5 Things Borussia Dortmund Need to Do to Topple Bayern Munich

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2014

5 Things Borussia Dortmund Need to Do to Topple Bayern Munich

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    Ina Fassbender/Pool/Associated Press

    Bayern Munich were runaway Bundesliga champions last season, claiming the German league title with 25 points more than runners-up Dortmund. And now the Bavarians are on the verge of repeating their success, with 23 points separating them from BVB heading into matchday 26.

    At the moment it appears as though Bayern's hegemony is here to stay. The title holders signed BVB crown jewel Mario Gotze last summer and have secured the transfer of Robert Lewandowski this July. Their financial and sporting dominance seems insurmountable.

    In fairness, it would be almost impossible for Dortmund to topple Bayern in the short-term future. But looking to the long term, there is the possibility of BVB becoming long-term competition for the Bavarians and eventually hoisting the trophy at season's end. Click "Begin slideshow" for a look at how Dortmund can bring competition back to the Bundesliga title race.

Keep Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan at Least Until 2017

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Some players are irreplaceable. Mario Gotze falls into that category, as do Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan. There simply is no player in world football that Dortmund could realistically sign who could hope to play on the level of Reus or Gundogan while offering skill types similar to the highly rated pair. Therefore, Dortmund absolutely must keep both players for the immediate future.

    Gundogan has a contract that expires in 2015 and could be sold this summer if he opts not to extend his contract. He may be tempted to look elsewhere, but there is an increasing probability that the Germany international will pen a new deal.

    The 23-year-old Gundogan has not played since mid-August and may not have any offers from top clubs come summer. Even if he does, adapting to a new club after missing an entire year is a big risk: Nuri Sahin joined Real Madrid while injured and found himself back in Dortmund just 18 months later.

    Reus' situation is different; the 24-year-old has a contract that runs until 2017, but he also has a buyout clause of €35 million that takes effect in 2015, according to Bild (h/t Goal.com). He will stay for at least one more season, but Dortmund absolutely must secure his long-term future at the club. Record wages would be well-deserved and a great investment.

Farm out the Youngsters

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Perhaps the greatest management problem today's super-clubs face is grooming the next generation of stars. Barcelona have for years been trying to prepare long-term replacements for Carles Puyol and Xavi, but none of their academy graduates has been able to prove himself as a top-class replacement in the long term. There has been somewhat of an exodus of underused youngsters whose progress stagnated as they were rightly not trusted in high-profile games.

    Dortmund, of course, came to prominence in 2010-11 as they used a young and inexperienced team. But that should not and cannot be their plan in the long term. Klopp's 2010-11 team was created piece by piece over the course of three summers. And even then the players were not ready to compete at the highest level, the Champions League.

    The likes of Shinji Kagawa and Mario Gotze flourished in 2010-11 when they had no expectations: BVB at the time were a club with a miniscule wage bill and that two years before had narrowly avoided relegation. There was no pressure until they played in the Champions League a year later, and they crumbled under the burden of expectation as they finished fourth in their group.

    If Dortmund want to be a big team, they need a big squad with world-class players in every position and star power coming from the bench. A good way to build their squad is to use the academy, but they will have to find a way to avoid a bottleneck. One way is to loan out their young talents to gain experience.

    Moritz Leitner is currently in the midst of a two-year loan spell at Stuttgart and Leonardo Bittencourt and Koray Gunter both have buyback clauses. If any of these three develops sufficiently, Dortmund will be able to recall them.

    BVB's dealing with Leitner, Bittencourt and Gunter is a good start, although all three spent time stagnating in the reserves or on the bench. Dortmund need to be proactive and willing to loan even 17- and 18-year-old prospects to 2. Bundesliga sides for them to earn experience at a higher level than the reserves can offer in the 3. Liga. And by the age of 19 or 20 they may be ready to compete for lower Bundesliga teams.

Expand the BVB Brand

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    Sascha Schuermann/Associated Press

    Bayern may have huge financial and sporting advantages over Dortmund, but BVB have some areas where they are on par or even ahead of their Bavarian rivals.

    Although their success has certainly increased their reach, right now, Bayern are struggling with public relations. Following Franck Ribery's trial for soliciting an underage prostitute and Breno's imprisonment for arson, club president Uli Hoeness is now on his way to jail for tax evasion. Their continued predatory transfer practices, utter suffocation of any competition in the Bundesliga and perceived increase in diving rate under Pep Guardiola have not exactly helped their image abroad either.

    Dortmund have, according to Hamburg-based market research company Mafo (via BVB.de), the best brand of all Bundesliga teams. The report found that BVB "dominated" the research, coming out on top in the categories of sympathy, honesty, attractiveness and credibility.

