Echte Liebe: a proper introduction to Borussia Dortmund

June 29, 2012 in Bundesliga

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Sat in Berlin’s Olympiastadion on a breezy mid-May evening, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson witnessed Borussia Dortmund’s first domestic double. Though just a week before the climactic finale of the Premier League, it was clear that Ferguson had the future in mind. Shinji Kagawa, the Japanese maverick, opened the scoring within four minutes, prompting a dominant Dortmund display that led to a 5-2 victory over rivals Bayern Munich. Kagawa, 23, has since signed for United in a deal that could reach £17m.

Alongside Kagawa, many of Dortmund’s double-winning squad have attracted the attention of Europe’s biggest clubs. Polish striker Robert Lewandowski is another United target. He is the winner of this year’s Bundesliga Player of the Season award and is one of the most promising young strikers in European football. Lewandowski has netted 30 goals in 67 appearances as well as a superb hat-trick in the aforementioned stomping of Bayern Munich, and his header against Greece, the opening goal of Euro 2012, bolstered his growing reputation. In Poland’s remaining group-games, British commentators fawned over his ability.

Dortmund’s squad includes German starlet Mario Götze and defender Serbian Neven Subotić. Another defender, Mats Hummels, has arguably been the best player of the Euros so far. The centre-back has looked a solid presence in Germany’s defence and has more passes (217) than both Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker have combined (216).

With the added exposure that the Euros bring, it seems that Dortmund are beginning to be found out, but it’s no surprise that their best players are being courted; BVB play the most attractive football outside of Barcelona. In just four years, manager Jürgen Klopp has reshaped a broken squad into an out-and-out domestic powerhouse. Klopp has made shrewd signings, developed a ruthless counter-attack and, perhaps most importantly, created a squad of team players. The work ethic is outstanding - they press well, commit to attacks and command possession. To use his words, they are his “boys”.

Klopp is outspoken, and at 6ft 3in is a huge presence. In his first season, the unshaven Meister-Trainer steered the team to a 6th place finish, and did one better in his second season, pushing Die Schwarzgelben (The Black Yellows) to 5th; since then there’s been no looking back. With the purchases of Hummels, Kagawa, Lewandowski, and fellow Pole Łukasz Piszczek costing under €9m combined, Klopp certainly cannot be accused of buying the title.

Despite a wealth of success in decades past – they won their first European championship against Liverpool in 1966 – Dortmund has suffered a turbulent 15 years. In 1997, they beat their nemesis Juventus to lift the Champions League trophy, and in 2001, smashed the transfer record by signing Márcio Amoroso for a staggering €25m. After going public and floating shares on the stock market, Dortmund became riddled with debt worries. By 2004, they were reportedly €120m in the red. Star salaries, transfer fees and unnecessary expenses brought the club to the brink of bankruptcy. It took a bailout package to save them.

Although still not exactly wealthy – Klopp has said Dortmund’s original contract offer was a smaller salary than what second division Mainz were willing to pay – Dortmund has gone some way to re-establishing a so-called golden era. Unlike in Italy and England, and to a lesser extent Spain and France, the Bundesliga doesn’t have a conventional “big four” or even “big two”. Instead, Bayern Munich has tended to dominate with a sole challenger emerging every few years. In the last decade, five separate teams have won the league. However, Dortmund’s back-to-back Bundesliga titles have changed the atmosphere and subverted the norm.

Some doubt BVB’s credentials to maintain their stronghold on German football, but Klopp is no stranger to change. Last summer, Dortmund said goodbye to star player Nuri Sahin when Real Madrid offered €10m, and have recently finalised Lucas Barrios’s move to China. With Kagawa’s departure for United and the possibility of Lewandowski leaving too, some have predicted that Dortmund won’t sustain their challenge. However, Klopp’s team have already agreed to sign Marco Reus from Borussia Mönchengladbach. Reus is impressive on the wing as well as his natural position as a forward. His 21 goals helped Mönchengladbach finish fourth, gaining them a place in the Champions League.

Dortmund’s motto is “Echte Liebe” (true love); mawkish, maybe, but it represents a harmonious atmosphere. BVB have moved from the abyss of bankruptcy towards the height of European football, and they’re doing it the right way.