Youth on their side

Ma­jor trans­fers threat­ened to de­rail their sum­mer, but Borus­sia Dort­mund have emerged in great shape

World Soccer - - Club Fo­cus - Words: Nick Bid­well

This sum­mer, the Borus­sia Dort­mund cor­ri­dors of power were no place for the faint­hearted, the semi-de­tached or the am­a­teur­ish. From the mo­ment the Sch­warz

Gel­ben lifted the Ger­man Cup in late May un­til the end of the trans­fer win­dow on Au­gust 31, CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke and di­rec­tor of sport Michael Zorc never had a mo­ment’s peace as they were forced to come up with an­swers to a host of thorny per­son­nel is­sues. In short, they were multi-task­ing fire­fight­ers.

So many big de­ci­sions for the pair to re­solve in such a short space of time. Who to ap­point as coach af­ter sack­ing Thomas Tuchel? What tac­tics to em­ploy to keep star striker Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang out of the clutches of his many suit­ors? How best to clean up the mess caused by Barcelona’s bid for at­tack­ing whizz-kid Ous­mane Dem­bele

“Oth­ers buy world stars. We make them” Hans-Joachim Watzke, Borus­sia Dort­mund’s CEO

and the lat­ter’s strike ac­tion to force the trans­fer through?

It says much for the nerve, prin­ci­ples and in­ge­nu­ity of Watzke and Zorc that they have emerged from all the tu­mult with their rep­u­ta­tions very much in­tact. New coach Peter Bosz, for­merly at the Ajax helm, has al­ready struck a pos­i­tive chord with the play­ers. The de­ci­sion to only put Aubameyang in the shop win­dow for a few weeks in the close sea­son was

un­doubt­edly a key fac­tor in re­tain­ing him. And top dol­lar was ex­tracted from the Dem­bele sale, hold­ing out un­til Barca met their de­mands of 104mil­lion plus 42m of add-ons.

Of course, the Ruhr king­pins will miss Dem­bele. Last sea­son, his first at the club fol­low­ing a 15m move from French side Rennes, he was of­ten their in-house game-changer, scor­ing 10 goals in all com­pe­ti­tions and creat­ing another 21. How­ever, once he had downed tools, there was sim­ply no way back. At just 20, he still has it all to prove, and to ease the pain Dort­mund made a sub­stan­tial profit – thought to be in the re­gion of 65m af­ter Rennes took their cut.

Watzke summed up the Dort­mund ap­proach to buy­ing and sell­ing in a re­cent interview with Sport-Bild mag­a­zine, say­ing: “Oth­ers buy world stars. We make them. The growth in trans­fer fees is in­sane, though not im­moral. It’s the mar­ket which dic­tates.”

Al­though in rude fi­nan­cial health – they re­cently posted a record turnover of 405.7m for 2016-17, up al­most eight per cent – BVB are well aware of their balance-sheet lim­i­ta­tions. Com­pared to the likes of Bay­ern Mu­nich, the great and the good of the Premier League, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Paris Sain­tGer­main, they are very much a sec­ondtier Euro­pean power.

Mind­ful of their place in the food chain, the Dort­munder be­lieve they have no choice but to re­cruit smarter, hence their ob­ses­sion with fledg­ling tal­ent. It’s a rel­a­tively easy sell too, with a sump­tu­ous range of good­ies on of­fer; from the club’s faith in youth and Cham­pi­ons League ac­tion, to Bun­desliga promi­nence and the chance to play for a club whose West­falen­sta­dion home ranks among the most at­mo­spheric in Europe.

“Our pri­mary aim is not to have the rawest squad at the top end of the Euro­pean game,” said Zorc ear­lier this year. “But we do re­alise that we can­not sim­ply go out and buy ready-made stars.

“We also have to de­velop tal­ent. We have shown that we are will­ing to give young­sters a chance to play at the high­est level.”

