Yellow Submarine, why Borussia Dortmund are floating under the surface of Europe’s top clubs

Borussia Dortmund might just be the most likeable football team on the planet, but unfortunately being popular doesn’t bring trophies, the two are poles apart.

Four years ago this month Borussia Dortmund won their last major title, beating Bayern Munich 5-2 in the final of the DFB Pokal. The win was hardly a shock, BVB had sealed their second league title in succession just weeks before. However, in recent years Dortmund have found themselves as runner up in each competition they’ve entered, some on multiple occasions.

Dortmund have made the transition from a struggling local team to one of Europe’s best run clubs, they boast a global following and top-quality international players. The popularity of Dortmund relates to the club ethos, a historical team that sticks to its morals. Dortmund are a humble club that will never splash the cash just for the sake of it, and it’s a miracle that they’re as high as they are in the European club rankings, despite having never spent more than £21 million on a player, but this financially positive scenario was once a distant prospect.

At the turn of the century, Borussia Dortmund became the first publicly traded club on the German stock market, and are still the only club that operates in this way. The move didn’t go immediately to plan and left Dortmund with huge financial issues for the next few years.

Poor management decisions led to Dortmund falling under huge debt, leading to the sale of their Westfalenstadion ground which was followed by a loss to Club Brugge in the 2003/04 Champions League qualifying round. In 2003 Bayern Munich, who are now seen as Dortmund’s nemesis and rival, gave BVB a €2 million loan so that they could afford to pay their players wages and stay afloat.  The team still plays at Westfalenstadion, but the stadium was renamed the Signal Iduna Park after a local insurance company after a 2006 sponsorship agreement that runs until 2016, a deal that was completed in order to cut debts.

The question has to be asked of Dortmund and if they’re too fixated on not slipping back into their financially unstable past, to fully concentrate on becoming a European powerhouse. If you look at all of the title winning teams around Europe they have many things in common, PSG, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, and Juventus are privately owned, filthy rich and have no issue with the possibility of making a temporary financial loss if trophies are likely to be won.

The Dortmund side of recent years seem to have lost their cutting edge and ability to claim silverware. Despite having a wonderful record of 19 wins or more in the Bundesliga in every year since their last title, discounting Jurgen Klopp’s turbulent last season in charge where the club were bottom at Christmas but rose to seventh, finding their feet after the winter break. This season Dortmund amassed three more points than they did in their title winning season of 2010/11, but still found themselves 10 points off top spot.

Dr. Udo Merkel is a Senior Lecturer in Events Management. He holds various degrees from British and German universities and is also a lifelong Borussia Dortmund fan.

“I saw my first match when I was a child as my father took me to the old stadium but I became a proper fan as a teenager when the team were playing in the second Bundesliga. Over the years I’ve seen massive changes, from a struggling local team to one of Europe’s best run clubs with global following and drawing on top-quality international players.”

“Dortmund is highly competitive, operates like a commercial enterprise, buys and sells players, is keen to make money and so on. I would argue that they have a very smart branding strategy which emphasises local traditions and emotional connections (with the fans) in a global business environment.”

The business environment at Dortmund is unlike any other club and is in many ways far more favourable than the biggest football clubs around Europe, but the fact remains that Dortmund have been far from successful in acquiring titles in recent years and Dr Merkel believes this can be put down to a simple statement; “Bayern Munich are richer than Borussia Dortmund, and therefore more successful”.

The fact is that the modern game does revolve around money, but it isn’t decided by it, Leicester City managed to stay above 19 other Premier League teams for the vast majority and crucially until the end of the season. They did this with a wage budget a tiny portion of the size that the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and the two Manchester Clubs boast. Borussia Dortmund although less than some, still spend vast amounts of money on wages and transfers, more than enough to in no way be fully satisfied with second place and no silverware each season.

Jonathan Harding is a Bundesliga journalist and a Borussia Dortmund commentator, he agrees that the changes from Dortmund will have to be bigger and better if they are to reach the level of Munich.

“Dortmund’s inability to keep star players is less to do with money in recent years, but more to do with the fact Bayern are one of the top teams in the world. That status is earned over decades. Dortmund are on the right path, but have a long way to go in terms of offering the trophy opportunities Bayern and others can. In terms of tying new players up, there’s no doubt the boardroom need to improve their ability to get deals done. The business side of the club needs to improve if it wishes to try and keep up with the red army from down south.”

Dortmund haven’t just failed over the regular Bundesliga seasons, they have failed on one off occasions countless times. Beginning with the Champions League final in 2012. Dortmund lost in extra time to rivals Bayern and again in the DFB Pokal final two years later, conceding twice during extra time. The latest of these defeats to Bayern was in this year’s final of the same competition. The game proved to be a tactical battle between Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel and was scoreless for the full 90 and then the 30 minutes of extra time, before the penalty shoot-out summed up the problem, the Dortmund players lost composure sending penalties wide and also straight at Neuer, Bayern were calm and dispatched with aplomb. Borussia Dortmund are mentally inferior to their Bavarian rivals when it matters the most.

Time and time again when Dortmund and Bayern play each other the same events happen, the talent in the yellow becomes watered down, and is eventually outran and out finished.

Bayern are usually there for the taking, long seasons take their toll as they did last night, Bayern failed to score in open play and Dortmund’s front line missed chance after chance to put the game to bed, but failure to do so left the confidence battle of the shoot-out which was always going to end one way.

Unless Borussia Dortmund can have a complete change in mind-set, and leave the idea of being an inferior club behind, then adding to the trophy cabinet will become a memory that remains in the past for the foreseeable future.


2 thoughts on “Yellow Submarine, why Borussia Dortmund are floating under the surface of Europe’s top clubs

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