Weekly football conversation since 2009, with Graham Sibley, Jan Bilton and Terry Duffelen. Listen on Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or your podcatcher of choice.

With Bellingham gone, what next for Borussia Dortmund?

Terry Duffelen reflects on Borussia Dortmund’s failure to win the Bundesliga and examines their prospects for next season.

It has been one month since the Borussia Dortmund players and their fans experienced the devastation of losing the 2022-23 Bundesliga title on the final day, in the final minutes of the season. After the penultimate game at Augsburg where they extracted a 3-0 win from a dogged and truculent opposition, it looked like Borussia had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. That same weekend, RB Leipzig made themselves useful for once and beat reigning champions Bayern München 3-1. With the job done in Augsburg, Dortmund looked set fair to win the league for the first time since 2012 and break Bayern’s grip on the Bundesliga trophy for the first time in eleven seasons.

Dortmund’s home record in the second half of the season has been imperious: Prior to the final game of the season Die Schwarzgelben had won all nine home games, scoring more than three goals in seven of those matches. The opposition were Mainz. A decent side, well coached, but mid table and only the week before lost to relegation threatened Stuttgart, 3-1. It should have been straightforward, but it wasn’t. After a nerve shredding and ultimately desolating 90 minutes, the game ended 2-2. Dortmund could not recover from going 2-0 down and with Bayern winning at Cologne, it was they who won the league and not Dortmund.

Take a sad song and make it better

In the immediate aftermath of the match, we saw the noblest aspects of the Borussia fans: rather than trudge out of the stadium to drown their sorrows in the cities many watering holes, they remained to lament their season and console the team and its players. Very few, if any of those fans standing on those terraces had ever kicked a ball for the team but they were prepared to ease the burden of the coach and player’s failure by sharing it. This is not unique in German football. Witness Hamburg fans after they lost the relegation play-off to Stuttgart. However, it was characteristic of the people of Dortmund and more broadly the North-Rhein Westphalia mentality which some regard as a failing.

From his seat in the Westfalenstadion, club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke watched their young coach and Dortmund fan, Edin Terzic, and his players deal with the crushing disappointment, while perhaps reflecting on what had been a difficult week, off the pitch.

It's a fool who plays it cool

Along with Union Berlin President Dirk Zingler, Watzke attempted to persuade all clubs from both Bundesliga divisions to set of new private equity funded company that would be responsible for selling the TV rights for the league. The plan’s big selling point was that there would be a huge cash payout to all clubs to allow them to invest in their infrastructure. But the proposal was voted down with concerns about the longer-term aspects of the deal not addressed and with a fan led protest across the league (including by Dortmund fans) taking place in the background.

Of the numerous criticisms of the proposition, what sticks out for me is that the deal is simply maintaining the status quo. Watzke’s strategy was for all clubs to get more money without financially rebalancing of the league and bridging the gap between Bayern and the rest. It feels like Watzke is setting BVB up as the permanent number two which is not unsensible but does say something about his ambitions: to be always in Bayern’s shadow.

Making his world a little colder

Feeding that narrative is the departure of Jude Bellingham who is now a Real Madrid player. The English teenager was absent for the last two games of the season. It’s entirely likely that if his knee had held up to the end of the campaign, this highly energetic and skilful young player, may have made a difference and signed off his Dortmund career by lifting the Meisterschale.  In any event, Bellingham becomes the latest in a line of young players that are developed by the club and moved on to bigger things (and they don’t get much bigger than Real Madrid). Whenever this happens it creates another hole in the team that will need time to fill. However, this is the Dortmund model and is one of the principle levers they use to attract the best and brightest to keep their status as a top club in Germany and mainstays in the Champions League.

At least with the Bellingham deal done early, BVB have plenty of time to do their transfer business. Mexican defensive midfielder Edson Álvarez from priority transfer target for the summer.

And there is still plenty of talent uopn which Edin Terzic can draw to build a title winning team next season. 18-year-old striker Youssoufa Moukoko is maturing. Donyell Malen had a much improved second season. Karim Adeyemi struggled to begin with but made some telling contributions as the campaign reached its climax. Julian Brandt is in the form of his black and yellow career. Nico Schlotterbeck can only get better, and Niklas Sule was a great signing. Sebastian Haller showed great courage to recover from testicular cancer and take his place in the staring line-up in time for the second half of the season. A full season of Haller will surely allow Dortmund to come out of the blocks strongly when it gets underway in August.

The minute, you let her under your skin

And then of course there is the veteran captain Marco Reus, who sacrificed a glittering career to play for his boyhood club. His role in the team in increasingly peripheral but the sight of him wearing a championship medal would fulfil the dreams of many and would be a fitting end to his career.

Dortmund were the best team in the Bundesliga for the second half of the season. They need to do it for the whole of next season, to transpose that scene of grief and pain of the last matchday at the Westfalen to one of joy and triumph.

But of course, much will still depend on Bayern and whether their relatively disappointing season was a one-off or a mark of a broader decline. With changes made at the top and a full season under new coach Thomas Tuchel plus their impressive buying power they will enter as favourites. But I suspect there is still a bit of work to do with that squad and that the window of opportunity for a different team to win the Bundesliga is still open.


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