Borussia Dortmund: A Plan for Becoming a Global Superpower

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2014

Borussia Dortmund: A Plan for Becoming a Global Superpower

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    "We need to change everything," Borussia Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc told WAZ (via Goal.com) in a recent interview. "We need to evolve again and again, the departure of one or the other offers the chance to do so."

    Fans can expect a fair bit of turbulence going forward if the BVB chief sticks to his word. The 2011 and 2012 Bundesliga champions are in a transition period, with Robert Lewandowski set to leave for Bayern in the summer and Ilkay Gundogan linked with Real Madrid. Marco Reus could be on his way out the door, too, if his release clause (which takes effect in the summer of 2015) is activated.

    Dortmund have undergone a tremendous development in the last few seasons, winning two Bundesliga titles, the DFB Pokal and reaching the Champions League final. But their success has prompted big clubs to pick them apart, despite their best efforts to extend the contracts of their stars prematurely.

    As coach Juergen Klopp recently said, per Goal.com:

    It has always been clear to us that our best players would be leaving at some point. I have already said for a few years now that it's up to us to make sure that Borussia Dortmund develop into a club where players want to go and then want to stay, too.

    However, we are not there just yet as a club.

    Dortmund are well on their way to becoming a big club, but as Zorc said, there are plenty of changes needed for that to happen. Click "Begin Slideshow" for analysis of the steps BVB must take in order to realize their potential and emerge as long-term giants of European football.

Short Term: Make Marco Reus into BVB's Maradona

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    One thing that stands out about Diego Maradona is that, while he could have played for any club on the planet, he spent his best years (from ages 24-31) at Napoli. He led Napoli to their only two Serie A titles, the Coppa Italia, the UEFA Cup and the Italian Supercoppa. For this, and despite his drug habit, the Argentine is revered as a god at the Stadio San Paolo.

    Dortmund are in desperate need of a similar figure. And that could be Marco Reus.

    Reus is a Dortmund native, a graduate of the club's academy and the most individually decisive member of the team. He arguably is also the most coveted among Juergen Klopp's men. If he were to turn down the opportunity to join a traditional superpower (as he did in turning down Bayern for BVB in 2012) and sign a new deal without a buyout clause, it could be a turning point in Dortmund's history—a signal to the club's players and potential signings that BVB have ambitions greater than to be a selling club.

    Dortmund will have to make Reus the highest-paid player in the club's history and will likely have to offer a competitive wage in excess of €7 million per season. He's worth it. The club's image is worth it.

Short Term: Have a Good Summer 2014 Transfer Window

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    With Lewandowski and possibly Gundogan on the move, and following a disastrous first half of 2013-14, Dortmund will desperately need reinforcements ahead of next season. Injuries and fatigue took their toll on the club and cannot be expected every season, but with the World Cup scheduled for this summer, Klopp will need a large squad on hand if he is to avoid a repeat of BVB's collapse last November and December.

    At least one new striker is needed to replace Lewandowski, and more likely, a secondary option will be required as well. Dortmund need a decisive goal-scoring midfielder to ease the burden from Reus' shoulders, as well as those of the new strikers: Kevin Volland and/or Shinji Kagawa (who perhaps could be loaned) would be perfect.

    Dortmund are also in need of more options in central midfield and defense. Matthias Ginter is capable of playing in both positions and has the potential to be a world-class player. Although he would not necessarily be a starter immediately, the number of injuries to Dortmund's midfield and center-backs in recent years suggests that the 19-year-old would regularly have his chances.

    Of course, no one will really know exactly how well Dortmund fared in the 2014 summer transfer window until long after the window closes and the players have settled.

Short Term: Continue to Reach Champions League Knockout Rounds Each Year

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    It may be obvious, but for the record, in order to be a big club, Dortmund need to play in the Champions League. They've qualified for the tournament the last three seasons and have reached the knockout rounds in back-to-back years, and a continuation of this trend is very realistic.

    With that having been said, there are some hurdles that have to be overcome. BVB are currently fourth in the Bundesliga and, if the season were to end today, would need to qualify via playoff against potentially difficult opposition.

    Assuming BVB indeed manage to qualify, the next group stage will be tricky to negotiate. Group matches favor teams that score (winning is worth three points; taking risks to score is favored by the points system given that six draws are worth the same points as just two wins), and the presence of an elite striker is often decisive. Lewandowski, for example, wasn't yet world class in the fall of 2011, and BVB crashed out of the Champions League in the group stage after failing to capitalize on too many scoring chances.

    Dortmund will have a new striker next season, perhaps another who, like Lewandowski, will have some teething problems in the early months of the campaign. It is important that BVB do well in their first couple games to avoid panic and carry on to progress.

    It's important to clarify that Dortmund don't necessarily need to reach the semifinals or finals with any regularity in order to establish themselves as a big club. There are plenty of teams that have not fared outstandingly well internationally yet have been able to attract and retain stars. Manchester City are a prime example.

    What's most important is being able to pay sufficient wages to attract and retain the types of players who, when brought into a team worthy of the Champions League quarterfinals, feel they could make the difference in propelling the team to the final.

