Large swaths of the soccer world celebrated Borussia Dortmund for beating Real Madrid and reaching the UEFA Champions League final on Tuesday, but some of those revelers are quietly lamenting the breakup of this great Dortmund team.
Those downers can stop. There will be neither a mass exodus of bodies nor wholesale changes to a squad brimming with talent, confidence and commitment.
Playmaker Mario Gotze will join Bayern Munich in July. Goal-scoring hero Robert Lewandowski might leave for Bayern, Manchester United or another of Europe’s top clubs this summer. There’s also a chance he will stay and see out his contract, which expires after the 2013-14 season. Dortmund doesn’t need to raise money by selling him.
The outcome of the Lewnadowski transfer saga will matter little in the near and medium term. Borussia Dortmund has clawed its way back to the top of the European soccer mountain, planted a black-and-yellow flag there and set up camp under the watchful eye of its Sherpa and manager, Jurgen Klopp.
In less than five years, the 45-year-old has taken Dortmund from the middle of the Bundesliga (German first division) standings to the lofty position it presently holds. Dortmund won consecutive league championships (2010-11 and 2011-12) and will finish runner-up to the 2012-13 Bayern Munich team (which has amassed the most points in Bundesliga history) along the way. It also captured the German Cup in 2011-12, and the European Cup could soon join those other honors in the trophy room.
Klopp’s reputation as a manager has followed a similar growth arc, as have those of the players with whom he shares a tight personal bond. Klopp’s Dortmund is the on-field projection of their manager’s relaxed, youthful and confident demeanor. He gives the orders, and the players follow them to the letter, as defender Nevin Subotic recently beamed.
“He has a game plan and it works,” World Soccer reports Subotic said. “We’re all behind his game plan. Whatever he says is God’s word and we believe in him and he believes in us. That’s how this team was formed and that’s how this team has become successful.”
Their exuberant style captivated Germany years ago. This season, the rest of the world has come to appreciate what fans of the German game have enjoyed, feared or marveled at for some time. While Gotze and perhaps Lewandowski are heading for the exit, their departures won’t cause the club to dramatically change course. Selling the two will raise around £55 million ($85.6 million), which sporting director Michael Zorc can use to recruit two experienced replacements and a brigade of future stars who want to learn their trade from Europe’s premier young manager.
Dortmund is a young team, and most of its key players have long-term contracts. Defenders Lukasz Piszczek, Mats Hummels and Subotic, midfielders Sven Bender, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Kevin Großkreutz have all signed extensions since the 2011-12 season ended. Standout forward Marco Reus only joined the club last summer. Like Hummels and Großkreutz, Reus is from the region and has an emotional attachment to the club and its legions of fans. UEFA.com reports Klopp predicts big things for this group with its core held firmly in place.
“It is incredible how fast the development is going and how much the guys learn,” Klopp said in January. “We are such a young team. When we started in Europe three years ago, the average age was 22. We are now around 23.6, still young. In football today, it is rare to grow together, so everyone at the club is happy about the development of this team.”
The on-field success is a product of careful planning and management off the field. Dortmund nearly went bankrupt in 2005, but business is booming less than ten years later. High-earning and under-performing veterans left in the mid-to-late 2000s. They were replaced by young, hungry players who earn much less. Dortmund earned record profits — 34.3 million euros ($43.7 million) — last year, and that trend should continue after this season’s player sales and Champions League windfall.
Dortmund also boasts one of Europe’s biggest stadiums — the 80,100-seat Signal Iduna Park — which fans fill to capacity for domestic and European games. Those same fans create a unique atmosphere that few, if any, clubs around the world can rival. Expect the money to continue flowing into the club’s coffers, as the soccer on display, combined with the backdrop the fans create, will attract new and casual fans from all corners of the planet.
The brand of Borussia Dortmund will continue to grow and develop, and Klopp’s will do the same as he faces new managerial challenges. His team finished bottom of Group F in the 2011-12 Champions League, a failure Klopp blames on inexperience. He tried to use Dortmund’s relentless style (which was so effective in domestic competitions) in Europe, but opponents had ready-made solutions.
This season, Klopp tweaked Dortmund’s European approach and it worked. They topped the dreaded “Group of Death,” which included Real Madrid, Ajax and Manchester City, by running less and being more clinical in front of goal, according to UEFA.com.
“I have learned a statistic,” Klopp said explaining the 2011-12 failure in Europe. “Teams that run too much lose, and teams that press reduce their chances of winning the game. Now I know why it happened. We ran more than our opponents and we pressed them all over, as high as possible.
“If I have a share in the success, I also have a great share in the failure at European level. But we have all learned. Personally, when we played against Arsenal in London, I saw the best forward ever: Robin van Persie. I didn’t know a player could play three positions during 90 minutes. It was a great experience — and we want to use that now.”
Klopp has outwitted some of Europe’s most respected managers this season. He left Roberto Mancini (Manchester City), Frank de Boer (Ajax), Mircea Lucescu (Shakhtar Donetsk), Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho (Real Madrid twice) searching for answers, as they watched Dortmund march to the final. Almost all of Europe’s biggest clubs would gladly have any of those defeated managers on their bench, but they would probably take Klopp ahead of them.
The German is reportedly wanted by Chelsea, City and Real Madrid, although he is expected to stay with Dortmund with an eye on replacing Joachim Low as manager of Germany’s national team in 2014 (after the FIFA World Cup) or 2016 (after the UEFA European Championship). Low poses a great risk to Dortmund’s current project. Klopp seems fully committed to Dortmund, but he might answer the call of the national team if Low leaves the prestigious post in the near term.
The only bigger threat than Low is the economic one. Domestic rivals Bayern Munich and top clubs in Spain and England can offer Dortmund’s current crop of champions higher salaries, tempting them to abandon the club for riches their talents can fetch on the open market. If and when that happens, Dortmund must continue to succeed in the areas of scouting and development to maintain the level of quality and depth within the squad that it currently has.
Klopp doesn’t seem worried by that prospect, according to Sports Illustrated.
“A lot of things can happen, but I’m totally relaxed,” he said. “I know who wants to come to [play for] us. If I’m cool, people should be, too. Of course you want to keep what you have got in life, but there are no guarantees. Other mothers have handsome sons, too, and they can play as well! If there’s time to get nervous, I’ll tell you. So chill.”
The Dortmund manager will do just that. It tends to get cold at the summit.
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