Before Friday’s exhaustive 1-0 win over TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Borussia Dortmund lay bottom of the Bundesliga with eleven points from thirteen games. They stood twelve points off Champions League qualification, twenty-three off leaders Bayern Munich and tempered ever so cautiously with the stomach-chrurning possibility of Bundesliga relegation.
Rewind eighteen months. Borussia Dortmund have reached the UEFA Champions League final by means of decapitating favourites Real Madrid after a 4-1 home win in which Robert Lewandowski scored four goals at the Signal Iduna Park. Rewind two and a half years. Dortmund have won the Bundesliga for the second consecutive year, blowing Bayern away with a blend of high-pressing, fluid football centered around the footballing philosophy of one man, Jurgen Klopp.
Return to the present day. After three months of the Bundesliga calender, Dortmund, finishing second last season, who had won the previous two titles before that, lie bottom of the table. A club said to have redefined the mould of a modern European elite is now the runt of German football. Whereas not so long ago in the not so distant past clubs scrambled to decode and copy the Dortmund model, the system that was to be the way of the future for European football now exists a wiltering carcus being picked at helplessly by the dregs of German football.
The utter shock alone of looking at the Bundesliga table to see Borussia in eighteenth place is reason enough to send a person’s mind into a spiralling pit of endless questions. How could this have happened? How did this happen? Who is to blame? Is this the end of Dortmund as we so briefly knew them?
Difficult enough as the thought of Dortmund facing the possibility of relegation from the Bundesliga is to consider, the answers to such questions are equally as difficult to answer. Is there one single outstanding reason why Dortmund have lost over 61 per cent of their league games this season, no. Can Dortmund salvage Champions League football for the 2015/16 season, it is difficult to say.
Although Dortmund are suffering their worst start to a league season in the club’s history, the Bundesliga – for all its wonderful infrastructure and high attendances that make it one of Europe’s top leagues – is still quite forgiving. Due to the inconsistency of the club’s that lie atop of Dortmund, if they were to go on a three or four game winning streak they could easily find themselves comfortably mid-table.
Given this lack of competitiveness that has held the Bundesliga back from other top leagues in Europe as the Premier League and La Liga, Dortmund’s crisis could be brief. Saying this, it does not seem likely whatsoever that Dortmund will go on a three or four game winning streak – they are bottom of the table remember
And the simple fact of league football that the team which earns the least number of points will be bottom is of no exception to Dortmund. Borussia are bottom because they have been horridly poor so far this season.
All teams suffer their due of injuries throughout the league season, however in the case of Borussia Dortmund, one would not be wrong in assuming that there was a hoo-doo inflicted upon the muscles, limbs and bones of those playing in yellow and black. The list of injured players currently stands as; Jakub Blaszczykowski (muscle), Sokratis Papastathopoulous (broken leg), Ji-Dong-Won (knee), Marco Reus (ankle) and Ciro Immobile (illness). (Mats Hummels and Adrian Ramos have recovered in the past couple of days). This exceptional number of first-team injuries has undoubtedly impeded Dortmund. Given Dortmund do have an extensive squad filled with high-caliber depth in most positions, it is bizarre the consistency with which their players become injured. BVB have not been able to field their strongest eleven in well over twelve months – the injuries arguably starting with that of Mario Gotze in the lead up to the 2013 UEFA Champions League final.
Star players leaving
This is not a primary reason as to Dortmund’s poor form but it is a contributory factor. With their star players leaving the club season after season, Borussia are constantly left scrambling to fill a void. Starting with Nuri Sahin at the end of the 2010/11 season and following on with the departures of Shinji Kagawa in 2012 as well as the aforementioned Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski both to Bayern in successive summers. The admiration that has gone the way of Dortmund has largely been because of their resilience to perform year after year in spite of these inevitable departures, combined with a significantly lower budget to those teams competing against them in European competition.
