It seems like yesterday that Borussia Dortmund were one of Europe’s elite with their frantic pressing a benchmark and indeed, hindrance to the heavyweights of European club football. The reasons behind their dramatic fall last season have been delved into. Cabral Opiyo looks past the whys and into the extent of German giant’s fall.
The past two seasons before last the plucky Dortmund were swatted aside by Bayern Munich but last season their heady days were consigned to distant, nostalgic memory. The reality of the matter is, Dortmund have been kicked out of the royalty’s banquet and they have to start from scratch because not only have they been dethroned, they have been stripped of their titles, lands and servants and put on floor scrubbing duty in the kitchens. Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Monchengladbach, Augsburg and even the woe peddlers Schalke are ahead of them in the pecking order.
Jurgen Klopp’s lack of a sustainable plan B was thoroughly exposed last season and even relegation was a feasible option at some point before they pulled off a Pulisesque claw back during an exhilarating Ruckrunde. The result was an upcoming slog in the preliminary rounds of the Europa league, a distraction they would rather do without in what will largely be a ‘transitional’ season under the less charismatic but nonetheless hugely enigmatic Thomas Tuchel. Wolfsburg under Volkswagen’s unmitigated financial wing, Bayer Leverkusen under pharmaceutical conglomerate Bayer who had an operating income of 3.96 billion Euros in 2013 and Borussia Monchengladbach under the shrewd management of Max Eberl and Lucien Favre will not be pushovers.
Schalke backed by controversial energy giant Gazprom have resources to at least match Borussia Dortmund’s spending and new, talented coach Andre Bretenreiter won’t preside over a shambles like Robert Di Matteo and Jens Keller before him. Even lowly Augsburg have the highly over performing Markus Weinzierl at the helm and can’t be dismissed as one season wonders as they’ve repeated their miracle two seasons in a row. Werder Bremen are like a team plugged into a high intensity energy machine under Victor Skripnik and if Dortmund stumble they might find themselves lounging in midtable.
The reality for Dortmund is that they can’t afford to have a disastrous transition season otherwise they bear the risk of watching the tail lights of their competitors. They might inexplicably surge up the table and even finish in the top three or they could gob smack a few and tumble down the table alarmingly. The misconception that Bundesliga is a highly uncompetitive league is very insular, uneducated and lazy but fits the twitter and increasingly influential social media opinion influencing narrative. The sub plots in mid table and the dynamics at the foot of the table make the Bundesliga perhaps the most captivatingly raw competitive league, after all, is a league to be judged solely on its title race because if so the Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Premier League have a lot to answer for.
Hans-Joachim Watzke and Michael Zorc are highly respected figures and as the remaining two thirds of perhaps the most daring trio in the Bundesliga in the past five years have their work cut out for them, investment has to be significant and decisive. Dortmund cannot afford to scrap for second rate, second tier players and expect first rate results. The quality of the first eleven at Dortmund has declined so sharply it could be 1930 depression era America in Westphalia. Only Marco Reus, a pre-chronic injury Ilkay Gundogan and fleetingly Mats Hummels would get into any of the top two teams in the country. Mano a mano, Dortmund comes out worse for wear in a combined league XI. A solid bench has increasingly been cultivated, but they wouldn’t pull up many trees.
Cheap, relatively unknown buys from obscure leagues in Europe and Asia paid off big time in Jurgen Klopp’s heydays, but the days of an unpolished Shinji Kagawa and totemic but raw Robert Lewandowski are well and truly over. Instead the buys have seemed to flop like a badly baked cake in a temperamental oven in the Kremlin during the cold war. Ciro Immobile, Mathias Ginter, Adrian Ramos and Dong Won Ji hardly set hearts racing at the Westfalenstadion and this very apparent decline in quality translates itself on the pitch. Jurgen Klopp’s finest, free-flowing and most sublime teams were all perfectly chosen for the Gegenpress and they executed the tactical variations to a T, as the team disbanded and less able lieutenants were brought in the style and effect suffered, the consequence didn’t require a genius to figure out. Klopp was a walking dead man, he attempted to cling onto tried and tested formations but Die Schwarzgelben had been unclothed, but they continued striding about like the emperor without clothes.
How far have they fallen? In Europe they were for a season the benchmark and standard setters for envious clubs, even the elite allowed them to squeeze between them on the already crowded, plush sofa, now they would be the doormat before the main carpet if they were to be put up against the very best. In Germany they are not even guaranteed a top five finish so Europe is pushing it. Maybe in the Europa league they have found their dangerously deceiving peers.
How far have they fallen? They’ve been reduced to staring like a child punished, out of the upstairs bedroom window, face plastered on the glass as other children gorge themselves with Ice cream from the ice cream van down the street, bell tolling, belt totting parent behind them.
Written by Cabral Opiyo
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