Manchester City & Borussia Dortmund prove there is no magic recipe for Champions League success

The champions of England and German clash at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday but will need to improve on last season if they are to make an impact on the European Cup
By Ewan Roberts

In many ways Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund could not be more different. One side’s manager prowls the touchline in an Armani suit, the other dons a hooded tracksuit and trainers. One side favours a defensive, solid shape, the other promotes attacking, expressive, fluid football. And, perhaps most notably, one side dips into a practically limitless pot of money, while the other lives within its means.

The German club’s wage-bill is significantly lower than their turnover and not even a quarter the size of Manchester City’s. Dortmund buy low and sell high, cautiously and responsibly balancing their books and keeping expenditure at a minimum. That is typified by the eight-figure profit Dortmund made on Shinji Kagawa, while their title-winning side of last season cost about as much as City paid for James Milner alone (£24 million).

That clash of financial philosophies was underlined last month by Dortmund chief executive Hands-Joachim Watzke, who urged Uefa to expel clubs such as Manchester City if they cannot comply with Financial Fair Play.

“Uefa must find the thin line between sponsorship and excessive back-door funding,” he said. “They must show strength to expel big clubs. No tycoon should be allowed to pump crazy money into a club with sponsorship from five companies he controls.”
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In the last the last three years Dortmund have signed young players on cheap contracts such as Shinji Kagawa from Cerezo Osaka and Robert Lewandowski from Lech Poznan.

The sale of Kagawa in the summer to Manchester United meant they were able to, in effect, buy Marco Reus for nothing. This is the philosophy of the club, while managing director Hans-Joachim Watzke and manager Michael Zorc have helped Dortmund reduce debts and are largely responsible for ensuring the club is now in such good financial health.

Dortmund employed Jurgen Klopp as their manager four years ago and he has constantly promoted players from the club’s youth system. Mario Gotze, Moritz Leitner and Kevin Grosskreutz have all had a big impact in the first team and on the club’s achievements and the likes of Koray Gunter and Marc Homschuh, both defenders, are close to making a big breakthrough in the first team, too.

“We must allow a football culture to prevail,” Watzke continued. “It allowed Dortmund to win two titles by having a good structure, a healthy fanbase, a full stadium and a financially viable policy.”

Not that Dortmund were always so prudent. Their rise back to prominence represents a story of survival and recovery from the irresponsible, cavalier spending currently sweeping many of Europe’s top leagues that saw Dortmund flirt with bankruptcy and relegation.

And yet, despite their differences, despite sitting at opposite ends of the financial spectrum, both teams had remarkably similar campaigns last season, and suffered from comparable failings. The pair both failed to qualify from their Champions League groups, and yet went on to win league titles.

Dortmund picked up just four points from six games on their return to the Champions League, finishing bottom of their group and losing all three of their away games.

Manchester City’s maiden voyage in Europe’s premier cup competition was no more successful; eliminated in the group stages, Roberto Mancini's men only managed to beat a heavily depleted Villarreal side and a second string XI fielded by the already qualified Bayern Munich.

Two wildly different but highly successful (domestically) philosophies on and off the pitch, the two clubs highlight just how difficult the Champions League is to master, how much of a challenge it is to face teams with different and unfamiliar styles and tempos, regardless of financial clout or playing style.

The City and Dortmund squads were constructed to win their respective leagues, designed to oppose the biggest domestic threats. Arguably Jurgen Klopp’s side went a stage further, built as a direct counter to Bayern Munich specifically, their main, perhaps only, divisional rival. Dortmund’s strengths corresponded to Bayern’s weaknesses.

Roberto Mancini wants his side to improve defensively ahead of Champions League clash
But the Champions League is filled with curveballs, unfamiliarity and variation, and yet both Manchester City and Dortmund showed a certain naivety, perhaps even arrogance, assuming that they could continue to play their own, quite defined styles even against higher quality opposition.

Dortmund especially maintained their high energy, quick tempo, exhaustive pressing game, rarely adapting to their opponent.

Manchester City and Dortmund were the new boys in town, wet behind the ears, and the wily, experienced, battle-hardened veterans of the Champions League – emphasis on champions – exploited the pairs’ naivety and rigidity.

Perhaps what a successful European campaign requires more than anything is adaptability, a squad capable of playing more than one way – which neither team did last season.

It should be noted that both sides had significant personnel changes too. Dortmund lost Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid and Sven Bender and Mario Gotze to injury, while Robert Lewandowski usurped previous topscorer Lucas Barrios initiating an evolution of the Dortmund attack.

City signed Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero, bringing about a change in attacking emphasis and a shift in shape, while they also had to deal with the absence of then reigning topscorer Carlos Tevez.

Manchester City may spend big, but hordes of new players – regardless of quality or price tag – take time to gel. And while Dortmund’s bottom line may be healthy, losing key players requires periods of adaptation.
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This season, however, the sides are more settled. Dortmund have lost only Kagawa and replaced him with the equally impressive Marco Reus. Manchester City have not tampered too much with their starting XI, but have added depth, variety and options to their squad.

There is a concern that Dortmund have not heeded the lessons of last year, have not broadened the flexibility of their squad sufficiently, but City most certainly have.

Last season the two clubs both watched as sides they finished above domestically, Bayern and Chelsea respectively, did battle in the Champions League final.

Both teams, immensely talented but inexperienced at this level, must ensure they learn from their mistakes of last season, be prepared to adapt and even forgo the shape and tactics that brought domestic success in order to achieve European glory.

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