Undoubtedly one of the top two teams in Germany, arguably one of the top five in the whole of Europe, Borussia Dortmund have for the last three or four years have had a side to rival any in the world.
This golden era of football at Dortmund arguably surpasses the success of the team in the late 90s when Ottmar Hitzfeld managed them. Under Hitzfeld, Dortmund won two Bundesliga titles as well as the 1997 Champions League with a 3-1 win over Juventus (current Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert providing the assist for the first goal).
Following the success of the late 90s, Dortmund became the first, and so far only publicly traded club to float on the German stock market. Unfortunately for the club, after winning their third Bundesliga title in 2002, the club went into a period of prolonged economic decline.
Poor financial management was the big problem, culminating in the sale of their Westfalenstadion ground and a €2 million loan from rivals Bayern Munich to pay their staff in 2003. Once again on the verge of bankruptcy in 2005, the club’s stock plummeted by 80% and all players were required to take a 20% pay cut. In an attempt to raise money in 2006, the Westfalenstadion was renamed Signal Iduna Park due to a sponsorship deal with a local insurance company of the same name.
After going through three different coaches in the 2007 season, Jurgen Klopp was appointed the manager on May 19th 2008, Klopp’s appointment signalled an end to Dortmund’s problems, and a return to prominence both domestically and in European competition.
After a mediocre first season in charge in 2008-2009, Klopp’s Dormund side would finish fifth in the Bundesliga, thus qualifying for the UEFA Europa League following the end of 2009-2010 season. Starting the 2010-2011 season with a young team who played with a verve and swagger not seen in Dortmund since the great teams of the late 90s, Jurgen Klopp and his young charges won the club’s first league title since 2002. The following season, Dortmund once again won the Bundesliga, setting a new Bundesliga points record in the process.
The club finished second in the Bundesliga this past season, losing their title to Bayern Munich, the same club they recently lost to in the Champions League final.
As you can see, over the last 20 years, the club have been largely successful, winning five Bundesliga titles and one Champions League crown along with several German cups and an Intercontinental Cup victory following the 1997 season.
One would imagine then that a club with this much success, and the largest home following of any club in Europe, would not have any trouble in hanging onto their best players, routinely challenging for honours, and continuing to go from strength to strength.
Unfortunately, their brief brush with bankruptcy appears to have damaged the psyche of the club’s decision makers. Over the last four years, Dortmund have sold several of their best players, admittedly they seem to find an adequate replacement for whichever player they sell, but I can’t understand their willingness to undergo the process when they already have a stellar team.
Following the club’s first title under Klopp the club sold Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid for €10 million after he had established himself as one of the best young midfielders in Germany, having come through the Dortmund academy since age 12. Interestingly enough, Sahin has since returned to Dortmund on an 18-month loan deal from Real Madrid, following his inability to break into the first team and a disappointing loan spell at Liverpool.
Another player who recently returned to the club, this time on a permanent basis was Marco Reus. Born in Dortmund and a member of the Dortmund academy from age seven, Reus was sold to Rot Weiss Arnhem, going on to play for Borussia Monchengladbach, before returning to his hometown club at the beginning of the 2012-2013 season for a fee of €17.1 million.
Prior to Reus resigning, Dortmund sold their prolific striker Lucas Barrios to Chinese Super League club Guangzhou Evergrande for €8.5 million, talented Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United for €20 million and left winger Ivan Perisic to VfL Wolfsburg for €8 million.
Disgruntled by all the sales over the last few years, Dortmund fans were proved right about the depth of the team this season. Although the starting XI were strong enough to cope with anyone in the World (they topped a Champions League group including Ajax, Manchester City and Real Madrid) they simply didn’t have the strength in depth to mount a serious challenge on the Bundesliga title this season.
As if things were not bad enough at Dortmund, it was announced a month before the end of this season that Mario Gotze would be leaving the club to join Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich for €37 million during the summer.
Along with actual departures, the last few years at Dortmund have been dogged by constant transfer rumours involving the club’s stars. Robert Lewandowski has been routinely been linked with a move away to the likes of Manchester United and more recently Real Madrid, Mats Hummels is apparently wanted by Barcelona and Manchester City, Ilkay Gundogan is reportedly the natural successor to Paul Scholes at Manchester United and young defensive midfielder Sven Bender is wanted by a whole host of Europe’s top teams.
Admittedly, the best players in the world will always be coveted by other teams, but more often than not, it seems that at Dortmund they are only too willing to accept bids for their players.
In short, despite all the success that the club have had over the last 20 years, despite the enormous fan base that they attract, despite the fact that they are the 11th leading money earners in world football, Borussia Dortmund have the mentality of a much smaller club.
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