Nothing in football can match the feeling of a comprehensive victory over your arch rivals. In Germany, the “mother of all derbys” is the Revierderby, contested between Borussia Dortmund and fellow Ruhr outfit FC Schalke. This fixture takes precedence for the weekend, and has fans of the Black and Yellows and the Royal Blues, as well as neutrals, drooling days beforehand. The most recent Revierderby culminated in a resounding, and deserved, 3-0 success for Dortmund, making a mockery of respective league position. This has prompted many of the Gelbe Wand (Dortmund’s die-hard fans in the “yellow wall”) to believe that Jürgen Klopp’s men have weathered the storm of their appalling league form this season. This derby win was Borussia’s fourth consecutively in the Bundesliga, which actually matches the number of victories notched in the entire first half of the season in the competition. The thirteen goals scored in these four games surpass the twelve scored in the previous sixteen. Therefore, those in Germany’s eighth largest city can be forgiven for thinking that a corner has been turned.
Was there real cause for concern in the first place?
Unquestionably, a club of this stature should not be in the Bundesliga doldrums. Losing five in a row from September to November, and dropping a two goal lead at newly promoted Paderborn, stand out as particular low points. Matters came closest to breaking point following a 0-1 reverse at home to ten-man Augsburg in early February. This triggered irate fans to berate the side to such a degree that Roman Weidenfeller and Mats Hummels had to scale the pitch-side fence to reconcile the supporters. This match also marked a turning point, as the Black and Yellows won their next four games – including the aforementioned Revierderby. It should also be noted that Dortmund were pitted against top of the table Bayern Munich during the barren spell, as well as tough games against Schalke and Wolfsburg (who snatched a late equaliser courtesy of Naldo). Given the standard of some of the opposition, and the relatively short space of time before normality seemed to be restored, perhaps the alarm bells were raised too early.
However, these poor domestic performances did not transcend national borders; Borussia’s Champions League form has been more than commendable. An aggregate victory of 8-1 over Galatasaray and victories over Arsenal and Anderlecht helped Dortmund win Group D on goal difference, and qualify for the last sixteen with ease. A club in so-called “turmoil” won four games in the toughest club competition in the world. Again, perhaps the footballing world worried too soon for Dortmund.
Many point to the way in which BVB do business, as a reason for contemporary “decline”. Consistently selling your best players to your rival cannot be deemed sustainable in any way. Robert Lewandowski and Mario Götze have left the Westfalenstadion in recent years, not only harming Dortmund, but aiding Bayern Munich. The boomerang that is Shinji Kagawa left for Manchester United in 2012, returning two years later, but has failed to replicate his original form.
That said, the replacements for these players have undoubted skill and are starting to showcase their talent. Armenian Henrik Mkhitaryan is beginning to find his feet in the Bundesliga, whilst Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has ten goals so far – no mean feat in a team struggling for so long. In terms of retaining current stars, this summer is pivotal for Borussia. World Cup winners Marco Reus and Mats Hummels head a list of those expected to leave. Marco Reus recently signed a contract extension to 2019, giving a glimmer of hope to the Dortmund fans. This may signal his intent to stay, or it may dictate that when he does leave, Die Borussen will receive a much higher transfer fee. Reus is reportedly a target for Arsenal and Real Madrid (amongst others), meaning the amount he will go for is likely to be astronomical.
With this invested wisely in the already proven academy system, and on a few big money players, Dortmund could still challenge at the top of the Bundesliga. If Reus is to stay, much hinges on his belief in the team’s recent resurgence. In terms of any potentially “better” offers he receives, only Reus can judge if the grass is greener elsewhere. Sadly, though, the allure of the Ruhr seems to be waning.
In recent history Dortmund have won back to back Bundesliga titles, in 2011 and 2012, and reached the Champions league final in 2013. When compared directly to these achievements it is natural that this season looks disappointing, and it is. Considering how just ten years ago the club was on the brink of bankruptcy, this year is far from calamitous. Then Dortmund survived due to generous loans from, amongst others, Bayern Munich. In comparison to those days, recent ill fortune is minor.
The 2014/15 Bundesliga will be one Jürgen Klopp hopes fades into distant memory, despite the current upturn in fortunes. Desires of continuing this recent rich vein of form into next year will be affected by the decisions of Reus and Hummels. However, with intelligent maneuvering in the transfer market, these two can be replaced – no player is bigger than the club. Adversity is in the DNA of Borussia Dortmund, and this season is just a minor bump in the autobahn.