When Jurgen Klopp, Roman Weindefeller, Mats Hummels and Sebastien Kehl lifted their second Bundesliga on the bounce in 2012, few football fans around the world would have predicted it would be the last time, to date, that the Black and Yellow would be getting their hands on the title.
This was, after all, a side that had gone 28 league games unbeaten from October until the end of the season in May, done the double over arch-rivals Schalke, finished the season 8 points clear of Bayern Munich and even smashed their Bavarian rivals 5–2 in that year’s DFP Pokal final.
Bayern Munich are a side that don’t do second-best humiliations, however. Seemingly fuelled by the hurt of the season gone, under the ambition of legendary figure Jupp Heynckes, Bayern would make a determined effort to get back to the top and within a year that had succeeded Dortmund as champions of both the Bundesliga and the DFP Pokal.
Turning The Tide
The 2013 Champions League Final would prove to be Dortmund’s final appearance amongst the true elites of Europe, with Arjen Robben’s painful last-gasp winner putting the nail in the coffin that was the power shift from the yellow of Dortmund to the red of Bavarian Munich.
Even before the two sides kicked off for that fateful match at Wembley, the wheels had been set in motion for the tide of German football to begin turning. Mario Gotze, Germany’s hottest prospect and the cornerstone of Borussia Dortmund as a club at the time, had announced that he would be transferring to Munich after the game.
A major coup for Bayern as it was, Gotze was just the first name on a far too long list of players the Black and Yellow would surrender to both their Bavarian rivals, and fellow rival clubs around Europe; talisman Shinji Kagawa had left in 2012, the world’s best no.9, Robert Lewandowski, joined Bayern in 2014, Mats Hummels also joined the Bavarian giants in 2016, Ilkay Gundogan joined Manchester City in the same window and regular first-team stars Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ousmane Dembele and Henrikh Mkhitaryan departed the club in the 2017/18 campaign.
Whilst managers such as Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel have made a name for themselves transforming the sides they manage, there’s only so much they can maintain when a club is letting go of their absolute best players, to their rivals no less.
That isn’t even taking into account Dortmund’s hit-and-miss transfer strategy over the course of the decade, with the likes of Ciro Immobile and Kevin Kampl demanding high fees and yielding very little return on the pitch.
Since their last title triumph in 2012, their eighth triumph in the club’s history, Borussia Dortmund have finished in 2nd, 2nd, 7th, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 2nd. With the 2018/19 season excluded, the closest they had come to the Bundesliga title was a 10 point deficit in 2015/16. They have only won the DFP Pokal once, in 2016/17, and are yet to feature in a Champions League Semi-final since their appearance in 2013.
To be frank, these are not the kind of statistics you want to be reading if your the second wealthiest club in Germany, possess the biggest stadium in the country and the second biggest in the entire continent, and boast the kind of heritage Dortmund do.
Be Bold, Be Brave
For Dortmund fans up and down the land, each and every transfer window must have felt like holding your breath, bracing yourself for the damage caused by yet another mass exodus of talent leaving your ranks.
That seemed to change in 2018/19, however. The appointment of former Borussia Monchengladbach boss Lucien Favre coincided with a window that saw the likes of Abdou Diallo, Thomas Delaney and Paco Alcacer all coming in from established sides, with centre-back Sokratis the only real first teamer to initially leave.
The subsequent results on the pitch were truly telling; Dortmund won all but three of their opening 15 league games, tasting their first defeat as late as the middle of December. The team was playing exhilarating and gutsy football, pulling out wins that looked certain to be beyond them at times, with the highlights being a 4–0 trouncing of Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, and even a 3–2 Der Klassiker win over Bayern in early November.
Three successive draws in February stalled their title push however, and the same old frailties eventually came to the fold as Dortmund fell to dismal 5–0 and 4–2 losses against rivals Bayern and Schalke respectively, which would prove enough to steal the title away from the Black and Yellow. In true Dortmund fashion, they became the first Bundesliga side to be on top of the table by the 20th game mark, but not win the league.
In his debut campaign, Lucien Favre had taken a side that had finished 4th with 55 points, to two points away from a title on 76.
No More Excuses
The 2018/19 season had ended in agonisingly disappointing fashion for Dortmund, however it had also shown the side’s ability to compete at the top tiers of German football once again. With the exception of Abdou Diallo’s transfer to PSG, the club were able to hold onto all of their star names in preparation for the new season.
On top of this, the impressive signings of Thorgan Hazard from Borussia Monchengladbach, Nico Shulz from Hoffenheim and Julian Brandt from Bayer Leverkusen were a serious statement of intent from the Black and Yellow. To be blunt, these were the kinds of signings Bayern Munich were used to making when they romped to a league title.
At the time of writing, Borussia Dortmund have just successfully negotiated the 2019/20 Champions League’s ‘Group of Death’, finishing in second place behind Barcelona and ahead of Inter Milan and Slavia Praha and booking their place in the last 16. They are currently third in the Bundesliga on 26 points after 14 games, two points ahead of Bayern Munich and five behind leaders Borussia Monchengladbach.
2019/20 represents Dortmund’s best shot at seriously winning some of the silverware they’ve neglected over the past eight years or so. Bayern are faltering, they boast a side more than capable of pushing the league’s leading sides all the way and their only opponent remains the mental blocks and shocking upsets that have hounded their seasons in years gone by…
We shall see what the future has in store for the Black and Yellow.