New signings not performing
The void of panic from Borrussia with the departures of their top players can ultimately be put down to signing good replacements combined with the merits of a bolstering youth academy. The departure of Kagawa and Sahin created an opportunity for the rise of Gotze and Lewandowski. Following on from this, Gotze’s transfer to Bayern was greeted with a remarkable reason from Marco Reus – the forward scoring 21 goals in the 2013/14 season. (Reus had been bought for only £15 million from Borrussia Mochengladbach two years previous.)
But this season, combined with the low standards of last summer’s new recruits, the lack of impact from the replacements has left the club in its worst state since Jurgen Klopp took charge in 2008. Serie A’s top goalscorer last season Ciro Immobile has managed only two goals so far this campaign. Although plagued by slight injuries, the Italian has looked sluggish for Dortmund, especially given the high hopes pinned on him after his 22 goals for Torino last season. Partnered with Immobile with the task of replacing Robert Lewandowski is Adrian Ramos, formerly of Hertha Berlin. He has also underperformed on his 16 goal tally last season, managing only five goals in sixteen appearances so far this season.
Shinji Kagawa has dipped in performance since his debut goal against Freiburg in mid-September after re-signing for the club after a two-year spell at Manchester United while Nuri Sahin has failed to hit the peaks he showed at his first stint at the Signal Iduna, himself a brief journeyman at Real Madrid and Liverpool. Although Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrik Mkhitaryan have performed well in periods, neither have stood the challenge of replacing the furniture of Gotze and Lewandowski.
Many have gone as far as to blame the very man at the helm at Dortmund. Overseeing his project for over six years now, Klopp has won two Bundesliga titles, one DFB Pokal, two German super-cups as well as guiding Dortmund to the UEFA Champions League final in 2013.He is seen as the architect as well as the builder of all that is the modern Borussia. When he took the job six years ago, Dortmund were facing serious financial difficulties and faced the possibility of bankruptcy. Going through three managers in the 2006/07 season, they finished seventh, while the following season were lucky to avoid relegation, finishing thirteenth.
Klopp is unique as a manager in both his public persona, personality and ideas about the game of football. One of the first managers to successfully implement a modern system of high-pressure orientated football, Klopp won acclaim worldwide for his focus on attacking football and integrating younger players from the club’s youth system into the first-team.
Under Klopp, Dortmund effectively play a system known as Umschaltspiel. In this, Dortmund move the ball from defence to attack in lighting-quick fashion, deploying counter-attacks that break with players that have pace and the technical ability of critical decision-making when passing the ball to team-mates.
All of this has reaped wonderous and seemingly endless rewards for Dortmund, and upon reflection, the current predicament that Dortmund find themselves in is the only notable difficulty that Klopp has had to face in his six-year reign. And behind the poor results many have turned against the manager. Not the fans of BVB, who have backed Klopp since his arrival, but critics of Dortmund see their recent form as a result of burnout. With the sheer amount of energy and robust physical endurance and stamina required for a player to play the Dortmund system, the energy levels and physical condition of Borussia’s players are under scrutiny.This as well as a lack of a Plan B in terms of tactics has seen Klopp take his share of the blame, but the loyal collective of Dortmund fans are certain that Klopp can ride the wave and get the project back on track.
In a recent interview, Jurgen Klopp confessed that those working at Dortmund do in fact know the issues that need to be mended, but that finding a remedy is another issue altogether. “Our problem is not the problem, our problem is the solution”, he said. A telling quote of a man shrouded in mystic and allure, one cannot deny that Klopp keeps his cards held close to his chest. It is also another thing to deny the man that built the enduring legacy of a modern European elite a chance to remedy a mistake. “Usually in football, you are responsible for all faults you make.”
“If it was only a question of luck and a change of coach would make a difference, you only have to call me and I won’t stand in the way. But as long as no-one comes to me and says ‘we have someone who can do better’, I simply can’t leave. I am not standing in the way, but I simply can’t go until there is a better solution. The responsibility is too big.”