Tom Rothe – The towering full back ready to dominate in the Black and Yellow of Dortmund by Shay Hicks
Name – Tom Alexander Rothe
Nationality – German
D.O.B – 29/10/2004 (18 years old)
Height – 193cm (6’4″)
Strong Foot – Left
Current Club – Borussia Dortmund
Position – Left Back
Value – £3m (via Transfermarkt)
After working his way through a number of youth academies in his native Germany, Tom Rothe is now slowly reaping the rewards of his efforts in his first full senior season with Borussia Dortmund. The tall, marauding full back has recently made his first big break into the Bundesliga and has even attained some minutes in the Champions League group stage. Whilst the departing Rafaël Guerreiro has been a very solid attacking left back for BVB over the last 6 years, this report will show why Eden Terzić won’t have to look far to find his long-term replacement.
Tom was born in Rendsburg, a small town in the far north of Germany. Tom would play for his local side’s youth squad up until the age of 8, when he would join neighbouring town Büdelsdorf’s side. He would continue to impress in the youth ranks, eventually working his way into a step up into the Nienstedten youth team in Hamburg, around 80 minutes away from his hometown. Tom transitioned very well, performing instantly and quickly making a huge step towards becoming a pro. After 2 years with Nienstedten, he would catch the eye of the FC St. Pauli scouts, and would join their youth system at the age of 14. Eventually, Rothe would make a string of appearances with the St. Pauli under-17 side, making his first recorded appearances in the B-Junioren Bundesliga Nord/Nordest (north/north-east division), as well as his first match for the Germany under-17 team. He would make his international debut first, playing 45 minutes and scoring once in a 3-2 win over Belgium in an international friendly in September. Later that month, Tom would make his domestic debut, captaining his side and assisting 2 of now-Hamburg under-19 striker Tom Sannes’ 3 goals in a 4-0 victory over Hamburg. Tom would start a further 4 games for the under-17 side, being used exclusively as a left midfielder. Rothe had attracted the eyes of many sides, and made a big move to German giants Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2021, signing a 3-year contract.
The 2021/22 season would prove to be very fruitful for Tom’s blossoming career. Recognising his defensive upside in the current BVB system, Tom would move further back on the pitch and appear primarily as a left back for the BVB under-19 side across many different competitions. He would make his Dortmund youth debut in August, playing 56 minutes in a 4-1 win over Preußen Münster in the A-Junioren Ligapokal West. His first goal would come in October, opening the scoring very early on in a 1-1 draw with Duisburg. He would cement his place in the side immediately, starting every single one of his 31 youth appearances over the season and starting in almost all of them. He would prove to be rather prolific despite starting as a left back mostly, scoring 3 goals and providing 13 assists across all competitions. His standout performances came in the UEFA Youth League, where he would notably score against Ajax in a 5-1 win in the group stage before going on to provide a hat-trick of assists (including 1 to breakout star Jamie Bynoe-Gittens) in a 5-3 win over Empoli. Rothe and Dortmund would eventually be eliminated by Atlético Madrid in the Quarter-Finals of the tournament, but that would not sour their incredible form on home turf. BVB would win the A-Junioren Ligapokal West and the A-Junioren Bundesliga Endrunde, with Tom notching an assist in a 2-1 win in the latter. They would also make it to the final of the DFB-Pokal Der Junioren, where they would lose 3-1 to Stuttgart.
Despite all of the youth team’s success, Tom’s season highlight undoubtedly came in the form of an unlikely call-up to the BVB senior squad. Left midfielder Thorgan Hazard would pick up an injury the day before a game against Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, and then-Head Coach Marco Rose would call upon the youngster to not only join the squad, but start in place of Hazard. Many players would let the occasion get to them, however Tom took his chance and massively outplayed nearly everyone’s expectations. In a game where Tom would become Dortmund’s 8th-youngest player ever, Tom would surprisingly open the scoring, using his height to meet a Julian Brandt corner at the near post and tuck a glancing header over the Wolfburg keeper and into the opposite corner of the net. This goal would make Tom BVB’s youngest ever player to score on their debut for the club. Dortmund would eventually win the game 6-1, with Tom giving an impressive all-round performance in his previously favoured position of left midfielder. Tom would also make his Germany under-19 debut this season, starting in a 2-2 draw to Italy in the UEFA Euro under-19 qualifiers.
The 2022/23 season is only partially complete, but Rothe will be happy with his involvement so far. He may have only managed 13 minutes in the Bundesliga so far, but he hasn’t made an appearance for the under-19 side since August and has made the majority of the matchday squads for the senior side so far. On top of this, Tom also made his first steps into Europe, making 3 total appearances and even starting a game against Sevilla in Dortmund’s Champions League campaign. With Raphaël Guerreiro reportedly leaving at the end of the summer and Dortmund cutting ties early with Nico Schulz after the horrible allegations made against him earlier this year, there is a clear pathway for Tom to become the club’s next Marcel Schmelzer: a product of the youth academy that went on to become an important member of one of the most successful eras in BVB history.
