The rise of Deniz Undav

The Albion striker was a late developer but is now part of Germany's squad in the Euros.

By Richie Mills • 17 June 2024

Denis Undav's form on loan with Stuttgart last season earned him his first Germany call-up.

Deniz Undav has been playing catch-up for the past few years.

When the striker joined Albion from Union Saint-Gilloise in 2022, aged 25, he had only had two seasons as a professional footballer.

Now, the 27-year-old is part of Julian Nagelsmann's Germany squad at the Euros off the back of scoring 19 goals and bagging ten assists whilst on loan at Bundesliga side Stuttgart last season. So, where has this rapid rise come from?

Undav started his youth career at TSV Achim, before joining Werder Bremen's youth academy in 2007. Following five years there he was released - ostensibly because he wasn't big enough.

“That really hurt. Particularly because I was a little lad from the Bremen region. It took me a couple of days to come to terms with it, but then I just looked forward," he previously told Kreiszeitung Syke.

While there were a few things Undav needed to iron out with his game early on, his former coach at Achim, Jens Janssen, felt Bremen made the wrong decision, too.

By Paul Hazlewood
Denis Undav scored eight goals in his breakthrough season with Albion in 2022/23.

He told Het Laatste Nieuws in 2022: “Deniz was small and powerful, ball-hungry and very lazy. Running was not his thing. But he made up for that with his talent. He always wanted to score.

“Sometimes I had to slow him down, ‘You have to pass the ball to a teammate'. Then he would say, ‘There is the goal; the ball has to go into that corner'. Werder (Bremen) thought he was too small; they preferred big fast strikers. I thought that was nonsense.”

In 2012, he moved to SC Weyhe, before signing on with TSV Havelse, who were in Germany's fourth-tier, Regionalliga.

In his second season there, he scored 16 goals, before raising that to 21 in 2016/17. From there he joined Eintracht Braunschweig II in the same division, where he registered nine goals in 18 matches, and then third-tier side Meppen recruited him in 2018.

Finally, after two seasons there - the second of which he scored 17 goals and bagged 13 assists - he officially began playing at a professional level when Belgian side Union SG came calling in 2020.

By Paul Hazlewood
Deniz celebrates his goal in Albion's 3-0 win over Arsenal in May 2023.

Former editor-in-chief at Bundesliga FANatic, Niklas Wildhagen, said: “After his Bremen setback others might have given up at that point, but he continued to play. His career might have halted somewhere in the lower divisions if it wasn't for the fact that Union SG managed to find him there.

“Some careers are made through the good work of the scouts of clubs like Union SG, and Undav simply exploded after he arrived in Belgium. Despite that Undav never really believed that he would reach much further than that.

“In an interview with Deichstube, he said that he didn't believe he would play in the Premier League or the Bundesliga (as it was five or six levels higher) as he was going about his business in Belgium.”

Although he seemingly lacked self-belief, he was prolific at Union - where Brighton chairman Tony Bloom is a minority owner. He helped his new team earn promotion to the Belgian Pro League thanks to 17 goals and the following season he fired in a further 27 and 13 assists as they narrowly missed out on the top-flight title.

In the 2022/23 campaign he made his Premier League debut, scored eight goals for Albion and then enjoyed a hugely successful loan stint at Stuttgart, firing them to second in the Bundesliga. Not bad for a boy who was once ‘too small’ and ‘too lazy’.

“I think his time in Belgium was key to propelling him to where he is today. If he hadn't made that move, he might have been stuck in the 3. Liga or the Bundesliga 2 right now,” said Wildhagen.

Union reporter for Nieuwsblad Sport, Thomas Cami, added: “He rarely missed chances at Union. He was a good, positive guy, who was loved by the group. Undav was an amazing striker for Union and on a good day, he had it in him to score four goals.

“His Bundesliga success is lovely to see and he is living his dream by playing for the German national team. He will have learnt a lot from this period. He has come a long way and who knows what can happen next.”