Borussia Dortmund's Young Core Needs to Start Delivering Under Peter Stoger

Andy Brassell@@andybrassellFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2017

Peter Stoger makes his debut as Borussia Dortmund coach at Mainz
Peter Stoger makes his debut as Borussia Dortmund coach at MainzTF-Images/Getty Images

In the end, the climax of Peter Bosz's tenure at Borussia Dortmund was little surprise.

Given his reign lasted a mere 15 Bundesliga games, it's remarkable to think his removal from office had seemed like a matter of time for a while and had felt inevitable ever since his team surrendered a 4-0 lead in the Revierderby with Schalke 04 on November 25.

Peter Stoger, who formed part of Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke's original shortlist for the job in June before Bosz was appointed, is a left-field choice to some, especially given his struggles with FC Cologne this season. The 2-0 win he oversaw at Mainz on his Tuesday night debut on the BVB bench was his first in the Bundesliga this season.

Yet the 51-year-old Austrian, as well as having piqued the interest of the BVB board before and feeling like he fits the club's image of friendly, earthy and passionate, should fulfil an immediate need too. From his time at Austria Vienna and most of his time in Cologne, he is renowned as an effective defensive organiser, which few would accuse his predecessor of being.

It had seemed, especially in the wildly successful early weeks of the season, as if Bosz was fulfilling a need.

The reason he seemed a good fit (and why many overlooked the fact the club's No. 1 choice, Lucien Favre, was a radically different type of coach) was his strong work with Ajax's impressive stable of youngsters during his year there. They didn't manage to close out the Eredivisie title, but their run to the final of the Europa League was exhilarating and quite unprecedented for a Dutch club in the modern era.

Bosz's work with Hakim Ziyech, Kasper Dolberg and Bertrand Traore convinced Dortmund's board to hire him
Bosz's work with Hakim Ziyech, Kasper Dolberg and Bertrand Traore convinced Dortmund's board to hire himVI-Images/Getty Images

Davinson Sanchez, Bertrand Traore, Hakim Ziyech, Kasper Dolberg and Amin Younes are just a sample of the players aged 24 and under who developed rapidly under Bosz in Amsterdam. The first two flew the nest in big-money transfers and are flourishing for larger European clubs (certainly by modern markers).

Today, Ziyech is Ajax's best player, Dolberg continues to attract attention and Younes has even made it to the Germany squad, which would have been a pipe dream in his Borussia Monchengladbach days.

So, if there were doubts about Bosz's hardly trophy-packed coaching CV overall, there had justifiably been a sense he could fit in with the modus operandi of Dortmund. Their model of hoovering up young talent to secure the future and to compensate for inevitable big-name departures has gathered pace in recent years, particularly in the shape of signings such as Ousmane Dembele, Raphael Guerreiro, Mahmoud Dahoud and Alexander Isak.

Bosz's regime got off to a difficult start when he had to endure the standoff that eventually saw Dembele join Barcelona; an unsettling saga for the squad and, despite the tremendous profit made for the club, a deal which deprived him of the team's sharpest attacking conduit from the previous season.

Christian Pulisic's sensational start to the campaign, scoring in the Super Cup match with Bayern Munich and in the Bundesliga opener against Wolfsburg, allowed the sporting impact of that to be strictly minimised.

Since then, the results for Dortmund's best young talents have been mixed. There has been such an intense focus on Bosz's tactical setup—understandably so, given the extent to which that high defensive line shaped the opening Champions League defeats against Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid—that the players have almost got away scot-free.

Of course, much of Stoger's success or otherwise will depend on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and—once he has returned to fitness having enjoyed a good season thus far—Mario Gotze.

Yet it's equally clear that for Dortmund to develop, the new coach must work on getting the team's youthful core to flourish, led by Pulisic but also including Julian Weigl, Dahoud, Guerreiro and Maximilian Philipp.

The 23-year-old Philipp, who many considered overpriced when he arrived from Freiburg in the summer for an estimated €20 million (per Kicker, via Get German Football News), has settled nicely, adjusting to the team's rhythm and scoring six times in nine Bundesliga starts.

Dahoud is yet to get an extended run in the XI following his transfer from Gladbach, and Guerreiro has only just returned from a long-term ankle problem (though he scored in the derby with Schalke).

Weigl's struggle for form since coming back from a broken ankle has been one of the biggest clouds hanging over Dortmund's season. Opposition teams have purposely targeted the 22-year-old throughout this season and he—one of the ones more exposed by Bosz's tactics—has struggled to cope. 

When Dortmund were at their best under Thomas Tuchel, Weigl was always at the centre of it. Everything went through him. 

Midfield kingpin Julian Weigl, here challenging Isco, has looked a shadow of his best self since his return from injury
Midfield kingpin Julian Weigl, here challenging Isco, has looked a shadow of his best self since his return from injuryPower Sport Images/Getty Images

This season, his average number of passes per game has dropped significantly, per, from 67.6 per match in last season's Bundesliga to 44.4 immediately following the weekend's fixtures.

In a side whose confidence has taken a real battering, he is one of the players who looks most vulnerable. In Tuesday night's game at Mainz, with Stoger switching to 4-3-3 and not required to press so aggressively, Weigl looked more like his old self, playing 71 passes at a 95.8 per cent success rate.

This matters to Dortmund in two ways. Firstly, a firing Weigl would be crucial to recovering their form. Secondly, looking forward, he is one of the club's most valuable assets, with Manchester City perhaps the most frequently linked of the major clubs credited with interest in the midfielder, per Richard Fay of the Manchester Evening News.

There is a lot riding on the rest of this season. Dortmund have a hard-won reputation as a borderline elite-level club where the best talented youngsters can still get game time.

It is a go-to destination for the best young talent and has helped them sign the coveted likes of Dahoud, Isak and Jadon Sancho in recent times. For this reputation to endure, they need to continue to qualify for the Champions League—Stoger's premier objective—and to continue to provide an environment where those young players make a contribution to that.

The other valuable chip in play is that of Pulisic's future. He signed a new deal to stay at the Westfalenstadion at the start of the year, but it was hardly a long-term commitment, taking him through to the summer of 2020. If his form is good for the rest of the season then he and BVB are likely to have a decision to make: extend the contract or sell.

Watzke has insisted Pulisic is with the club for the long haul, but he also said Henrikh Mkhitaryan would stay in 2016 weeks before he was sold to Manchester United, per ESPN (h/t Fox Sports). What Dortmund want and what proves possible may be two different things.

That Stoger has a job on his hands in the immediate, despite his good start, is news to nobody. Yet his work is about preserving an ideal as well as a sporting trajectory, and in that sense he is being trusted with a lot.


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