Comparing Zenit & Borussia Dortmund's Differing Approach to Team Building

Christopher Atkins@@chris_elasticoContributor IFebruary 25, 2014

FILE PHOTO - EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF TWO IMAGES - Image Numbers 180967962 (L) and 154454347) In this composite image a comparison has been made between Jurgen Klopp, Head Coach of Borussia Dortmund and Zenit St. Petersburg head coach Luciano Spalletti. Zenit St Petersburg and Borussia Dortmund meet in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 with the first leg on Febuary 25, 2014 and the 2nd leg on March 19, 2014.  ***LEFT IMAGE*** NAPLES, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 18: Borussia Dortmund head coach Jurgen Klopp looks on during the Uefa Champions League Group F match between Napoli and Borussia Dortmund at Stadio San Paolo on September 18, 2013 in Naples, Italy. (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 20: FC Zenit St. Petersburg head coach Luciano Spalletti looks on during the Russian Football League Championship match between FC Zenit St. Petersburg and FC Kuban Krasnodar at the Petrovsky Stadium on October 20, 2012 in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Mike Kireev/Epsilon
Getty Images/Getty Images

Zenit and Borussia Dortmund meet in the Champions League on Tuesday night in the first leg of a last 16 tie that sees two clubs with contrasting transfer activity come head-to-head.

While it has been the Germans who have achieved considerable success in European competition over the past two seasons, their opponents have taken the headlines for their frequently lavish transfer spending.

Per Transfermarkt, Zenit have spent well over 200 million euros in the past five seasons. Over the same period, Dortmund have spent half that amount despite two Bundesliga title wins.

However, there are also contributing factors to the differences in approach that are beyond Zenit's control and have to be taken into consideration.

Dortmund's method

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 25:  Ilkay Gundogan of Borussia Dortmund (2L) celebrates with team mates after scoring their first goal from the penalty spot during the UEFA Champions League final match between Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern Muenchen at Wembley St
Martin Rose/Getty Images

Borussia Dortmund have acquired a considerable reputation over recent years for their extensive scouting network that has allowed them to "discover" a number of emerging footballing stars.

Of the current squad, the likes of Mats Hummels, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Neven Subotic, Lukasz Piszczek, Sven Bender and Robert Lewandowski were brought in for low fees over the past few years. Of those already departed, Shinji Kagawa and Ivan Perisic were also considerable successes.

Buying low and selling high is a transfer policy that several clubs have attempted to replicate, but it requires expertise in the area of scouting and recruitment.

With any side, there will be hits and misses. The trick is to make sure that there are enough successes to ensure that the mistakes are quickly forgotten. For Dortmund, that has most definitely been the case.

Kagawa: A particularly successful signing
Kagawa: A particularly successful signingLaurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Success is relative and, for some, the fees attracted for their players would be a good enough reward. Dortmund, though, have achieved on-field glory with their methods, while also integrating club youth products into the first-team.

Over the past couple of seasons, though, things have begun to change. As their performances have attracted attention, leading players have departed on a semi-frequent basis and replacements have been sought.

To maintain competition, high-level players have been sought. The likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marco Reus have arrived for sizeable fees. However, with all three players under 25 years of age and performing well, their value should only increase.

In years to come, it will be interesting to see whether the side can maintain competitiveness in spite of many of their rivals' major spending. For the moment, though, their approach and willingness to gamble on unproven players is bringing major rewards.

Zenit's method

PORTO, PORTUGAL - AUGUST 20:  Roman Shirokov of FC Zenit St Petersburg celebrates scoring a goal with team-mates during the UEFA Champions League play-off first leg match between FC Pacos de Ferreira and FC Zenit St Petersburg held on August 20, 2013 at t
EuroFootball/Getty Images

In contrast to Borussia Dortmund, Zenit have tended to be free-spending when it comes to first-team recruitment.

The likes of Danny, Hulk, Domenico Criscito and Axel Witsel all commanded major fees to arrive in Russia, while even lesser-known recruits such as Neto or Cristian Ansaldi did not come cheap.

For sides in Russia, though, foreign player limits dictate that the few spaces available have to be used wisely and Zenit, with their sizeable financial backing have spent heftily to ensure that is the case.

While differing rules in Germany, added to the free movement of EU nationals, enable Dortmund to cast their net wide, Zenit are not so fortunate.

The necessity for a strong Russian core also dictates that clubs spend heftily on wages and transfer fees in order to attract the best local players possible.

It is a problem seen around the world in countries where wealthy clubs are required to sign a quota of domestic players, with prices quickly inflating to non-competitive levels.

A bubble is formed and, for Zenit, it is a major factor in their transfer spending. Right-back Igor Smolnikov, for example, cost 6 million euros to recruit from FK Krasnodar last summer at well above external market value, per Transfermarkt.

In the Russian Premier League, where a handful of top sides compete year upon year for the title, such expenditure is almost seen as a necessity. With generous backing, it is not a major concern for the club's owners Gazprom—sponsors of the Champions League.

Despite numerous title wins, Zenit's expenditure has not brought success in the Champions League—although they did win a UEFA Cup in 2008.

Many would see their methods as far from ideal. However, for Russian teams to achieve any such success in international competition it is a necessary evil.

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 18: Hulk of FC Zenit celebrates after scoring his team's openng goal during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Zenit at Vicente Calderon Stadium on September 18, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

In spite of both teams' differing transfer approaches, the two sides have been fairly settled as units for a number of years.

In Zenit's case, a Russian core built on the likes of Aleksandr Anyukov, Andrei Arshavin, Vyacheslav Malafeev, Roman Shirokov and Konstantin Zyryanov have been in or around the club for a number of years.

Several foreign players, too, have become firmly established at the club, with just a small number of major additions made each season. Albeit, that the cost of such additions has grown.

Dortmund's approach is, of course, seen as more favourable by the wider football community given their lesser spending. However, the market conditions discussed aid in that respect.

MONTE CARLO, MONACO - AUGUST 29:  Anatoily Tymoshchuk of Zenit St.Petersburg holds aloft the tropy after wiinning the UEFA Super Cup between Manchester United and Zenit St.Petersburg at the Stade Louis II on August 29, 2008 in Monte Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo
Phil Cole/Getty Images

The club, though, should be commended for their faith in youth and ability to detect rising talent from across the world.

For Zenit, though, they will care little should they beat Dortmund over the coming two legs. The manner success is achieved, after all, is just embellishment upon the success itself.

Victory, then, would be justification of the outlays they have made in the pursuit of success. Dortmund, meanwhile, face another summer that will see the loss of a key player in Lewandowski.

They are very different approaches and attract very different responses from the general football fan. Both clubs, though, have consistently been near the summit of their respective leagues over recent years and that is justification in itself for their chosen approach.


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