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Donyell Malen: The Arsenal reject set to be Dortmund's Sancho replacement
Donyell Malen is the man anointed as Jadon Sancho’s successor at Borussia Dortmund, with the Netherlands international ready to pick himself up after international disappointment to replace the €85 million England attacker who is bound for Manchester United.
The deal is now subject to a medical and could be completed within the next day or so, as the German side move quickly to secure his services amid reported interest from Liverpool.
Malen has big boots to fill with Dortmund. He has, however, shown himself already capable of joining the stream of impressive young talent that have shone there in recent years.
Malen will join a long tradition of youngsters who have flourished in the famous yellow and black.
He will have his demons to overcome, however.
Malen’s Euro 2020 disappointment
It was the type of miss that could go on to dog a striker’s career for years to come, maybe even his whole career.
As he charged towards Tomas Vaclik’s goal, Donyell Malen looked guaranteed to fire the Netherlands into the lead in the Euro 2020 last-16 match against Czech Republic.
After easily disposing two defenders in one move and with enough time and space to line up a shot, it was his chance to justify coach Frank de Boer’s decision to start him ahead of Bundesliga star Wout Weghorst by scoring a vital goal.
But it was not to be. The striker buckled instead, his lame touch and hesitation providing the goalkeeper the opportunity to steal it off his boot before he could take the shot.
Just 30 seconds later, Matthijs de Ligt handled the ball outside the Netherlands box and was subsequently sent off. Oranje would never recuperate, losing the game 2-0, and De Boer was out of a job in less than 48 hours.
The coach may not recover from the damage caused by those crucial moments which confirmed another failure, but Malen will certainly bounce back.
Malen, Arsenal rejection
It has been a long journey for the 22-year-old, but his performances over the last year have shown he is ready to play on a big stage, even if his first such experience ended in embarrassment.
Malen’s adventure began when he joined Ajax’s youth academy at the age of nine and quickly progressed through the ranks alongside De Ligt and Justin Kluivert.
He had been a goal machine for the youth teams and looked destined for a place in the senior side, but Arsenal came calling before he got a chance under De Boer. Despite an impressive goal record in the Gunners’ academy, Malen lasted just two years in north London before heading back to Netherlands for PSV in 2017.
His spell in England was brief, but he has no regrets about leaving Amsterdam.
He told NOS in 2018: “Arsenal came up with a plan and I went for it, 100%. I would have done it again, because I am now close to where I want to be.”
Indeed, he has blossomed into a star in Eindhoven.
Malen’s consistent excellence
Malen had to prove himself again by starting out in Dutch football’s second tier with Jong PSV, but once he settled, he could not be stopped. He started with two goals against Telstar in November 2017, the beginning of a six-game scoring run in the league. A few months later, he was getting his chance in the Eredivisie for Phillip Cocu’s team.
It was the following season Malen really broke through. He struck 10 times in the Eredivisie, even though he started just six of his 31 appearances.
The next season was painful, however. He had an electrifying start to the 2019/20 campaign, netting 10 times across the first 10 matches, including a phenomenal one-man show in which he scored all his team’s goals as they beat Vitesse 5-0.
His bright start was disrupted by a month out with an ankle injury, and although he looked capable of getting back to top form on his return, his season was soon cut short by a serious knee problem.
He recovered in time for the 2020/21 campaign and this time he was relentless. Only VVV-Venlo’s Georgios Giakoumakis (26 goals) scored more Eredivisie goals than Malen, who got 19 and eight assists.
While the Greek star’s numbers were boosted by a hat-trick and two four-goal displays, Malen was consistent throughout and pitched in with several decisive performances. In games against Fortuna Sittard, Twente, Sparta, Utrecht, Ajax, ADO Den Haag and VVV, his direct goal contributions were all that separated his side from a defeat or a draw.
Dortmund’s Sancho replacement
His return to the Netherlands has proved to be the right decision, but he will soon be on his travels. Liverpool have been linked with him, although it is Borussia Dortmund who are likely to win the race as they are willing to pay around €30 million to make him Jadon Sancho’s successor.
His coach at PSV, Roger Schmidt, does not expect him to be part of the team next season, telling NOS: "It has been clear to me for some time that Donyell and Denzel [Dumfries] are likely to leave. Actually, even last summer.”
“I think he has the qualities to become a great player,” De Boer said. “But he will have to show that every game. Not in one game, but in several games. We are all convinced that he can reach the top. If you are a connoisseur, you immediately see that he has a lot of quality.”
After such a steady journey to Eredivisie stardom, even his Euro 2020 misery will not stop Malen from becoming a top player. Dortmund will be next to benefit.