In the modern game, success is often bought just as much as it is earned. To challenge on all fronts, the common view is that you need massive financial backing. As unromantic a viewpoint as this is, in the past decade or so, it has been very much the case.
But, every now and then, a team will buck the trend and triumph against the odds. On occasions, it has been Barcelona. But in the here and now, it’s Borussia Dortmund (BVB).
Under the enigmatic Jurgen Klopp, they have implemented years of sensible but ambitious development, a clear philosophy and a focus on promoting young, talented players. Now, somewhat remarkably, BVB are one game away from the ultimate prize. For this weekend, they will take on their domestic rivals and German Champions Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.
The average football fan has fallen in love with Dortmund after their recent resurgence. For in many respects, they are the antithesis of the modern game that has alienated so many supporters.
They aren’t reliant on a wealthy backer, they trust their youngsters and they charge relative pennies for their ticket prices. This all accumulates in a genuine affection existing between the players, fans and manager. The results have been astounding, as two German titles and a German Cup have followed.
For the football romantic, a Dortmund team winning the Champions League final would really be one in the eye for modern football. They will be the neutrals pick when both teams take to the pitch at Wembley.
But you get the impression that this weekend’s clash is do or die for BVB. If Dortmund and Jurgen Klopp are going to together write their names in European football history, then Saturday’s final represents their biggest and potentially last chance for many a year.
It may seem misguided to be predicting the decline of a club that has been on the up for the past eight years. But Dortmund are relative paupers in comparison to other European juggernauts. Unfortunately for them, when a team of their comparatively humble stature has such high-profile success, vultures begin to circle.
We’ve seen it before. Porto and Monaco were unexpected finalists in this competition in 2004. But both teams were subsequently broken up, as the more illustrious names came in and pinched almost all of their prize assets.
Even in the past couple of seasons, absorbing, eye-catching sides like Napoli and Athletic Bilbao have made a remarkable impression in European competitions; that before the inevitable transfer sagas ensued and shunted the development of both sides.
For Dortmund, this unenviable and yet inevitable procedure has already begun. Mario Gotze, the golden boy of German football, has already agreed a deal to leave BVB and sign for rivals Bayern. Robert Lewandowski too, the man who smashed in four goals against Real Madrid in that historic 4-1 win, also looks set to leave the club. Bayern again, look set to be his destination.
Dortmund will of course be suitably compensated for any departing players and Klopp has shown himself to be astute in the transfer market. But his has never been Dortmund’s style under the former Mainz man.
In fact, since the club’s near bankruptcy in 2005 they have been very careful with their finances. So much so, that their emphasis on using the academy, not to mention the unity and togetherness that has consequentially stemmed from this, contributes to a significant part of their much celebrated image.
We were witness to this against Real Madrid, as a team with that hardworking, unified mindset turned over a collection of superstars.
But what Klopp has done remarkably well, is turned these players into superstars, almost with them even realizing. The players and manager resemble a group of friends, enjoying their football and each other’s company. In reality however, Dortmund is now home to some of Europe’s best.
But with perhaps the two crown jewels – Gotze and Lewandowski – gone, can you really see Dortmund challenging at the pinnacle of European football again next season?
It looks unlikely. Replacing those two in itself will be a difficult enough task, but the transfers could ruin the dynamic that currently exists at Dortmund. Klopp himself actually spoke of the distress the transfer of Gotze has caused some of his current playing staff.
Keeping that dynamic will be challenging for Dortmund and Klopp. And this will become even trickier when you ponder the strides taken by their competitors. Bayern in particular. By signing Gotze, not only have they picked up one of the brightest young players of this generation, they have considerably weakened their major rivals, domestically and in European competition.
It is a statement of massive intent, too. Gotze is (or was) Dortmund through and through, having been at the club for all of his footballing life. He is challenging for the top honors on a regular basis, yet even he couldn’t resist the lure of Bayern, Pep Guardiola and the riches that will ultimately follow. After all, if Gotze can be tempted away, why not others?
This season has been full of positives for the German game, with the monopolization of the Champions League final merely the cherry on top. But the league looks unlikely to be competitive for the foreseeable future. Bayern won the Bundesliga by 20 points this season and they are intent on improving their already daunting squad at the expense of some of their immediate rivals.
Looking ahead, Dortmund will bring in new players and with Klopp at the helm, they will probably be of a very high calibre. But rebuilding a squad to win the Champions League will not happen overnight. Their current team and the groundwork that has gone into it, is proof of that.
But on Saturday, Dortmund have the chance to emulate their 1997 European Cup winning side and write their name in the annals of European Football history. It would be fantastic for them to grasp their opportunity and give us something truly memorable to associate this remarkable side with.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball