My piece on Dortmund Continually Losing Their Best Players
Borussia Dortmund’s resurgence this season has been a positive for German football. It’s not all good news for the Ruhr valley club though.
Bayern Munich still clinched a fourth consecutive title with one game to play but were kept on their toes by Dortmund. As was the case after Dortmund’s back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2010/11 and 2011/12, Bayern has responded to the challenge by looking to weaken their title rivals.
The Guardian reported at the end of April that club captain, Mats Hummels, was interested in joining Bayern. The elegant central defender would be returning to his hometown and his previous club. Those are certainly logical reasons to want to leave Dortmund, in addition to Bayern’s status as perennial Champions League contenders. Hummels would become the next star to follow the not so recent trend of leaving the Ruhr for supposedly greener pastures if he joins the club. His former teammates, Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski, played a major role in Dortmund’s previous successes then left the club weakened upon joining Bayern.
The theme has continued with other stars such as Ilkay Gundogan, Marco Reus, Pierre Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan being linked to clubs across Europe, and Bayern, at various times in recent seasons. While none have shown similar intent as Hummels, the nature of today’s transfer market means anything is possible. According to the Daily Mail, Gundogan’s recent injury has put a potential move to Manchester City on hold.
All that transfer talk leads to one question. Why does Borussia Dortmund continue to lose players? Or even more ominously, why do players consider leaving Dortmund?
Bayern’s rule in the Bundesliga has long been documented but Dortmund has been the one club to really challenge that dominance in recent seasons. Jurgen Klopp’s arrival in 2008 saw the club ascend to the status of challengers, then winners and even Champions League finalists. The disappointing 2014/15 campaign aside, Dortmund is the club that the current iteration of Bayern fears the most domestically. A stumble in this season’s Europa League campaign, at the hands of a Klopp-led Liverpool side no less, was another disappointment but the chance for silverware remains with the German Cup final against Bayern.
Dortmund has always been a side with talented players. The likes of Jan Koller, Tomas Rosicky, Lars Ricken, Andreas Moller, Jens Lehmann, Dede, Christoph Metzelder and numerous others worn the yellow and black. There is a history of winning too, with a Champions League title in 1996/97 and eight Bundesliga titles overall. A side with this history is not a stop-gap for players seeking big moves.
Thomas Tuchel has built a flexible, cohesive side with a mixture of youth and experience that can challenge regularly if given the chance. The increased financial lure of the Premier League poses one problem. The call of Bayern, Barcelona and Real Madrid present another. One can’t put all the blame on the players though.
Lewandowski was somehow allowed to join Bayern without a transfer fee, and it took two seasons for Dortmund to replace him. Gotze was closer to the end of his contract than was beneficial and may have warranted a bigger transfer fee had his release clause been adjusted or removed altogether. Hummels could leave on a free transfer next season but it appears Dortmund will be looking to avoid that as ESPN FC reports that he may sign new deal.
That would be good news for Dortmund, and German football. Bayern flies the flag regularly on the European stage but the continued rise of Tuchel’s side will improve the nation’s chance on that front. The Bundesliga has long been called a one-club league and Dortmund can, again, prove that is not the case.
Claiming a title within the next few seasons would prove as much and Dortmund can’t do that if they continue to lose their best players.
There are certainly situations where the pros or cons of a transfer can be weighed. A monumental transfer fee for a star that can allow for strengthening the entire squad is one such instance. Hummels’ potential transfer doesn’t fall under that category. There are few world-class defenders in their prime, and certainly few with similar skills as the German. Losing Hummels would be a bigger blow than losing Gundogan.
Dortmund are on the rise again, and certainly have the talent in the squad to replicate the successes of the mid 90’s and 2010 onwards. The managers and board need to tie up key talents to avoid potentially damaging losses and the players themselves must assess whether the grass really is greener. Gotze provides a decent example that the answer isn’t always yes.
Ending the season with a trophy would cap a generally successful first season for Tuchel. He will be hoping that he will have little to worry about in the transfer market beyond strengthening his squad.