A per­fect ex­am­ple of that phi­los­o­phy is teenage Amer­i­can winger Chris­tian Pulisic. Af­ter ex­celling in the club’s youth ranks, he was only 17 when handed his se­nior de­but in Jan­uary 2016. Just 18 months later, he is now a player they can­not do with­out, a pack­age of

out­stand­ing skill, speed and in­stincts on the right flank.

Of their seven sign­ings in the lat­est trans­fer win­dow, five were aged 23 or younger. All were wanted else­where, but all were des­per­ate to sign up for the Dort­mund elite de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme.

Zorc and chief scout Sven Mis­lin­tat can only be com­mended for the ex­cel­lent crop of new ar­rivals this sum­mer.

Freiburg’s Max­i­m­il­ian Philipp has set­tled in ex­tremely well on the wing; turbo-charged for­mer Hof­fen­heim right-back Jeremy Tol­jan was ar­guably Ger­many’s best player as they won the Euro­pean Un­der-21 title this sum­mer; teen wide-man Jadon San­cho, prised away from Manch­ester City, is a gen­uine rough di­a­mond; Mah­moud Da­houd was a box-to-box mar­vel at Borus­sia Monchenglad­bach; while France un­der-18 skip­per Dan-Axel Za­gadou can play any­where in de­fence and joined on a free from Paris Saint-Ger­main.

That’s not to say that this re­liance on youth is a panacea. Some would ar­gue that Dort­mund are stock­pil­ing young guns and, in­evitably, a num­ber will fall by the way­side. Last sea­son, for ex­am­ple, Turk­ish winger Emre Mor and Span­ish de­fen­sive mid­fielder Mikel Merino got lit­tle game time and had to move on, re­cently join­ing Celta Vigo and New­cas­tle United re­spec­tively.

For all the “Boys­town” quips, Dort­mund also ap­pre­ci­ate a vet­eran as much as any­body. Long-serv­ing full­backs Lukasz Piszczek and Mar­cel Sch­melzer still have much to of­fer, while Turk­ish play­maker Nuri Sahin, on the club’s books for a decade-and-a-half over three spells, is back to his best af­ter a cou­ple of sea­sons in the shad­ows.

The quest for estab­lished in­ter­na­tional know-how was ev­i­dent in their end-ofAu­gust swoop for Dy­namo Kiev winger An­driy Yar­molenko. Dort­mund had him in their sights for more than two years and are con­vinced that his 25m trans­fer fee rep­re­sents value for money. He might not have Dem­bele’s mazy drib­bling skills or free-spir­ited ways, yet he could deliver just as much with his force­ful physique, ed­u­cated left foot and flair on the counter. Yar­molenko has a fine all-round game and, pro­vided he quickly finds his bear­ings in Ger­many, he could be ex­actly what Dort­mund need: a pow­er­ful and in­ci­sive front-line com­ple­ment to marks­man-in chief Aubameyang.

One would-be stick­ing point is Yar­molenko’s pref­er­ence for cut­ting in from the right, while the Dem­belein­spired va­cancy is on the other side. Some­one will have to com­pro­mise.

What Dort­mund des­per­ately need at the mo­ment is a pe­riod of sta­bil­ity. Last sea­son was es­sen­tially a cat­a­logue of one emer­gency segue­ing into another: ul­tras shame­fully tar­get­ing RB Leipzig fans; a bomb at­tack on the team bus be­fore a Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter-fi­nal against Monaco; Watzke re­ceiv­ing death threats from a hard-right hooli­gan group; the sim­mer­ing, sul­phurous at­mos­phere in the camp; the crum­bling of Thomas Tuchel’s re­la­tion­ship with board, tech­ni­cal staff and squad.

Even Watzke, a fighter if ever there was one, ad­mits he was close to reach­ing the end of his tether. “For the first time in my life, my bat­ter­ies were com­pletely flat,” he re­vealed in a interview with Bild am Son­ntag. “If we’d have lost the Ger­man Cup Fi­nal, I def­i­nitely would have re­signed.”

