Dortmund Doing It The Right Way

If admiring Borussia Dortmund makes Daniel Storey a hipster, then he's happy to wear the James Richardson badge with pride. They are a wonderful example of the right way...

Last Updated: 24/04/13 at 09:56 Post Comment

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The title races in Germany and England have been rather similar. Revenge has been sweet for temporarily vanquished Goliaths, with Bayern Munich and Manchester United both responding impressively to being upset by their nearest rivals last season. Upstarts have been effectively put back in place, with interest at the top of the Bundesliga and Premier League eradicated beyond mid-April.

However, whilst the second-placed clubs in the respective divisions have both failed to hang onto the coat-tails of the leaders, their characters differ dramatically. Both Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund have rebuilt themselves in order to initiate success, but their approach could not have been more different. Whilst City have used the fantastic riches of Sheikh Mansour, Dortmund have opted for a more organic approach, based on logic and sustainable development. And whilst City were one of just four teams in the Champions League to end the competition winless, on Wednesday Dortmund take on Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final, having already beaten Real (and City) this season.

Dortmund have become synonymous with the term 'hipster' of late, but the word is merely a weak facade for our jealousy of a club at the very top of its game, displaying pride without the clear potential for fall. The truth is that Die Schwarzgelben have, from adversity, been recreated to exist as a football club without being a servant to the overpowering commercialism eradicating the soul of our game. This a club of the people in a sport that ever-increasingly appears to wilfully ignore the people.

Being present at the club's Westfalenstadion is a footballing Spinal Tap tribute - this is football 'turned up to 11'. Dortmund attract the second-highest average attendances in Europe, over 80,000 people crammed into a cacophony of sights and sounds. But whilst the cheapest ticket to see Barcelona (top of the average attendance list) in any of their three remaining home games is €57, tickets in Dortmund's immense Gelbe Wand (yellow wall) are available for just €11. That's less than half the price of the cheapest ticket for Southend v Morecambe next weekend. A season ticket is available for as little as €190 (£154). Liverpool's cheapest season ticket was £725. That's enough to make you sick.

The foundation for Dortmund's success is the ownership principle on which German football is grounded. Financial stability is ensured through the '50% + 1' rule, whereby over half of the club's shares must be owned by its members. Outside parties are welcomed to provide investment, but are prevented from having a controlling interest - this instead sits with the fans. Dortmund are floated on the stock exchange, but the club's members elect the President and board, and also vote on major policy issues.

Such a system seems to bear fruit. Dortmund declared a pre-tax profit of €37m for 2011/12 (compared to City's €114m losses for the same period), and most impressive was their wage bill of less than €80m (putting them somewhere in between Aston Villa and Spurs). City's was €235m, an astonishing difference given Dortmund's recent achievements.

The club's transfer policy has also helped sculpt the identity of a young, hungry squad. Every player has their price (as demonstrated by Tuesday's late-night announcement that Mario Gotze will join Bayern Munich for €37m) but the investment in the youth academy and scouting network has recouped incredible rewards of late. Shinji Kagawa was sold to Manchester United last summer for €22million just two years after Dortmund paid just €350,000 for his services, and Mats Hummels seems likely to join Barcelona just four years after being bought on the cheap from Bayern Munich. During the last four years Dortmund have sold players for more money than they have spent, mightily impressive for a side at the top of one of Europe's top leagues.

Of the 17 Dortmund players with more than five Bundesliga appearances this season, only two (captain Sebastian Kehl and goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller) are aged over 27. 11 of those 17 are 24 and under, and in Hummels, Gotze, Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski and Ilkay Gundogan, the club have five of European football's hottest properties.

All of this would be a great deal easier to take if it had taken eras of underachievement whilst foundations were laid, but that is palpably not the case. In fact, Dortmund have returned from very recent financial adversity. In 2002 the club were forced to sell its stadium in order to repay unmanageable debt. Thereafter, gambling on continued Champions League participation led to further record losses and the necessity for a change of regime in 2005. Just three years later, and the club were back on an even keel.

Under the stewardship of Jurgen Klopp (appointed in May 2008), Dortmund have improved immeasurably. They play a high-tempo pressing game without the ball, and then attempt to drag the opposition out of position with sharp passing. Lewandowski may be the focal point up front (and the top scorer in the Bundesliga), but the movement of Reus and Gotze in behind allows for gaps created to be wonderfully exploited. They have scored 154 league goals since the beginning of last season.

Sustainable (but accelerated) growth including actually making a profit. A vibrant, young squad playing an attacking brand of attractive football. Each game played out in front of one of Europe's most electric atmospheres. This is pure music to the ears of the sane football supporter, and if appreciating such things makes me a hipster then hand me my James Richardson t-shirt and copy of Inverting The Pyramid, because I'm a convert.

Speaking after his side's draw at Eastlands earlier this season, Chief Executive Hans-Joachim Watzke spoke of his opponent's approach to success. "I am a little bit romantic, and that is not romantic. German fans want to have that sense of belonging. When you give them the sense that they are customers, you have lost. Our people come to the stadium like they are going to their family. Here, the supporters say: it's ours, it's my club."

It all brings a tear to my eye, and a rising resentment in my being. Whilst Dortmund's incredible rise is easier said than done, it would be nice for our clubs to give it a try.


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