Borussia Dortmund and its descent into mediocrity
Often hailed as the model club due to its wonderful fanbase (among some of the best in the world) as well as its policy of giving a platform to young players, it has now become obvious that Borussia Dortmund is being left behind both in the Bundesliga and in Europe.
Thomas Tuchel’s exit at the end of the last season signalled to onlookers that all was not well at the Westphalian club. It later came out in the press that the notoriously temperamental Tuchel had clashed with the club’s chief scout Sven Mislintat over player transfers.
Tuchel was said to have been especially incensed about the failure of the proposed transfer of Spanish midfielder Oliver Torres before he left Atletico Madrid to join FC Porto in a €20m deal.
The board was said to have chosen to go with Mislintat’s choice of Mikel Merino from Osasuna for €5m instead, a move that further compounded what insiders had described as Tuchel’s frustration at the way the club had chosen to prioritise profit-making over building a team good enough to challenge for trophies.
Tuchel’s frustration is understandable given that we are talking a massive club that has the highest stadium attendance in the world every season and are regular partakers in fighting for the biggest prizes in both the league and the UEFA Champions League.
Club CEO Joachim Watzke has consistently bemoaned the club’s inability to keep its best players but he alongside sporting director Michael Zorc, he must take the blame for the perception of the club as a development centre/finishing school for young players who are destined for other climes.
Since the club last did something major i.e. the UEFA Champions League final in 2013, it has lost Robert Lewandowski, Ilkay Gündogan, Mats Hummels, Matthias Ginter, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ousmane Dembele among others.
Were it not to be due to his incessant injuries, it is doubtful that a player as good as Marco Reus would still be at the club.
N.B: Mario Götze and Shinji Kagawa are players who were sold for huge fees and re-signed but have been underwhelming since they returned.
While the club has made a healthy profit on these players (allegedly about €350m), it has lost a spine of players that would have made the club a challenger to Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title and the European elite for the Champions League.
The club’s commitment to this path can be understood given the recent history of financial troubles (almost went into administration and relegation) but its decision to tow the path of selling off its prize assets means any chance of competing for the big prizes are remote at best as there are at least 10 clubs ahead of them in Europe.
The club erroneously believed that given the structure of the Bundesliga, they could see themselves as the best of the rest and the only (half-hearted) challenger to Bayern’ hegemony. The arrival of RB Leipzig with the might of Red Bull behind it and a sporting director in Ralf Ragnick, who is as astute as Zorc, has thrown that calculation into the trash bin as Die Roten Bullen are now the only legitimate challenger to FC Hollywood (as Bayern are known).
Dembele’s insistence on leaving after just a season at the club and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang’s behaviour after failing to see a move away from the club materialise shows that the players are well aware of the club’s standing in the global game hence their desire to leave.
The humiliation Dortmund has experienced in this season’s UCL can be attributed partly to the incompetence of new coach Peter Bosz (Ajax’s Europa League run notwithstanding) but its down mostly to the poor quality and inexperience of players in the squad.
The replacements that have come in for the players sold have either not been good enough or too young to handle the pressure associated with playing for a storied club like Borussia Dortmund.
The fact that the club has poor-to-average players like Roman Bürki, Marc Bartra, Gonzalo Castro, Andriy Yarmolenko among others starting games regularly is a huge come down from the glory of the Jurgen Klopp era and unless steps are taken to urgently address this, Dortmund might find itself going the way of clubs like Ajax Amsterdam and Olympique Lyon; old storied clubs that are no longer relevant in the big competitions and under threat in their home leagues.
The hypocritical antagonism of RB Leipzig by Dortmund fans and officials is borne partly out of a realization that the East German club is on the ascendancy and will soon usurp its position on the Bundesliga's glory tree.
Solutions are thin on the ground but short of a takeover by a billionaire or a corporation like Red Bull (a situation that will leave egg on the club’s face), the Black and Yellow club will have to adjust its finances (its ranked as the 16th most valuable club in the world) and show the same level of ambition in signings and wages similar to that on offer at Europe’s major clubs.