Borussia Dortmund enjoyed a surprisingly successful season in 2013, an annus mirabilis of the highest sort, advancing all the way to the Champions League Final before losing to in-country rival Bayern Munich.
The narrative written about their encore season, however, has not been very auspicious. Watching some of their best players flirt with "bigger" clubs, Dortmund has been slated for a decline next season, a regression to their previous mean.
But on Sunday that news started to change. Locked in a bidding war with a couple traditional English powers, Dortmund reportedly bested Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in the pursuit of highly sought midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Per The Independent:
The much sought-after Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Shakhtar Donetsk looks likely to join Borussia Dortmund, leaving Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool disappointed.
[They] were unable to come to an agreement for the player, who is also keen on the Champions League football that Dortmund can offer.
The impact Mkhitaryan's signing could have on Dortmund's future is astronomical. Even with the rumored price tag (£20 million, per the report), the young Armenian attacker could prove to be a relative discount given his offensive ceiling.
That ceiling isn't just speculative, either. Last season at Shakhtar Donetsk—a plenty good side in its own right—he scored 26 goals in 39 appearances, including 25 in just 28 league games. Those are prolific totals for any player, but for a midfielder they're even more astounding.
Especially when you factor in Mkhitaryan's age and room for growth. At only 24 years old, Mkhitaryan is only now rounding into his physical prime. With a now proven track record at a top-flight Ukrainian side (38 goals in two years), he should be rounding into his mental prime as well. All the ingredients are there to breed a blue-chip attacking midfielder, the kind of guy worth more than even a £20 million contract.
Borussia Dortmund is in desperate need of help on the attack, too. Not the kind of help that prevents something like relegation, but the kind of help that prevents a massive psychological letdown. One year removed from a Champions League final, they can't afford to lose too much firepower.
Which is exactly how the offseason appeared to be going. At least prior to this report. World-class striker Robert Lewandowski is reportedly on his way out, and even though skipper Sebastian Kehl insists he might be back, that's a pretty hard fact to bank on. And 76 goals in two seasons would be mighty hard to replace.
As would the likes of Mario Gotze at attacking midfield, the position Mkhitaryan would ostensibly inherit upon arriving at Dortmund. Gotze moved to rival Bayern Munich, the Goliath to his former team's David, leaving on the heels of a 16-goal season.
But the stats hardly explicate Gotze's impact on the squad. He was the catalyst of their offense, the engine that made them go, the agent that started their attack.
Without him, and without a top-flight replacement previously slated to take his minutes, Dortmund ran more than a risk of regression. They ran a downright probability of it. They looked poised to validate those who called them a fluky participant in the CL final.
Instead, if this signing goes through, they just looked poised to validate their city's own belief in them. They proved they could play with the big boys on the pitch in 2013, and now they proved they can do the same in a boardroom. Inferior sides can score a fluky goal and secure a fluky result here and there—it happens all the time.
But signing a pricey target away from Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur? That signals more than just serendipity. That signals a change in sporting culture, an ascent toward the top of Germany's football caste.
And if Mkhitaryan performs they way Dortmund—and most everyone else—expects him to on the pitch next season, that ascent could just be beginning.