Last week, Julian Weigl’s move to Benfica was confirmed by Dortmund. At just 20 years of age, he broke into Thomas Tuchel’s squad, making 51 appearances in the 2015-16 season. In that campaign’s final matchday, Weigl touched the ball a record-breaking 214 times against 1. FC Köln, making 209 passes with an accuracy of 95%. The German media had officially crowned the young man from Bavaria as the country’s next midfield superstar.
No One Would Have Expected Weigl’s Move to Benfica Two Years Ago
Weigl’s move to Benfica is no surprise to many, but it shows how quickly burgeoning careers can be derailed. The 2016-17 season proceeded for the then 21-year-old how many expected it would. He made 43 appearances, 30 of those in the Bundesliga. Although Tuchel left at the end of the season, Weigl made 34 appearances in the 2017-18 season under managers Peter Bosz and Peter Stöger. The performances were so good that he was on the top of Pep Guardiola’s summer signings wish list in 2018.
As fans of football understand, however, the sport is an emotional roller coaster. The lowest of lows can sometimes follow the highest of highs. After three stellar campaigns and vocal interest from arguably the best manager of this generation, Weigl’s career began to falter.
In 2018, Weigl Faced Adversity for the First Time
A thigh problem in the summer meant that he missed out on Joachim Löw’s 2018 World Cup squad and Dortmund’s preseason. The club’s new manager, Lucien Favre, signed Axel Witsel and the Belgian quickly took the injured Weigl’s spot. Guardiola’s most sought after player played the full 90 minutes just three times in the first half of the 2018-19 campaign.
Favre began playing Weigl in the second half of the season, but at central defence, far removed from his preferred position at defensive midfield. Witsel and Thomas Delaney made for a great partnership in the middle of the park, and Dortmund were in great form as they challenged for the Meisterschalle until the final matchday.
Throughout the current campaign, Favre has been rotating Weigl from centre back to defensive midfield, but the young man was clearly not happy with the situation. Weigl even admitted that he had considered leaving Dortmund after the summer arrivals of midfielders Witsel and Delaney. Joining Paris Saint-Germain was tempting, especially seeing that his former manager Thomas Tuchel was in charge. The move, however, never materialized.
The German Is Not a Central Defender
A three-three draw with SC Paderborn this past November exposed the German’s weaknesses in central defence. What ultimately influenced Weigl’s move to Benfica was the constant switching from defensive midfield to centre back. The former 1860 Munich player has now decided to leave Dortmund in an attempt to revitalize his career. A career that he believes should be in the middle of the park.
Weigl’s move to Benfica will see the German playing regularly again in central midfield. There are no guarantees in football. It would have been easy to believe that the holding midfielder’s spot was written in stone after his first three seasons. The lingering question is whether Weigl peaked in 2018, or whether an untimely thigh injury and the arrival of the more experienced Witsel simply delayed his path to stardom.