Julian Weigl's Contract Extension Should Be Borussia Dortmund's Top Priority

Lars Pollmann@@LarsPollmannFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2016

Dortmund, Germany 27.07.2016, 1.Bundesliga 1. Spieltag, BV Borussia Dortmund - 1. FSV Mainz 05, 2:1, Julian Weigl (BVB)   (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
TF-Images/Getty Images

Now that the dust has settled on an at-times tumultuous summer transfer window for Borussia Dortmund, it's time for some housekeeping.

The Black and Yellows made no fewer than 13 first-team transfers over the summer, welcoming eight additions to the squad while waving goodbye to five players. Replacing Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, three of the most influential players in head coach Thomas Tuchel's system, is going to be a challenge that's likely to shape the club's 2016/17 campaign.

Adding an interesting blend of youth and talent and proven Bundesliga quality, the Ruhr side did as good a job as fans could have hoped to cope with the departures of such important figures.

New arrivals such as Marc Bartra, Sebastian Rode and Mario Gotze will be expected to pick up the slack for those who were lost to Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Manchester United, respectively, but there's a valid argument to be made that the most important player for BVB 2.0 was already in the squad: Julian Weigl.

Extending his contract, currently scheduled to run out in 2019, should be atop the to-do list for key decision-makers chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke and sporting director Michael Zorc.

Weigl won German sport magazine Kicker's fan vote of the best newcomer in the 2015/16 season.
Weigl won German sport magazine Kicker's fan vote of the best newcomer in the 2015/16 season.TF-Images/Getty Images

Much has been made of the 20-year-old's meteoric rise in Tuchel's first year at the helm, rightly so. Signed as an afterthought from 1860, Munich's other club, for a mere €2.5 million, per Transfermarkt, Weigl quickly made the spot in defensive midfield his own through impressive performances in pre-season.

He turned into one of a few virtually undroppable players for the 43-year-old coach. Appearing in 51 of the club's 56 matches across all competitions, Weigl played the fourth-most minutes of all Dortmund players, per Transfermarkt, trailing only Mkhitaryan, Hummels and star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. 

Raphael Honigstein called him the best signing of the year in a piece for ESPN FC: "No other club in Europe's top five leagues will have done a better deal than Dortmund last summer. Weigl has played with a maturity well beyond his years in Tuchel's team, setting the pace, breaking up opposition moves and starting attacks with a quiet, understated elegance."

Perhaps the biggest honour for the level-headed midfielder, Joachim Low included him in the final 23-man squad for Euro 2016. Even though he didn't play a single second in France—there's an argument to be made that he should have started the semi-final against the hosts, but Low preferred Liverpool's Emre Can—it's hard to think of a better acknowledgment for a fantastic maiden campaign in the German top flight.

Weigl's second cap for the world champions offered quite the symbolic value, seeing as he replaced team captain Bastian Schweinsteiger in his farewell game against Finland on Wednesday:

The Bad Aibling native is a big part of his country's future, but he already represents the here and now for Dortmund.

His brilliant first campaign at the Westfalenstadion has only raised expectations for this season. The team needs him to take the next step, given the importance of the key losses. 

In Hummels and Gundogan, Dortmund sold two of their principal playmakers in the build-up phase. The former's incisive directness on the ball will be missed, even though Bartra has looked promising in the first three competitive matches.

Dortmund somewhat curiously opted not to sign a like-for-like replacement for Gundogan, meaning Weigl is the only central midfielder in the squad whose strengths lie in connecting defence with attack. 

Tom Payne pointed out for Spielverlagerung.com:

Weigl's strongest attribute is his ability to complement Dortmund’s structure, providing connections across the deeper parts of the shape and creating the triangles which allow fast ball circulation. In a tactical system which prioritises positioning, the defensive midfielder was one of the most important players from a strategic perspective last year.

Thanks to his excellent vision and intelligence, Weigl has an innate feeling for spaces and timing, allowing him to pop up at the right spot defensively to block passing lanes without having to engage in challenges, while he seemingly always plays the correct pass, even if that's just a five-yard knock toward a team-mate.

Dortmund's No. 33 was, in the true sense of the word, central to everything his team did last season, as this chart from StatsBomb.com's Dustin Ward indicated:

His importance as a balancing midfielder who provides structure was on display on Bundesliga Matchday 1 against Mainz 05 immediately after Tuchel brought him on after 58 minutes.

Dortmund struggled in advancing the ball, with both Rode and Gonzalo Castro failing to link defence to attack. Once Weigl entered the pitch, the Black and Yellows had a better grip on the game, a secure passing outlet for the central defenders and someone with the pressing resistance to shore the defensive zones up against Mainz's counter-attacking approach.

In many ways, it was a typically solid performance from the Germany international, but he's promised even more. Speaking to Deutsche Welle's Jonathan Harding, Weigl said that "there were perhaps a few games last year when I played a bit too safe."

He wants to add another element to his game: "I think taking last year's form, perhaps I can take the next step, to take more players out of the play with my passes and be more attacking."

If he develops that aspect of his game, Weigl is sure to garner even more interest from other clubs. Per Sebastian Wessling of local paper WAZ (link in German), Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain were among the teams thinking about the player in the summer.

Even though Dortmund fans will hope his past at 1860 will rule out a move to Bayern Munich in the future—the rivalry is comparable to the one between the Black and Yellows and Schalke 04—the Bavarian giants have always made it a business model to sign the best German players.

Despite his young age, Weigl can be considered a leader for Dortmund.
Despite his young age, Weigl can be considered a leader for Dortmund.CHRISTOF STACHE/Getty Images

Extending his contract would go a long way in keeping Weigl around for the foreseeable future. The Black and Yellows have put themselves into a financial position where they don't have to sell anyone, as they have only sold players with one year left on their deals in recent times. Gotze was the lone exception, but he had a release clause.

In that regard, one could think Weigl's contract doesn't need extending, seeing as he's locked up for three more years. However, seeing as he joined from a 2. Bundesliga side, one can safely assume he's the most underpaid player on the team.

Given his meteoric rise, a new contract that would align Weigl's salary to his status on the field while binding him to the club for an additional year or two would be win-win business.

It would be reminiscent of the deal Aubameyang received in July 2015. The Gabon international had three years left on his original contract he signed when he arrived from AS Saint-Etienne in 2013 but had outplayed his deal after developing into a true No. 1 striker.

Adding two years and, we can presume, a notable pay rise, Dortmund managed to make Aubameyang happy and fend off any outside interest in one of their key performers. That should serve as a blueprint for negotiations with Weigl, which are set to start this autumn, as Watzke told Wessling.

The midfielder has a chance to become the face of a refurbished BVB side under Tuchel, and the club would do well to show him the appropriate appreciation. Not only is the Weigl a perfect on-field fit for his coach's idea of football, he's also a likeable representative off the field.

Talk of a player being a "future captain" may be stereotypical, but Weigl combines all attributes to be a major part of Dortmund's plans. The club simply has to keep him for as long as they can.

  

Lars Pollmann also writes for YellowWallPod.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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