If Watzke’s en­thu­si­asm is flow­ing once again, he largely at­tributes his up­beat mood to the re­laxed per­son­al­ity of new coach Bosz. Whereas his pre­de­ces­sor Tuchel could be prickly and aloof, the Dutch­man is much more of a com­mu­ni­ca­tor, pri­ori­tis­ing di­a­logue and col­lab­o­ra­tion.

In stark con­trast to the front-of­fice the­atre, Bosz ra­di­ated calm and

com­po­sure on the pre-sea­son train­ing ground. No wild ges­tic­u­lat­ing on the touch­line. No tones of ex­as­per­a­tion. Just thought­ful analysis and ad­vice. The play­ers ob­vi­ously rel­ish work­ing with him. “He’s a laid-back guy, a real peo­ple per­son and very cor­rect in his at­ti­tude to us all,” says Sahin.

Another ad­mirer of Bosz is exDort­mund skip­per and coach Matthias Sam­mer, who was most def­i­nitely im­pressed with his low-key re­ac­tion to the Dem­bele hoopla. “As a coach you have to rise above things and in this in­stance he did very well in­deed,” Sam­mer told Eurosport. “He showed charm and au­thor­ity. That was tip-top on his part.”

Bosz cer­tainly has a huge task in front of him. Not only does he have a tac­ti­cal rev­o­lu­tion to over­see – a switch to an Ajax-like 4-3-3 – he must as­sess the strengths, weak­nesses and psy­cho­log­i­cal foibles of his play­ers and ad­just to a dif­fer­ent league. He also has a mas­sively re­mod­elled squad to come to terms with. This sum­mer, Dort­mund com­pleted no fewer than 15 trans­fers: seven in and eight out.

Boast­ing 30 pro­fes­sion­als of ex­cel­lent qual­ity, Dort­mund have ar­guably im­proved their strength in depth this term and will be even more of a force when their long-term in­jury vic­tims – winger Marco Reus, Por­tuguese util­ity man Raphael Guer­reiro and mid­field reg­u­la­tor Ju­lian Weigl – be­come fully op­er­a­tional again.

The early signs are that Bosz has the

More com­monly known as the West­falen­sta­dion, Dort­mund’s home sta­dium is a caul­dron of noise, colour and full-on pas­sion, a place that never fails to send the senses into over­drive.

Ger­many’s big­gest ground, it fea­tures the largest standing ter­race in the Euro­pean game: the 24,454-ca­pac­ity Sudtri­bune, aka “The Yel­low Wall”.

At 79,653, Dort­mund had the high­est av­er­age league at­ten­dance of any club in Europe last sea­son, al­though the ca­pac­ity is re­duced when the Sudtri­bune is made all-seat­ing for in­ter­na­tional games.

A long-term nam­ing-rights deal with in­sur­ers Sig­nal Iduna has helped to bring fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity to the club af­ter a brush with near bank­ruptcy on the eve of the 2006 World Cup, when the sta­dium hosted six games – in­clud­ing the semi­fi­nal in which Italy beat Ger­many 2-0.

The sta­dium ac­tu­ally dates back to the pre­vi­ous World Cup held in Ger­many, in 1974. Be­fore then, Dort­mund played at the nearby Sta­dion Rote Erde, an old-school mu­nic­i­pal trackand-field ground which is now used by the club’s re­serves.

When Dort­mund was pre­ferred to Cologne as a host city for the 1974 World Cup, long-term plans for a home fit for a thriv­ing Bun­desliga side could fi­nally be drawn up. The new sta­dium opened in the spring of 1974 with a match against lo­cal ri­vals Schalke.

Tak­ing its name from its lo­cal­ity – the re­gion of North-Rhine West­phalia – the West­falen­sta­dion’s orig­i­nal ca­pac­ity of 54,000 has been grad­u­ally in­creased, mainly thanks to the up­per tiers added to the two side­line stands. The host­ing of the 2006 World Cup led to fur­ther im­prove­ments, in­clud­ing five video screens and un­der­soil heat­ing.

