With Borussia Dortmund four points clear at the top of the Bundesliga and comfortably into the last 16 of the Champions League with a round to spare, everything seems to be going swimmingly for Lucien Favre’s in-form outfit.
Not since the heady days of Jurgen Klopp’s reign have BVB looked quite so strong, playing a thrilling brand of football in which attack is deemed the best form of defence.
Watching on from the sidelines, though, is 23-year-old Julian Weigl, a young man once tipped to have a huge future at the club, but who has found himself collateral damage to the blistering form of the first team.
“He’s one for the future in central midfield, and in whose enormous potential for development we believe,” sporting director Michael Zorc said when the player signed in 2015, but that growth has only been partially realised.
The former Hertha Berlin youngster, who is under contract until 2021, already has 85 Bundesliga appearances to his name for Dortmund in a spell interrupted by a broken ankle but has been restricted to just 150 minutes of action in the league this season.
Indeed, his secondary status is underlined by the fact that he has played nearly as many minutes in a single DFB Pokal match, captaining a fringe team to a 3-2 extra-time win over Union Berlin last month. Staggeringly, he has started as many games in Regionalliga West for BVB II as he has for the top team in the Bundesliga.
WHY IS WEIGL NOT PLAYING FOR DORTMUND?
His reserve status at the Westfalenstadion is not reflective of his ability, but of the high-tempo, vertical nature of Favre’s football.
Indeed, but for a thigh injury, he might well have been named in Germany’s World Cup squad.
Playing in front of the defence, his chief strength is his technique and ability to set the pace of the game by using his vision and passing. He enjoys having the ball played to him regularly and is happy to take it in tight situations, from which he uses the ball judiciously to act as a conduit between defence and midfield.
“When I watch Julian Weigl for Dortmund, I am reminded of Pep Guardiola in Barcelona’s centre midfield,” Lothar Matthaus once said of him.
This style, though, is in stark contrast to what Favre is currently asking of his team; the transitions are quick and the pressing is of an intense and physically demanding nature.
The Swiss, as such, has a preference for Axel Witsel and Thomas Delaney at the heart of his team, while the more all-round Mahmoud Dahoud has also skipped ahead of him in the queue to play. These players are not as technically able as Weigl, but they are stronger and busier, better fitting the coach’s jigsaw. Given the results that have been achieved, there can be no quibbles.
WHICH CLUBS WANT TO SIGN WEIGL?
Weigl’s place on the periphery of the squad makes him a sellable asset, and there are numerous clubs around Europe willing to take a punt on a player available through no fault of his own.
Perhaps the most obvious of these is Paris Saint-Germain, who could be on the lookout for a long-term replacement for Marco Verratti in front of their defence, with rumours of a move continuing to swirl around the Italian.
Thomas Tuchel, the PSG boss, was the coach who signed Weigl for Dortmund for around €5 million (£3.5m/$5.5m) and has arguably got the best out of him to date. It is a logical and unsurprising link.
Another former Bundesliga coach, Guardiola, is another to have been seduced by the technical ability of the five-time capped player.
A move from the Dortmund bench to the Manchester City starting XI would not appear a likely one, but Guardiola holds the midfielder in the highest of regards and could be persuaded to swoop after missing out on Jorginho, now at Chelsea, last summer.
Another Premier League option could be Arsenal, who are set to lose Aaron Ramsey in the summer when the Welshman’s contract expires. Bild reports that they are eyeing a £68 million ($87m) move for the Dortmund man, whose attributes dovetail nicely with the traditions of the Emirates side.
His situation at Dortmund simply isn’t tenable under Favre currently and a deal seems logical on all sides, but while the player may crave a January switch, it is liable to be the summer before he is allowed to depart.