Watzke-Bosz-Zorc: a new triumvirate in town.
It’s July 2017 and Borussia Dortmund are on an entirely new path again. With brand new manager in charge, four good signings and a fresh pre-season victory over revamped AC Milan side, Die Schwarzgelben can look into the future with optimism – providing, of course, that the remaining four weeks of the transfer window won’t weaken their squad again…
Last season wasn’t exactly the best time for BVB in terms of keeping their assets intact. Once two Manchester clubs have paid £60 million for Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gündogan, it became clear that Dortmund’s midfield will needs reinforcements. At the same time, Mats Hummels’ departure for Bayern Munich hurt even more, as the club lost their best centre-back to the main domestic rivals. Overall, sporting director Michael Zorc has registered the transfer profit of nearly £100 million, a sum that could easily guarantee two or three terrific replacements.
But that was where the first hiccup happened. Reportedly, manager Thomas Tuchel couldn’t really come to an agreement with Zorc regarding the summer targets. As a result, Borussia’s new legion of players has turned out to be a hit-or-miss affair. £25 million man André Schürrle, hired as Mkhitaryan’s replacement, struggled with both his knees and his sporting shape, providing just 5 goals and 2 assists in 25 appearances for his new team. The old BVB favourite, Mario Götze, did even worse – in the space of just three years, he went from a “World Cup-winning goalscorer” to “two goals in four months” type of player.
Fortunately for Tuchel and Zorc, the 2016/17 campaign has been partially rescued by the reinforcements from France. Clairefontaine product and EURO 2016 champion, Raphaël Guerreiro, had at least a dozen of brilliant performances and his seamless transition from left-back to a defensive midfielder has been a reminiscent of Philipp Lahm’s ventures under Pep Guardiola. Even more goods have been delivered by Ousmane Dembélé. At a tender age of 20, the the former Rennes winger has come second in the assist table, outrunning names like Franck Ribéry or Arjen Robben. Overall, the Frenchman had his hand on 29 goals, picking up Bundesliga’s Rookie of the Season award in the process.
It didn’t stop the bitter taste of unfulfillment, though. After resounding victories over Darmstadt, Wolfsburg and Freiburg, Dortmund went through a crisis in October, when they’ve only picked up three points from four league games and needed a penalty shootout to eliminate the Second-Division Union Berlin. There was a good reason for all this: by the middle of the month, Signal Iduna Park’s been hit by no less than eleven (!) injuries, forcing Tuchel to stick with far-from-ideal starting lineups. To illustrate the extent of the damage: in Lisbon, during BVB’s lone November victory over Sporting CP, the boss was forced to put two goalkeepers and 19-years old academy graduate Dzenis Burnic on the team’s bench.
The disappointment further amplified in the new year, when BVB were just gaining the momentum. From January till April, the team has won 12 out of 16 games in all competitions, marking this fine run with eliminating Hertha from the DfB Cup, avenging the first-round 0-2 defeat to Leverkusen with a 6-2 rout and stomping Benfica in the Champions League rematch. Unfortunately, what followed that was a painful, 1-4 loss to Bayern and the subsequent, 2-3 UCL home crash to Monaco. In both of these crucial matches, Dortmund were losing ground quickly, trailing by two goals well before the half-time whistle, only to fight desperately and unsuccessfully for a comeback.
To be fair, Mbappé’s opener was miles offside…
Ultimately, the circumstances of a Monaco defeat have only increased the tension between Zorc and Tuchel. Faced with a terrorist attack on their bus and the need of rescheduling, the Borussia director of football has agreed to play the game only 24 hour after the incident. Reportedly, that decision’s been made without Tuchel’s involvement, which, in turn, caused an outrage of the manager, who expected much further postponement. All things considered, he was right: following the explosion that resulted with Marc Bartra’s injuries, the team looked visibly distracted the next day and Kylian Mbappé has promptly taken advantage of that fact. The backroom fallout was growing stronger.
On April 19th, when all that happened, nobody knew that the fate of Dortmund’s management will be decided just the next day and only 39 km away from the club’s headquarters. But it was: at Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen, Schalke have been mercilessly hammering Ajax for over 100 minutes, taking their Europa League tie to the extra-time and then, scoring a 3-0 goal in what looked like a certain promotion to the semi-finals. And then, a miracle happened: down to ten men and with ten final minutes left on the clock, the visitors scored through a true poacher’s effort from the left-back, Nick Viergever. After a horror of a game, it was the Dutch side who were going through.