The ge­o­graph­i­cal prox­im­ity of Schalke’s AufSchalke Arena in Gelsenkirchen en­sures that the lo­cal ri­valry re­mains the fiercest in the Bun­desliga.

Dort­mund is at the heart of the in­dus­trial Ruhr Val­ley re­gion, which is host to one the world’s deep­est con­cen­tra­tion of club sides.

In ad­di­tion to Schalke, there are lo­cal der­bies with Bun­desliga sides Cologne, Bayer Lev­erkusen and Borus­sia Monchenglad­bach, while 2.Bun­desliga fea­tures Bochum, Duis­burg and For­tuna Dus­sel­dorf.

full mea­sure of the job. Be­gin­ning the new Bun­desliga cam­paign with two im­pres­sive wins – 3-0 at Wolfs­burg and 2-0 at home to Hertha Berlin – his side looked or­gan­ised and solid at the back, full of ideas go­ing for­ward and gen­er­ally played with re­mark­able col­lec­tive con­trol.

De­spite time be­ing tight, the con­tours of the team’s new iden­tity are al­ready crys­tallis­ing: the com­pact shape, the high de­fen­sive line, the press­ing of the op­po­si­tion deep in their own half, the su­per­fast tran­si­tions, the care in pos­ses­sion. Their press­ing game still needs some fine tun­ing, and their buildup play can lack tempo at times, but on the whole Bosz is mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

With their eyes on the prize of at least a top-two fin­ish in the Bun­desliga, Dort­mund will be es­pe­cially de­pen­dent on ma­jor con­tri­bu­tions from lu­mi­nar­ies such as ball-play­ing Cata­lan cen­tral de­fender Marc Bar­tra, Sahin or Weigl as the cen­tral mid­field hub, and the cre­ative in­dus­try of Mario Gotze, who af­ter his wasted years at Bay­ern and a lengthy ab­sence last sea­son with a meta­bolic con­di­tion ap­pears to be in re­nais­sance mode.

And then there is Aubameyang, the top scorer in the Bun­desliga last sea­son with 31 goals. Ru­moured to be on the verge of a move to China, the Premier League, PSG or Milan, the Gabonese sharp­shooter was prob­a­bly not ex­pect­ing to still be with BVB. But one thing he does en­joy is putting the ball in the back of the net, and whether it be at Dort­mund or else­where he will al­ways go flat out for goals. Such is his na­ture, that of the smil­ing as­sas­sin.

“Aubameyang gives Dort­mund 20 per cent ex­tra,” says for­mer club coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. “He is Peter Bosz’s life in­sur­ance. He’s Dort­mund’s most im­por­tant player. Other guys can be re­placed. Not him.

“He is om­nipresent. He can make chances out of im­pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tions and doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily rely on team-mates for ser­vice. When Watzke in­sists that Aubameyang is go­ing to stay un­til the end of this sea­son, that’s a clear sig­nal.

“Dort­mund are send­ing out a chal­lenge to Bay­ern Mu­nich. They are say­ing: ‘We are hold­ing onto Aubameyang and will be Ger­man cham­pi­ons.’”

Will Hitzfeld be proved right about Dort­mund’s title chances? Next spring, we’ll have the an­swer.

Selfie...Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang cel­e­brates last sea­son’s Ger­man Cup suc­cess Prin­ci­ples...Hans-Joachim Watzke (left) and Michael Zorc

Pas­sion­ate... Dort­mund fans

New trio...(from left) Dan-Axel Za­gadou, Max­i­m­il­ian Philipp and Mah­moud Da­houd

calm...Peter bosz value for money... an­driy Yar­molenko

Derby...tak­ing on fierce lo­cal ri­vals Schalke

Nam­ing rights... Sig­nal Iduna have a long-term deal with the club

Good start...Nuri Sahin (out of pic­ture) scores against Hertha Berlin

Re­nais­sance...Mario Gotze (left) takes an ice bath af­ter train­ing

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