Borussia Dortmund’s 4-2 win against Zenit St. Petersburg in Russia will do little to mask how much of an arduous and painful season this has been.
Rather than it being a continuation of the great adventure under Jurgen Klopp, the steady dismantling of the Bundesliga side is catching up to them. With an injury crisis far outreaching any of their major European contemporaries, the goal for Dortmund now is very much to look to what can be salvaged for next season.
Robert Lewandowski has confirmed his departure and will join up with Mario Goetze at Bayern Munich in the summer. If it wasn’t already a big ask for Dortmund to replace a striker who has developed into one of Europe’s absolute finest, the lingering doubts about Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus’ futures stalk a club who, regardless of recent success, are not yet able to match up to the heavyweights around Europe.
Gundogan has been one to contribute to that most unenviable injury list at Signal Iduna Park. The midfielder has been out of action since August with a back injury and the club are yet to set a marker for his return. Being the end of February and with match fitness required, it wouldn’t be too far off to suggest he may not feature again this season.
But it hasn’t stopped clubs around Europe from maintaining an interest. Gundogan remains a feature of the gossip columns, linking him with moves to either England or Spain.
And it’s understandable. Not only is Gundogan a specialist at a hugely in-demand midfield role, he also had a sensational season last year, capping it off with the Champions League final in May against Bayern Munich.
Manchester United, long in need of a player of that ilk, have been among those chasing the German international’s signature. Dortmund have been here before, not only in having to relinquish hold on one of their star players, but having to sell the midfield conductor of their game.
Gundogan’s predecessor Nuri Sahin, now back at the club, was sold to Real Madrid when only one year of his contract remained. Gundogan holds his club in a similar position, with his deal running out in 2015. Not only that, but the player is in danger of repeating the struggles Sahin faced when he departed for Spain in 2011.
Sahin never had an opportunity to fully get into the rhythm of things at Real Madrid. Unlike Gareth Bale, who currently faces similar fitness and injury issues, Madrid didn’t have around €100 million in transfer fees alone tied up in him. It made it easier to send him on loan to Liverpool before agreeing to deal which may see him prolong his stay at Dortmund beyond this season.
For Manchester United, and even after their loss in Greece against Olympiakos on Wednesday night, it would be wise to refrain from describing the club’s situation as at a nadir; there’s no telling how much further United under David Moyes will sink this season.
They therefore need players who can make an immediate impact in the team next season. Time is neither on the club’s hands nor with the manager, who, provided he remains at Old Trafford into next season, will undoubtedly be working on borrowed time afforded to him by what many hope will be a lavish summer of spend.
Gundogan may be a risk too far for the club. Barcelona and Real Madrid are extremely keen on the 23-year-old. Xavi and Xabi Alonso are coming to the end of their careers, and despite the options both clubs have in their respective squads, Gundogan is one of the few players good enough to immediately step in and take over in that specific role.
Yet Madrid are said to be wary of his injury problems. Instead, they’re reportedly looking at Arturo Vidal to boost their midfield, who Barcelona were also said to be interested in.
It means that Dortmund may yet avoid that which they’ve fought to dodge these past three summers: not having to lose two star players in one transfer window. Though it also means Gundogan’s value decreases. For a player who may not have kicked a ball in a year, there is considerable risk attached to his signing. Potential buyers know that, and Dortmund will struggle to prove otherwise.
Manchester United, in their position, simply can’t afford high-risk gambles of that nature.