Notable dates in Tom Rothe’s career:
Summer 2018 – Joins the St. Pauli youth academy
03/09/2020 – Makes his Germany under-17 debut and scores
20/09/2020 – Makes his St. Pauli under-17 debut and gets 2 assists
24/02/2021 – Agrees to join Dortmund in the following season on a 4-year deal
07/08/2021 – Makes his Dortmund under-19 debut
15/08/2021 – Gets his first assist for Dortmund under-19s
03/10/2021 – Scores his first goal for Dortmund under-19s
20/11/2021 – Wins the A-Junioren Ligapokal West with Dortmund under-19s
23/03/2022 – Makes his Germany under-19 debut
16/04/2022 – Makes his senior debut with Dortmund and scores
29/05/2022 – Wins the A-Junioren Bundesliga Endrunde with Dortmund under-19s
06/09/2022 – Makes his senior European debut with Dortmund
01/10/2022 – Gets his first senior assist for Dortmund
For this report, I will be focusing on Rothe’s performances for Dortmund against Sevilla (11/10/2022), Fortuna Düsseldorf (10/01/2023) and FC Basel (13/01/2023), as well as his performances for Germany under-19s against Armenia (21/09/2022) and Slovakia (27/09/2022).
Tom is very comfortable with the ball at his feet, and whilst he doesn’t have a flashy skillset, he can use heavy touches and his quick bursts of pace to beat defenders with ease. Tom receives the ball forward from a Dortmund defender, and instead of hugging the touchline like he usually would, he recognises the acres of space in the middle of the pitch and elects to take the ball inside. He sizes up the oncoming Basel defender, before opening his body up and inviting the Basel defender to try and take the ball. He uses the instep of his left foot to knock the ball across the defender, leaving him to grapple with Tom as he attempts to get back in front of him.
Tom rarely finds himself in attacking positions like this, but whilst the resulting shot isn’t perfect, he can still use his go-to move to beat defenders and find space in front of goal. Tom recognises the defender running out to challenge him early, which gives him a much better chance of beating him. He again uses a heavy lateral touch to move past the defender easily, and finds himself in a great position to have a shot at goal.
Tom is a smart, unselfish player in the final third, and is also capable of picking a pass under pressure at times. He initially plays a short one-two with a nearby midfielder before darting towards the opposition’s box. He holds off the robust pressure of the oncoming defender, somehow finding the space to play a smart pass inbetween some defenders towards an attacker. He stays composed and completes the pass, despite being levelled by the opposition defender.
Tom is a capable defender, but he is much stronger in attack. Tom carries the ball confidently, and is undeterred by mistakes or when his man dispossesses him. He can be fairly one-dimensional with his skills, usually choosing to open up his body to invite challenges before knocking the ball inwards with his left foot and using a combination of pace and strength to maintain possession. However, he has shown that this move is very effective and often helps him to either continue his run or progress play. Currently I would say that Tom’s overlapping runs are the most important part of his game, but if he can improve and become a regular dribbling threat when he has the ball at his feet then he could become a real dynamic threat for Dortmund in the future, either as a left back or further up the pitch.
Tom loves to run into space in front of the winger on his side in order to deliver a cross. Here, the left winger receives a pass from the defence and almost immediately Tom is running on his inside and towards the byline. His winger recognises the run early and plays a great weighted through ball, which Tom finds easily. He attempts a low-driven cross, but the ball is deflected behind by the near-side defender for a corner.
This is a great example of Tom combining his aerial ability, pace and attacking mindset to spearhead an attack. He heads the ball down to a nearby midfielder, and it seems that he had already decided what would happen before he even landed on the floor. He sprints forward and the midfielder lays the ball off for him. Tom takes the ball in his stride, holds off the defenders’ challenge and carries the ball into the final third.
Despite his young age, Tom is very tactically aware. He understands his role, as well as how to apply his traits to a gameplan. He is fast off the mark, which allows him to quickly dart forward as soon as he recognises the space in front of him. It is also helpful that the wingers in front of him are smart, knowing when to hold the ball and when to lay the ball off or play a weighted through ball into he space Tom is running into. Tom is an ok crosser at this stage, but if he can improve his crossing slightly he will become a real threat out wide.
Tom is still growing into his body and learning how to get the most out of his frame, but he is by no means a pushover when it comes to physicality. Here, his goalkeeper puts slightly too much behind a pass towards him, which ends up with the opposition attacker gaining possession. Tom stays patient in from of him, waiting for the right moment to get his body in between the player and the ball. After he has won possession back the attacker pressures him towards the touchline, but Tom shows his strength, shouldering the player away and playing the ball forward.