Midterm: Take a Hardline Stance on Financial Fair Play

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    The long-anticipated implementation of UEFA's Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules is set to take place over the summer. And these rules could be Dortmund's fast-track ticket to the big stage. The rules are complicated, but in summary, from the 2014-15 season onward, UEFA reserves the right to deny entrance to the Champions League to any club that failed to meet certain financial targets within a given monitoring period (details here).

    Some clubs (Chelsea, for example) have adjusted their spending habits to conform with Financial Fair Play, while others (like PSG and Manchester City) have spent freely, assuming (in spite of warnings from UEFA) that "sponsorships" of unprecedented value from businesses connected with their owners will be permitted and not declared fraudulent.

    All the while, there is a trial underway investigating the legality of UEFA's rules. A ruling is not expected until 2015.

    Exactly what will become of Financial Fair Play is unknown, but a showdown of footballing powers is entirely possible. Such a clash would be between those that are financially stable without the need of artificial support from investors (Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Arsenal) and the nouveau-riche, like PSG and Man City.

    Those found belligerent could well decide they don't need UEFA and try to form a "super league." If UEFA tries to appease them, the traditional powers could make a similar threat. In this battle, BVB, who are debt-free and reported record profits last year, would be better off siding with the other financially solvent clubs.

    If FFP is strictly enforced, BVB will face less competition in terms of transfer prices and player wages. And critically, their seeding for the Champions League could be improved. A Pot 3 team this year, they could potentially be boosted to Pot 1 in 2014-15 (should they qualify), depending on which other clubs qualify and which are denied entry.

Long Term: Spread Dortmund's Brand Worldwide

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    One factor that has proven extremely important in securing the financial success of Barcelona, Real Madrid and a host of English clubs is their ability to expand their brand globally. Whether or not Manchester United's supposed figure of 659 million worldwide fans is accurate, it's ostensible that there are more United fans in Asia than in England, a testament to the club's ability to spread its reach.

    Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge recently spoke of the need for his club to expand its global image, and the same goes for Dortmund. To their credit, BVB won over many fans in England with their "Echte Liebe" campaign ahead of the Champions League final. Juergen Klopp's charming and passionate interviews, coupled with a dryly humorous marketing campaign, gave the club a small victory off the pitch even though they ultimately fell short at Wembley.

    Still, BVB must continue to expand their worldwide reach. They have expanded the shipping options for their fan shop and lowered previously prohibitively expensive fees for international delivery, but that is only the beginning. Opening overseas offices can offer more opportunities to reach new fans and scout new talent.

Long Term: Rebuild the Team One More Time

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    When Dortmund won the Bundesliga in 2010-11, their best lineup was:

    Weidenfeller; Piszczek, Subotic, Hummels, Schmelzer; Bender, Sahin; Goetze, Kagawa, Grosskreutz/Blaszczykowski; Barrios

    One might add that before the season began, if not for injuries, Patrick Owomoyela (right-back), Dede (left-back), Sebastian Kehl (defensive midfield) and Tamas Hajnal (central attacking midfield), three of whom are now gone (the fourth, Kehl, is out of contract in the summer), were first choice.

    Right now, their best XI is:

    Weidenfeller; Piszczek/Grosskreutz, Subotic, Hummels, Schmelzer; Bender, Gundogan; Blaszczykowski, Mkhitaryan, Reus; Lewandowski

    In three years, their front four has, with the half-exception of Jakub Blaszczykowski, completely changed. Nuri Sahin has returned following a woeful spell at Real Madrid and Liverpool, but is no longer first choice as long as Ilkay Gundogan is fit.

    Dortmund have replaced half of their team but for the most part have still managed a high level of performance. And during this time, their revenue has nearly tripled, from €105 million in 2009-10 to €305 million in 2012-13 (€261 million when excluding transfers).

    Even if they are unable to rake in a windfall of Champions League revenue on par with last season's €54 million, BVB are well on pace to set a new club record for turnover; revenue in the first quarter of 2013-14 was up by 15 percent relative to the previous year.

    For perspective, Bayern only broke the €300 million barrier for the first time in 2009-10. Later in 2010, Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm penned contract extensions worth nearly €30 million in total. Dortmund aren't too far off that kind of spending power. And following record profits, the club, as of August, was finally debt-free.

    Their skyrocketing revenue and growing marketability means that, although they are currently a "selling club," Dortmund will not remain so indefinitely. In the immediate future, they may have to sell some players, so it is important that they continue to make good decisions in finding replacements from their academy and elsewhere.

    But if all goes well, Dortmund will soon be able to pay their players enough to keep them in the long term and, in doing so, win titles. It just means that they need to do more of the same: Developing worthy talent in the academy, scouting and signing up-and-coming stars and consistently reaching the quarterfinals or at least round of 16 of the Champions League.

    It's easier said than done, and there is a lot of room for error, but if BVB can repeat their success in team-building for just a little longer, their vastly improved revenue will soon support a competitive wage scale.

     

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