Who is Brighton's new midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud?

By Matt Ford (@matt_4d) 19 Jun 2023
Dahoud Dortmund

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Borussia Dortmund had just taken the lead against Bayer Leverkusen on the opening day of the 2022/23 Bundesliga season in August, but head coach Edin Terzic immediately called Mahmoud Dahoud over to the touchline. 

Taking the midfielder’s head in his hands, Terzic fixed his gaze and issued explicit instructions. From his lips and gestures, the message was clear: stay back, don’t go forward. 

Stopping Leverkusen

Terzic was clearly concerned about Leverkusen’s threat on the counter-attack and needed Dahoud to stick to his position in front of the back four. Shortly before half-time, he was vindicated. 

Dortmund (BVB) centre-back Nico Schlotterbeck had played a misplaced pass straight into the path of Patrik Schick.

The Leverkusen striker would have been clean through on goal were it not for a perfectly timed sliding tackle from Dahoud. 

Mahmoud Dahoud
Mahmoud Dahoud was excellent against Leverkusen on the opening day of last season

Dahoud’s performance that day – combining mature defensive positioning with neat passes to link the play through midfield – was close to what Dortmund will have envisaged when they signed the Germany Under-21 player from Borussia Monchengladbach for €12million in 2017, as they looked to fill the gaping hole left by Ilkay Gundogan’s exit to Manchester City

But persistent coaching changes and unfortunate injuries meant he struggled to make his mark and the Bundesliga runners-up opted not to extend Dahoud's contract, enabling him to join Brighton in the Premier League on a free transfer. 

Born in Syria, at home in Germany 

Born in the Kurdish town of Amude on the border between Syria and Turkey, Dahoud left his native Syria as an infant, fleeing to Germany with his parents and growing up just outside Dusseldorf. 

“I feel very connected to Germany,” he would later tell Dortmund’s official website. “I’ve grown up here, I know this country and wherever I go on holiday, no matter how beautiful it is, I always get homesick after five or six days and want to go home.” 

Despite his family background and the fact Dahoud still speaks Arabic to his parents, he’s never returned to the country of his birth.  

“The whole region is rather unknown for me,” he admitted. “I was able to go to Lebanon for three days once but Syria is too dangerous, unfortunately. It’s difficult.  

“I’d love to visit my uncle so much, I only know him via the telephone.” 

Over the phone, Dahoud’s uncle will have heard how his nephew was spotted by Fortuna Dusseldorf as a child before progressing through Monchengladbach’s youth academy.

He made his Bundesliga debut in April 2015, aged 19, and went on to make 86 senior appearances for the Foals, scoring eight goals and setting up 16 more, and attracting the attention of Dortmund. 

Mahmoud Dahoud
Dahoud made his Bundesliga debut for Monchengladbach against Dortmund in 2015

But Dortmund endured a tumultuous season, switching from ultra-offensive Dutch coach Peter Bosz to the ultra-conservative Austrian Peter Stoger mid-campaign.

And if Dahoud hoped that things would improve under the Swiss coach Lucien Favre, under whom he’d played briefly at ’Gladbach, he was also disappointed, spending most of his time on the bench. 

How Dahoud blossomed under Edin Terzic 

Terzic, however, stepping in to replace Favre until the end of the season in 2021, did see Dahoud’s potential.  

Under Terzic, a former West Ham United assistant coach, Dahoud became a key part of Dortmund’s midfield, notably scoring a brilliant long-range goal at Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League and setting up Jadon Sancho’s opener in the German Cup final, with Dortmund going on to beat RB Leipzig 4-1. 

Dahoud struggled with knee and shoulder injuries under Marco Rose in 2021/22, but when Terzic was made permanent head coach at the start of the following season, he seemed to have cemented his place in Dortmund’s starting XI, notably with that performance against Leverkusen. But then disaster struck. 

Injury strikes again 

To call Dahoud’s collision with Bremen midfielder Leonardo Bittencourt “innocuous” would be an exaggeration - the two barely even made contact. And yet, the challenge caused Dahoud to dislocate his right shoulder.

He was substituted and replaced by veteran Emre Can

Mahmoud Dahoud
Dahoud goes down with a dislocated shoulder after colliding with Werder Bremen midfielder Leonardo Bittencourt

“Can’s more robust game is not the same as Dahoud’s, creating space with his quick turns of pace and distributing the ball,” observed Kicker magazine after the substitution. “Dortmund’s game got slower, they struggled to play the ball out to the wings and they began to lose possession.” 

Despite leading 2-0, the Black and Yellows lost 3-2, and Terzic also knew that Dahoud’s injury was a factor. “In the opening stages, we had Werder running long distances,” he explained.

“’Mo was an important factor in that because he always found the passes out to our wing-backs. Even in tight situations, he stays calm on the ball. We hope he’ll be fit again soon.” 

But it was the beginning of the end. Dahoud didn’t return until January, by which time he had fallen behind Can, Jude Bellingham, Marco Reus, Raphael Guerreiro and Salih Ozcan in the midfield pecking order. 

“I’m sure that Mo will still play an important role for us this season,” insisted Terzic in February. “I can’t say a single negative thing about him.  

“Mo is a fantastic person and an outstanding footballer with great ability.” 

De Zerbi: “It’s no secret that I like Dahoud” 

But Dahoud barely featured, even when some voices in the German press thought he could have prevented two of Dortmund’s slip-ups that played a part in ending their title-race hopes. 

“Particularly in the draws away at relegation candidates Stuttgart and Bochum, BVB could have used a player like Dahoud,” wrote local newspaper WAZ. “With his calmness on the ball and fine technique, he could have been the key to victory – but he wasn’t called upon.” 

Even with Bellingham likely to leave this summer, there was still no place for Dahoud in Dortmund, leaving him free to look for a fresh challenge elsewhere.  

“It’s no secret that I like him and that I’d very much like to work with him,” said Brighton & Hove Albion boss Roberto De Zerbi. 

Given the right coaching, and provided he remains injury-free, there’s no reason why Dahoud cannot join the long list of astute signings made by Brighton over recent years. 

Matt Ford (@matt_4d) is a freelance journalist specialising in German football, fan culture and sports politics 

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