in German top-flight history.

However, just 45 minutes into his first appearance against Mainz, he was hooked by then-head coach Alfred Schreuder.

Bogarde's performance had impressed Schreuder, but after picking up an early yellow card, the referee had warned the TSG boss, "if he makes another foul, he sees red."

"That's why I was replaced at half-time," Bogarde told NOS . "But coach Schreuder took me aside for a moment and said that I had just done well on the ball and in defence and that I should continue like this."

That early taste of first-team action perfectly illustrated why the youngster chose to join Hoffenheim from Feyenoord, despite some of Europe's biggest clubs looking to sign him as a 15-year-old.

Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United all came calling, but Bogarde rebuffed their approaches.

"I see my career as a marathon and not a sprint," Bogarde tells Goal in an exclusive interview. "The plan Hoffenheim showed me in 2018 was perfect for my next steps to become a pro and my development as a footballer.

Melayro Bogarde Hoffenheim 2020-21

"I still have a long way to go and I want to keep getting better. Nevertheless, I always believe in myself and my qualities."

Bogarde had to do a lot of growing up in Germany, and was forced to do it quickly.

He was set to make his first-team debut in early 2020, but then football was put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. When he finally played a senior game, it lasted just one half and was at a position that he does not consider to be his natural spot on the field.

He had been deployed at right-back that day against Mainz before being given a run out at centre-back the following week. This season, under Sebastian Hoeness, Bogarde has sporadically played in defensive midfield, but has mostly been utilised at the heart of the defence, which is where he prefers to line up.

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"I'm versatile and I want to play wherever it gives my team the best chance to win," he says. "But I've been playing as centre-back most of the time even when I was in the youth teams.

"I can adapt quickly to the tactical side of the game, and I know what the coach expects from me in the different positions."

After his debut, Bogarde did what every other teenager in the world would do: take out their phone.

"Phew, I just opened my texts. There were about 70" he told VI . "The best message was from my parents, they watched the game together. They said, 'we are very proud of you, you worked hard for it, enjoy it'. It was really beautiful."

Family is important to Bogarde, and the mere mention of his surname evokes memories of his famous uncle, former Ajax, Barcelona and Chelsea defender Winston Bogarde.

"I'm very proud," the former Netherlands international told De Telegraaf after his nephew's debut. "The fact that he is now the youngest Dutch debutant in the Bundesliga, I think is fantastic for Melayro, but otherwise not that important. The point is that this is motivation to take further steps.

Melayro Bogarde Netherlands 2019

"The outside world will try to put some pressure on him, but Melayro is a very unflappable boy. He shouldn't look at his uncle or his uncle's career. His aim should be to reach the highest possible level. Hopefully he will have a very nice and long career and is able to eventually win trophies."

Hoffenheim are yet to win a major honour in German football, having only been promoted to the Bundesliga in 2008 following major investment from local businessman Dietmar Hopp.

However, they have been knocking on the door of the top four in recent years, and after playing in the Champions League in 2018-19, have advanced to the knockout stages of the Europa League this season.

Quite how long Bogarde will be around to see Hoffenheim reach their goals remains to be seen, with the teenager having been linked with Barcelona and AC Milan as his contract enters its final six months.

"I just want to keep getting better at my game, play as many games possible and reach European football with this club," he says when asked about the next steps in his career. "I let my management take care of the other side of things."

A move to Camp Nou would see Bogarde link up with former boss Schreuder once more, with the Dutch coach currently Ronald Koeman's assistant, while it would also see him follow the footsteps of his uncle, who won two Liga titles as well as the UEFA Super Cup in Catalunya.

"Alfred is a coach who dares to give young players a chance and has a clear football vision," Winston Bogarde said when the pair worked together at Hoffenheim. "Melayro is a good defender and super strong on the ball, so they are a good match."

Melayro Bogarde NxGn GFX

If Bogarde decides not to stay at Hoffenheim, a move to the Premier League may also be a possibility and could lead to him playing the same league as his younger brother, Lamare, who made his Aston Villa debut in January just three days after his own 17th birthday.

Both are currently youth internationals for the Netherlands, with Melayro having recently stepped up to the Under-19s having been selected for the Team of the Tournament at the 2019 U17 European Championships.

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"Certainly at the European Championship he was one of the stars, it is a pleasure when he is on the ball," Dutch coach Peter van der Veen told VP .

"As you can see, he is physically in good shape. He is incredibly good on the ball. A player for the future."

Whatever he decides to do for next season, Bogarde is sure to garner attention thanks to his surname. But after becoming the Bundesliga's youngest Dutch player, he is already writing his own history.