This isn’t a conventional duel, but it is still a good example of Tom’s effort on the defensive side of the ball and him using his physical gifts to his advantage. Initially, a defender intercepts a pass intended for Tom who is making a run inside of his winger. Instead of reacting badly to the play collapsing, Tom hustled back towards the halfway line, using his pace to get back quickly and his defensive intelligence to position himself in between the path of the ball and the oncoming player next to him. Instead of the opposition player maintaining possession with acres of space to run into, Tom cuts out the potential danger before it has been realised and simply plays a short pass to a nearby midfielder to set up the next phase of play for Dortmund.
Most young full backs and wing backs can struggle with the defensive side of their game, but Tom is already quite comfortable with most aspects of that side of the game. He can use a combination of size, speed and intelligence to give himself the absolute best chance of winning most duels and challenges that he enters into. He would benefit from adding a small amount of muscle to his frame, as this would help him win a lot more duels. However, he is still very good considering it is still very early in his development. I am sure that once he has had a couple of seasons in the senior squad with Dortmund’s strength and conditioning coaches, Tom will be more than capable of holding his own physically in the Bundesliga.
Tom is currently more impactful in attack, but he has all the tools to become an accomplished defender as well. Here, Tom is due to receive a through ball but the Sevilla defender contests the ball. The ball falls to a different Sevilla defender who looks to quickly distribute the ball towards the right wing. Recognising this, Tom smartly drops back slightly into the path of the ball, leading to a simple header back towards a Dortmund attacker.
Whilst most of his standout moments come further up the pitch, Tom is still a capable defender who can perform when isolated or under pressure. A Basel defender launches a ball forward, intended for his right winger. Tom senses the pressure of the winger behind him, but naturally his positioning gives him a few seconds to calculate how to deal with the through ball. Staying calm, he simply tracks back and heads the ball safely towards his goalkeeper.
Tom doesn’t usually find himself in the middle of the box, but when he does his height makes him an obvious target for crosses. Initially, Tom elects to make a small run towards the 6 yard box, but after recognising the flight path of the ball, he drops back and leaps into the air, beating his defender to the ball. His header at goal grazes over the crossbar.
Left backs aren’t usually considered to be a problem aerially for their opposition, but Tom’s natural frame and jumping ability causes problems for opposing teams at either end of the pitch. He is a capable crosser from corners, but he also doubles up as a main target when someone else elects to take them. Defensively, he beats most of his opponents in aerial duels, even strikers when they drift out wide or he drifts towards the centre of defence. Whilst aerial prowess can be a key feature for central players, I don’t see Tom moving towards the centre of the field in the future, given how effective he could be in his current position.
Tom Rothe may not be as high-profile as his teammates, he definitely has the potential to become Dortmund’s next long-term left back. Both of BVB’s senior left backs will probably be leaving in the summer, and whilst they will undoubtedly look to bring in a more proven player to take that role in the upcoming season, Tom should still be given a larger role and more responsibility next season. His profile and skillset will allow him to fill in as a backup left winger on occasion, which should open up extra opportunities for first team minutes. Naturally, there are some holes in Tom’s game, but the majority of them are easily fixable. I would like to see him rely less on his stronger left foot, as currently he is extremely one-footed. Becoming more comfortable using both feet would be very beneficial to Tom, as it would open up many more opportunities when attacking. Tom’s wing play is slightly one-dimensional currently, almost always hugging the touchline and depending on his left foot to cross the ball. In my opinion, Tom would benefit from working on cutting inside more often, as it would make him less predictable when he starts playing against Bundesliga sides who will have full opposition team scouting reports to reference prior to games. These two issues are more than likely linked, so I believe once he improves his weaker foot he will become more comfortable with cutting inside.
Tom may be more suited to playing as a left back or left wing back due to his speed, overlapping runs and crossing ability, but I would be interested to see Dortmund experiment with him when given the chance. Tom could make for an interesting option as a winger or wide target man. Tom wouldn’t be as physically imposing as the prototypical wide target man (Mario Mandžukić), he would make up for it with his pace. He has shown that he is very capable of chesting down diagonal cross-field passes and either attacking his man or laying the ball off. Ultimately though, I do believe his future lies as a left full back/wing back, as he has shown he is comfortable both in attack and defense in this role. Furthermore, one of the most accomplished areas of his game currently are his overlapping runs, something that wouldn’t be put to use if he was starting further up the pitch.
Overall, I think Tom is a very intriguing prospect. He will often be overlooked in this current BVB squad, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tom progress and become a staple for this side for many seasons in the future. From what I have seen, I believe Tom could definitely become a very good Bundesliga left back, and could very well become a German international in the coming years.