    Being honest does not necessarily equate with money, but Dortmund can use their marketability to expand their reach. They did just that ahead of last May's Champions League final, winning over neutrals especially in London, host city of the final. Their "From Dortmund with Love" campaign was a minor victory over Bayern; in February, it was declared winner (via BVB.de) of the 2014 Sports Marketing Award at the Sports Business Summit in Dusseldorf.

    After England, the next frontier has to be Asia. Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge revealed in December that his club planned to develop their market in the Far East, which at the time was minimal. Dortmund's name in Asia is also on the small side, making them on a level plane. But given their previous marketing success, it's entirely possible for BVB to keep pace with or even exceed Bayern and reap the rewards of having a big name in the world's largest market.

Continue Training Research

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    The great leveling factor in European football in recent years has proven to be academy development. In the late-2000s, the Bundesliga was on the rise, but its teams were still ineffective in the Champions League. English football was dominant.

    Yet, since 2010, the script has been flipped. An explosion of highly talented, young German players has seen Bundesliga teams become formidable at the highest level, with last season's Champions League final contested by Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, and all four German teams progressing to the round of 16 in 2013-14. English and Italian football in particular have struggled as a general lack of quality from their academies has seen both leagues drop behind the Bundesliga and Spanish Primera.

    German football has led the way in terms of developing young players, with strict academy requirements required for all clubs to be given licenses to play in the first and second tiers of the German football pyramid. Heavy investment in academies has led to pedagogical development, but in Dortmund's case there is another dimension.

    Ever since the fall of 2012, Dortmund have used the Footbonaut to aid in training. The futuristic device flings footballs at a player, who then passes the ball to one of 64 targets. It's a good opportunity to optimize the efficiency of a player's training, allowing him to maximize touches and passes in a short period of time.

    Moving forward, Dortmund would be wise to meticulously review their training and youth development methods, funding research to refine their practices. Partnerships with engineering companies that can produce devices like the Footbonaut would be a good start, as would be in-house research on the effectiveness of different training exercises. Knowledge is power and, relative to high-profile signings, is cheap.

Forge Partnerships with Lower Ruhr-Area Clubs

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    Michael Will/Associated Press

    One of Bayern's biggest advantages in creating their hegemony in the Bundesliga is simply a matter of geography. Apart from near-insolvent 1860 Munich (which they have kept on the football equivalent of a feeding tube in recent years), there are no traditional Bundesliga clubs anywhere near Munich. Nurnberg is 169 km north on the A9, Stuttgart is a 219 km drive westward and Freiburg is 352 km away from Munich.

    Bayern's entire lack of competition in the general vicinity of Munich has been critical to their success in recruiting young talent as well as the support of fans in what is the wealthiest area of Germany. Philipp Lahm is a Munich man through and through, but Mr. Bayern himself, Bastian Schweinsteiger, was born 62 km away, in Kolbermoor. Thomas Muller's hometown was 52 km away from Munich. And Holger Badstuber was born 114 km from Munich, in Memmingen.

    Bayern's sphere of influence extends even into Austria, a neighboring country with no top-class teams in its Bundesliga and more cultural and linguistic similarities to Bavaria than even the north and west of Germany. At present, one in seven of Bayern's reserves was born or spent most of his life in Austria.

    Dortmund have it much harder than Bayern, geographically speaking. As the crow flies, Schalke's Veltins Arena is approximately 15 km from the Signal Iduna Park in adjacent Gelsenkirchen, and Leverkusen and Monchengladbach are both located within 100 km of Dortmund. Traditional sides Koln, Fortuna Dusseldorf and Bochum are also found under 100 km from Dortmund, with the 2. Bundesliga leaders Koln especially known for their academy, which sent youth internationals to play with the German under-18, 19, 20 and 21 teams in recent internationals.

    The Ruhr and surrounding area is the heart of German football and is somewhat sacred. But if Dortmund are to challenge Bayern, they may have to risk earning a similar reputation as a vulturous club. The way forward would be to create partnerships with local clubs that would see BVB send unneeded reserves to Ruhr area clubs in the lower divisions in exchange for rights to first refusal on rising stars from these clubs.

    The advantage to lower clubs like Duisburg and Bochum, would be having players on hand who can keep them from sinking into oblivion (Duisburg were relegated to the 3. Liga by default last summer for failure to meet financial standards for the 2. Bundesliga), whereas Dortmund would have access to some top local talents.

    Schalke are known for plundering the 2. Bundesliga for talent, notably signing Joel Matip and Leon Goretzka from Bochum. BVB would be wise to similarly pursue local talent, but with formal agreements in place to ensure that they (and not Leverkusen and Schalke) have access to the best of the best.