Thirteen can sometimes be a difficult age of boys. Their voice starts to break as they enter into puberty, other interests join sport and school at the forefront of their minds, and their relationships with their parents can be tricky from time to time too. But even at that age, Jacob Bruun Larsen had a wonderful relationship with his mum and dad. In part because they would ferry him to training every day and then pick him up again – twice on some days.
It was at that point that his parents made a decision not to further confuse their son, who was already going through all the life changes that puberty brings. They withheld information from him. Information which would have been music to the ears of a 13-year-old boy who had long since fallen head over heels in love with football. Three clubs had invited the young Dane to play his football with them overseas. Three clubs whose names would give most professionals goosebumps: PSV Eindhoven, Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool.
Nowadays, the 21-year-old laughs about the family secret, which did not come to light until a year later. Though he wished he had known earlier, he can understand the step his parents took. "They were worried about my development back then and decided that I wasn't yet ready for offers from such clubs. Even at 14, it was almost impossible for me to believe. I'm a lad from a small town; I was playing for Lyngby BK."
"I'm a perfectionist"
Football changed for the Bruun Larsen family during that period. "Up until then I had only played, but suddenly there was talk of big contracts and moving to a foreign country. It was very intense at the time." The young Jacob went on a European tour. PSV, BVB, LFC – the youngster trained with all the clubs and left a lasting impression. But it was Borussia Dortmund that won the race – and Jacob began to prepare himself for the next step: he learned German. In secret. At home. "I'm a perfectionist. When the transfer was confirmed in the winter, I wanted to prepare myself perfectly and learn the language. As nobody was allowed to know about my decision, I learned German in secret at home with a teacher." He had no worries about taking a big step. "I had a lot of talks with my parents and I was totally ready. I really wanted to go abroad, as all the great Danish footballers played in overseas leagues. And I knew I needed to make the right decisions early on to have a successful professional career."
He moved into the youth academy in Dortmund – and was introduced to professional football a short while later when, aged 16, Jürgen Klopp invited him to train with the Bundesliga team. A "brutal but beautiful" experience. "I'd never have thought it could happen so soon. It was a seminal experience. But I realised: if the others are that good, I have to be that good to get there. When you're handed a chance like that, you want more; I'd tasted blood."
U17 Bundesliga win over Hoffenheim
The next landmarks for the model pupil came as he won the U17 Bundesliga title with BVB, participated in the 2016 Olympic Games and then claimed two further titles with the U19s – one of which was sealed in Sinsheim courtesy of a 5-3 victory over TSG Hoffenheim. Then came additional sessions with the first team – and his first appearances too: in the DFB Cup, the Bundesliga and the Champions League, where he scored on his debut in a fixture against AS Monaco in October 2018. The forward amassed unforgettable experiences that his peers had not even come close to on a video game. He was soon labelled a "super talent" – which has its downsides too.
"It was an honour, but the expectations on the part of the fans and media had obviously gotten so high. Then it's important to have good and sensible people around you. I had that. But in the end those words don't mean anything. You need to keep delivering each time you go onto the pitch; that's what counts. It doesn't matter what's been written; that shouldn't have an influence on you as a footballer or a person."
Bruun Larsen was lighting up the Bundesliga, but there was one objective that remain unfulfilled for the supremely talented youngster in Dortmund: a starting berth and regular opportunities to play 90 minutes. It was time to rethink his career plan. "I asked myself how much playing time I would be given in Dortmund. That's the most important thing for a young footballer; a lot of development takes place at the start of your 20s."
He made a decision to leave – and there was no shortage of suitors. But TSG Hoffenheim quickly stood out. "What was important to me was to join a club with an attacking philosophy. I held some very good talks with Alfred Schreuder, took all the individual elements into consideration, and it was Hoffenheim that gave me the best feeling."
Close friendship with Robert Skov
One of those "elements" is Robert Skov (23). TSG's Danish duo have known each other since the 2016 Olympic Games, where they were the two youngest participants in the Denmark team. Since then, the pair have been close friends. "I obviously spoke to Robert as well. I've known him for a very long time and I trust him. He would tell me if there was something he didn't like here. But he only had good things to say about the club and coach." That meant the forward had no "concerns", even about the prospect of being retrained as a wing-back. "That wouldn't be good; my defending isn't good enough for that yet," he said, laughing. "I always wanted to score goals, and I always look to get a shot away. That was all I cared about, even as a kid."
Jacob Bruun Larsen is now hoping to have regular cause for celebration in Hoffenheim - and to play European football. His previous experiences have whetted the appetite. "I'm very thankful for all the experiences I've amassed to date. But there's always something more to add. Once you've achieved an objective, then you need to set yourself a new target and work towards fulfilling a new dream. And that's why I'm here now."
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