The return of Borussia Dortmund: From the brink of bankruptcy to giant killers in Europe

The German champions will face off against Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the Champions League. takes you though the Germans' return from oblivion...

Five years ago any Borussia Dortmund fan would have never believed their side was capable of defeating Bundesliga opposition let alone nine-time European champions Real Madrid. But now the dream is alive and kicking for fans of the Borussians. The reigning German champions are set to meet Los Blancos for the third time this season having been acquainted in the group stages of this year’s Champions League where they remained unbeaten against them. Dortmund can be reasonably confident of progressing to the finals of the competition this year.

But the story of the two sides is in stark contrast to each other. While Real Madrid are literally rolling in cash thanks to the brand image of the club, Dortmund did not enjoy such luxury. The Schwarzgelben fought bankruptcy and have reached their current stature in Germany by means of financial prudence and good youth development programme.

Having won a Bundesliga title in 2002 under current Bayern Technical Director Matthias Sammer, the Black and Yellows began a steep decline that stopped only after Jurgen Klopp took over as manager. Poor financial management and reliance on foreign players who were being paid astronomical fees resulted in a mountain of debt which required the sale of the Westfalenstadion, now renamed as the Signal Iduna Park.

The ground which is known for its iconic Sudtribune stand is the largest capacity venue in Germany. Despite Bayern Munich loaning €2 million to help the club stay afloat, Dortmund barely managed to break even financially.

Profits were made thanks to the sale of David Odonkor and Tomas Rosicky after the 2005-06 season. The team battled relegation in the 2006-07 season and in the 2007-08 season managed to garner a UEFA Cup place courtesy of reaching the German Cup final only to lose to Bayern Munich who had already secured their Champions League berth.

Germany’s football moguls had decided on restructuring the country’s football on a whole where youth development was given top priority. This was after the national team’s shrinking pool of quality footballers post Euro 2004. The result was a mass initiative by all the Bundesliga clubs to focus on their youth players and provide the right infrastructure for them to develop into top footballers. This approach was adopted by Dortmund under new manager Jurgen Klopp who arrived from Mainz at the end of the 2007-08 season.

Klopp brought success back to Dortmund

Their first season under the new coach saw Dortmund win the German Cup defeating Bayern Munich in the final and in the subsequent season they missed out on a Europa League place narrowly. The entry of young talent like Marcel Schmelzer, Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan, Lukas Piszczek, Neven Subotic, Nuri Sahin, Shinji Kagawa, Kevin Grosskreutz and Robert Lewandowski coupled with the experienced hands of Sebastian Kehl and Roman Weidenfeller, Dortmund won back to back Bundesliga titles in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.

With the roster bolstered by youth prodigies Mario Gotze and Marco Reus, Klopp successfully managed to turn the tables on a club that was weighed down by debt.

The 2011-12 season saw Dortmund make a return to the competition they had won nearly 15 years ago when they defeated a highly fancied Juventus side 3-1 which was known for the shutting out of Zinedine Zidane by current Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert who played for Dortmund then.

Dortmund were drawn against Arsenal, Marseille and Olympiakos in the group stages. But their absence for a prolonged period from Europe’s premier club competition showed as they finished last in their group. However they worked out the chinks in their armour and were back this season to set things right.

Drawn in the tournament’s Group of Death that featured league champions from three other nations namely Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax, the Borussians surprised many by playing a ruthless counter-attacking style of football that saw them top the cluster.

Up there with the very best

They were pitted against sides that were mirror images of themselves in the knockout stages in Shakhtar Donetsk and subsequently Malaga. Klopp’s side overcame these challenges, remaining unbeaten in the competition this year, to book a second date with Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the semi-finals who are dead set on winning their much coveted La Decima this season.

Having scored 93 goals and conceded 44, their attacking prowess is never in doubt. With a frontline boasting of Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Jakub ‘Kuba’ Blaszczykowski, they are a genuine threat from all possible avenues of scoring, be it on-field or dead ball situations. It is the defence that needs to be looked at as the team has looked suspect without their talismanic centre-half Mats Hummels. Felipe Santana has not looked convincing at the heart of the Dortmund defence leaving Subotic with more than he can handle.

However with Hummels returning for the semi-final clash against Real Madrid, Dortmund can fancy their chances of making it to Wembley this year. However, Real Madrid are a completely different prospect in the knockout stages of the Champions League. They are more accustomed to this situation than Dortmund and will know that victory is of paramount importance.

It must be remembered that Jose Mourinho’s treble winning Inter team finished second in their group in the 2009-10 edition of the Champions League behind Barcelona. The Special One then orchestrated one of his most memorable results when he outsmarted the Catalans to make it to the final of the tournament that year.

Dortmund would do well to remember this and be on their guard against a Real Madrid side oozing class and flair. But, the Germans are no walkovers themselves and if there is anything to be learnt about them, it’s that they are truly back where they belong.

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