Borussia Dortmund have had an unstable few years after Klopp’s departure. New signings and a new coach leave the club with a lot to prove.
Not for the first time in the last few years, Borussia Dortmund head into the new Bundesliga season after a summer of transformation. Realistically, the era immediately following Jürgen Klopp’s exit has to be seen as relatively unstable.
Thomas Tuchel, who replaced Klopp in 2015, embarked on a maiden season of transition as he attempted to bring a more possession-based playing style to the Signal-Iduna-Park. Additionally, the loss of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gündogan led to further instability heading into the coach’s sophomore season.
Change and continuity
Ousmane Dembélé’s late exit for the second largest transfer fee of all time aside, the stalwarts of Dortmund’s team remain the same. This perhaps seems an odd remark about a summer in which Emre Mor, Matthias Ginter, Sven Bender and Adrian Ramos have all departed for pastures new, while Felix Passlack and Mikel Merino have both left the club on loan. Bar Dembélé, none of these players were crucial to Tuchel last season, and as such do not represent immense upheaval for the club.
Dortmund have signed Mo Dahoud, Ömer Toprak, Dan-Axel Zagadou, Maximilian Philipp and, this week, Andriy Yarmolenko, Jeremy Toljan and Jadon Sancho.
Given these exciting talents, surely the Schwarzgelben should be tipped as hotter favourites for the league than they are? After all, there are doubts as to the strength of Bayern this year, as well as Leipzig’s ability to cope with the Dreifachbelastung of league, cup and continental play.
Well, not quite. In what seems a spectacular act of self harm in the immediate term, the club parted ways with Tuchel after the coach won them their first trophy in five years. The proviso for the decision was not so much sporting, where the club pushed Bayern as far as can be expected domestically, and performed well continentally in both years’ of Tuchel’s tenure, as it was personal. Tuchel’s personality supposedly clashed with the club’s Echte Liebe ethos; the club’s hierarchy were not too pleased at the direction of the squad.
Replacing him with Peter Bosz, who masterminded a run to the Europa League final with Ajax last season, may allay immediate fears of a drop in fortunes.
This makes the season into perhaps one of the most crucial for the club in recent years. A successful switch in strategy would make this risky managerial change seem vindicated; any difficulties may provoke difficult questions for many involved in the club moving forward.
Shift in style
As one might expect, the appointment means another shift in the club’s playing style; pundits have described Bosz’s 4-3-3 as a typically Dutch set-up with a pragmatic German inflection. Two opening victories in the league, over Wolfsburg and Hertha, have set the team off in the right direction on the pitch, but dark clouds remain on the horizon. The club will have tougher Bundesliga games over the coming months and will have to contend with a difficult Champions League draw. Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and APOEL Nicosia will, naturally, prove stiff opposition. This, too, will have to be done whilst allowing the squad to get accustomed to a new style of play.
This is not an ideal state of affairs. A lack of continuity, first at a management level in 2015 and, secondly, among the playing staff in 2016, has perhaps allowed Dortmund to temper their expectations when it comes to challenging Bayern and European rivals for major titles. It is forgivable not to win major honours when having to contend with upheaval. To actually create that upheaval, though, with an avoidable managerial change, will almost certainly lead to difficult questions for the likes of Hans-Joachim Watzke if Dortmund are not able to push on this season.
It is certainly inopportune that this upheaval has been created ahead of what has been touted as the most open Bundesliga title race in many years.
That said, though, there are still a number of positive signs. The addition of Andriy Yarmolenko to the squad is one which has been clamoured for by BVB’s hierarchy for years now, having negotiated with Kiev twice before, and the Ukrainian winger adds genuine star quality to a front line which was unexpectedly depleted by Dembélé’s insistence on a move to the Nou Camp.
Jeremy Toljan, too, has earned his stripes at Bundesliga level with Hoffenheim, and was arguably the star of Germany’s victorious U21 Euro squad. He refreshes Dortmund’s right hand side in defence, which until now had the ageing Lukas Pisczcek and the raw talent of the, now absent, Passlack.
Most exciting in the long run, though, is Jadon Sancho. Like Dembélé last summer, Sancho is a young talent with much to prove. He left previous club Manchester City for first team football elsewhere, leaving plenty of question marks. Whether he will immediately get that at Dortmund, or if he will have to bide his time for a little while, is unclear. However, the pathways to first team football are much clearer at a club and under a manager who, having been at Ajax, has a track record of actively promoting youth.
Whatever the case, Sancho has taken up Dembélé’s vacant number 7 shirt. That, at least, is a remarkable show of belief from the club in the seventeen year-old.
What lies ahead?
This leaves us, then, at an interesting juncture in the history of Borussia Dortmund. Will they manage to, in spite of managerial instability, push on? This will surely be the expectation of the club’s faithful. Will they manage to successfully blood the club’s exciting young players? Is it possible to push Bayern all the way to the title?
Realistically, there is no way of knowing until the evidence is firmly in our hands. The signs are mixed, and there are many unknowns. Bosz will have to show more of his hand before real conclusions are drawn. What is clear is that the season will, in all likelihood, go down as one of the most important in terms of the direction of the club’s recent history.