Borussia Dortmund may have lost their captain and one of their most influential players to rivals Bayern, but they’re still well placed to challenge the Bavarians.
The natural reaction to Mats Hummels’ transfer to FC Bayern München was to gift wrap the championship for the Bavarians. Hummels, captain of Borussia Dortmund, was the latest in a host of players prized away from the Westfalenstadion. The path to Munich was straddled by Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
It’s another setback in Dortmund’s attempts to overthrow the perennial kings of German football. But in response, the Bundesliga side have beaten off attempts from Europe’s top clubs to sign prodigious Rennes outside-forward Ousmane Dembele. He will cost around 30 million euros, and represents a sign of strength from the yellow-and-blacks given Dembele was courted by Bayern too.
Since making his top-flight debut in November 2015, he has scored 12 goals for the Ligue 1 side. News travels fast and before the winger had even made his first appearance, scouts from across Europe were tracking the forward, including Bayern and Dortmund. While we might not see Dembele’s full potential immediately, such an expensive layout – and one or two more are expected – is a sign that life goes on without Hummels.
The biggest assets are off the pitch
What should keep Borussia Dortmund competitive in the transfer market is the non-financial incentives. Dortmund are regularly boasting one of the highest attendances in European football. Their fans are now internationally renowned for colour, loyalty and atmosphere. Meanwhile, the Bundesliga, internationally, is regarded as the ideal place for player development given it’s intense and high-level competition.
As clubs in the English Premier League see revenues soar from a lucrative broadcasting contract, Germany has become a prominent target market for clubs. Money is shifting away from France and other competitors towards the Bundesliga, where there appears to be limitless pots of high-quality talent.
Clubs like Tottenham and West Ham are upsetting the conventional food chain in European football, which should be deemed a threat to Dortmund and FC Schalke 04, among others. Disadvantages breed innovation. German clubs are now forced to be more effective in the market, while continually developing players as sellable assets.
And this player development is one of the responsibilities of head coach Thomas Tuchel. Just a glance towards the work done with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and to a certain extent, American teenager Christian Pulisic shows what is possible. It’s little surprise that Dembele, and even Julian Weigl, who joined from 1860 Munich last summer, wouldn’t hesitate to work under Tuchel.
New season, similar targets
Dortmund are realistic in setting their expectations. If Bayern perform to their maximum, the Bavarians will win the championship. However, when they stumble, the yellow-and-blacks want to position themselves so they can take advantage.
Finishing as the best runners-up in Bundesliga history certainly would have allowed Dortmund to do so, in the event of a Bayern slump. Competing in the Champions League will be prioritised next season, but second- place, at least, will be expected in the German top flight and silverware in the German Cup is an added bonus.
If Dortmund’s trajectory continues under Tuchel, they’ll be expected to reach their goals.