For their manager, Peter Bosz, it was certainly the brightest moment in years. Less than 12 months earlier, the former Feyenoord midfielder was working in Israel, earning a victory after victory for the local powerhouse, Maccabi Haifa. Prior to that, two rough spells with Heracles Almelo and a relegation while in charge of De Graafschaap weren’t exactly the glory or fulfilment. This time, though, things worked out great: after a fluke quarterfinal success, young lads from Amsterdam have manhandled Lyon and earned themselves a trip to Stockholm. So even though Ajax came out of the 2016/17 season without a single trophy in their hands – Bosz has already put himself on the map.
Now that the Dutchman is ruling Dortmund, he’d be pleased to know that Zorc has already avoided the mistakes from the previous campaign. Not only BVB are set to keep their key players this summer; they’ve also signed Ömer Toprak from Leverkusen. The player, who, ironically, was one of the first men on Tuchel’s list, has confirmed his arrival as early as in February, when it become clear that his contract at Leverkusen will not be renewed. The same urgency applied to yet another promising acquisition: Mahmoud Dahoud from Mönchengladbach. Already in March, BVB have won the quiet race to sign the young midfielder, who’s been also on Liverpool’s and Paris Saint-Germain’s radars.
More good news followed in the recent couple of weeks, when the team’s best forward, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, has all but confirmed his stay for the next season. Less than a month ago, the Gabonese star looked destined to join a truly big club with Chelsea, AC Milan and, most importantly, PSG emerging as his potential employers. A swoop worth in excess of £60 million has suddenly become far less likely when media leaked that ‘Auba’ demands at least £200.000 in wages and a £9 millon fee for his agent. As it turns out: even these days, there is a point where a pro footballer can overplay his hand in the contract negotiations – and here, the clubs have unanimously cooled their interest.
For the man in question, this should not be a problem. After reconciling with his bosses, he’s more than likely to continue the rampage that earned him 2016/17 Bundesliga’s Golden Boot and the fifth place on the list of Borussia’s all-time best goalscorers (behind Burgsmüller, Emmerich, Chapuisat and… Michael Zorc!). At 28, he’s now peaking – and even if his old promise of joining Real Madrid one day cannot be kept, he surely has a chance to catch up with the BVB legends from the old days. In fact, if he keeps up current pace, he should asecend the top of the list by December 2018:
As hopeful as Dortmund fans are about their main man’s prospects, what they still want the most is one, injury-free season for their vice-captain. Older than his colleague by just 19 days, Marco Reus has already lost over two years of his professional career in various physio rooms – and that number just cannot stop growing. The man, whose 2014 World Cup and 2016 EUROS both got denied by health issues, is currently dealing with a serious cruciate ligaments problem he’s picked up in the won German Cup final, against Eintracht Frankfurt. The winger is now facing at least four months on the sidelines; according to club physios, he might even miss the reminder of this calendar year.
What’s particularly upsetting here is how uplifting Reus’ presence can be whenever he’s fit to play. The first time he’s returned to action last season, he’d score a brace and assist Dembélé’s goal in a record-breaking, crazy 8-4 win over Legia in the Champions League. Before another muscular blow happened, he’d bag a total number of four goals and four assists in just five matches. The same pattern emerged between mid-April and the end of May – after one more return, Marco would score a goal in each of his first four appearances, help his team to away wins over Gladbach and Bayern, add three more goals against Hoffenheim and Werder Bremen, only to see himself suffering again.
For the new boss at Signal Iduna Park, every bit of help he could get will be welcome. Starting from August, the competition in Bundesliga might be tightest in years: runners-up from Leipzig are likely to keep their star players like Werner, Keita or Forsberg, while the sensational Hoffenheim and always solid Hertha could easily challenge for the top three again. In terms of schedule, BVB drew a demanding set of early fixtures: Wolfsburg away, Hertha at home, then, the last years’ overachievers from Cologne and Freiburg. The goal remains the same: to secure the 2nd place, threaten Bayern’s lead for as long as possible and advance at least to Champions League quarterfinal. According to SkyBet.com, this time, Dortmund’s UCL odds are nearly two times bigger than Monaco’s…