Suddenly at the end of April in 2020, several youngsters were involved in team training. As Bruno Labbadia took over the club during the coronavirus enforced break, he called up Márton Dárdai, Luca Netz, Jessic Ngankam and ex-Herthaner Lazar Samardzić to train with the first team. Almost 14 months later, they have played over 50 Bundesliga games combined, something which certainly wasn’t a given on that day in April. These lads weren’t the only youngsters to break into the first team since then, though.
Pál Dárdai, Labbadia’s successor, continued to show faith in youth, handing top-flight debuts to Jonas Michelbrink, Marten Winkler and Jonas Dirkner at the end of this season. Including Dennis Smarsch from 2019/20, eight youngsters from Hertha’s academy have made their Bundesliga debut across the last two campaigns, including five this term – only FC Schalke 04 have had more debutants from their academy in 2020/21 across the division with ten. “These are clearly impressive statistics. We have to thank the head coaches that trusted our youngsters, and above all, our academy coaches who have worked with the lads over the years,” commented Benjamin Weber, academy manger.
[>]It was obviously a really emotional and extraordinary moment for me, which I won’t forget anytime soon![<]
Dirkner becomes the 80th debutant
The latest debutant, Jonas Dirkner, was part of an unforgettable experience on his maiden Bundesliga appearance. On the final day at TSG Hoffenheim, he replaced Sami Khedira in his last game before retiring, and also became the 80th academy player to make his top-flight debut for the club since the academy was founded in 2001. “It was obviously a really emotional and extraordinary moment for me, which I won’t forget anytime soon. Now I can’t allow myself to relax after this achievement. I need to carry on working hard on myself,” explained Dirkner. This kind of hard work and passion has already paid off for two other Herthaner. Since his debut in May 2020, Jessic Ngankam has played 19 times in the Bundesliga, the highest tally for academy graduates at the club since last season. His goal at Bayern and important winner at Gelsenkirchen have been two particular highlights so far for our number 27.
Márton Dárdai can also boast of being involved in his first goal this season in the Bundesliga. The head coach’s middle son celebrated making his top-flight debut against FC Augsburg in November 2020, followed by a cameo appearance against Bayer Leverkusen. As the season entered its most important phase towards the end, the 19-year-old stepped up and played a key role in the Hertha defence, making 10 appearances in 13 matches. The left-footer topped off this impressive run of form with an assist in Mainz. Both youngsters signed long-term contracts at Hertha during the season as well. “The progression from our academy to the first team has always been a key pillar of our footballing philosophy. The fact that so many players have been able to make the jump from the academy into professional football and establishing themselves in the first team is something that makes us very proud and motivates us to continue this work,” explained Weber. From 1st July, the 41-year-old will continue to pursue this goal together with new head of sport at the Hertha academy, Pablo Thiam. Working closely alongside one other, the duo will endeavour to ensure that future talents from the capital city club are able to make their Bundesliga debuts for Hertha in the future. After all, the future belongs to Berlin!