Dortmund are about to play in only their second Champions League final. Their first was back in 1997 where they became European champions after beating Juventus 3-1.
The journey the club has taken from 1997 to now can only be described as a roller-coaster. From near bankruptcy to being back among Europe’s elite.
It was at the turn of the millennium when the fortunes of Dortmund started to turn. After winning the Bundesliga in 2002, they followed it up the next season by finishing third and having to enter the Champions League qualifying rounds. Dortmund faced Club Brugge in round two and it was Brugge who progressed to the next round after defeating Dortmund on penalties.
The result for Dortmund not qualifying for the Champions League left them in a vulnerable financial position. Poor financial management and a heavy reliance on foreign players who were being paid big wages sent Dortmund to the brink of bankruptcy. Their old rivals Bayern Munich even loaned them 2million Euros to help pay their payroll for a couple of months.
Their situation worsened in 2005. All playing staff had their wages cut by 20% and their stadium, which was known as the Westfalenstadion was renamed ‘Signal Iduna Park’ to produce some much needed income.
In 2005-06 the club managed to battle to a seventh place finish. Dortmund managed to show a profit, but that was largely due to the sale of Tomas Rosicky to Arsenal and David Odonkor to Real Betis.
The next season saw Dortmund battle relegation. They went through three managers during the season and it was Thomas Doll who managed to guide the club to safety.
In 2007-08, Dortmund’s performance worsened. They finished the season in 13th place. But a good cup run saw them lose in the final to Bayern Munich. As a result of Bayern already qualifying for the Champions League, Dortmund were handed a place in the UEFA Cup.
In the summer of 2008, Thomas Doll resigned as manager of Borussia Dortmund. His replacement, Jurgen Klopp.
Whilst Dortmund were going through financial uncertainty, Klopp was making a name for himself at lowly Mainz.
Klopp started and ended his playing career with Mainz. When Klopp retired from playing in 2001, he was appointed their manager.
It took several years for Klopp to adapt to management. But in 2004, Klopp led Mainz to promotion to the Bundesliga. In his first season in Germany’s top flight, Klopp guided them to safety as they finished 11th. They were also rewarded with a place in the UEFA Cup thanks to Germany’s fair play draw.
Mainz followed up their impressive first season in the Bundesliga with another 11th place finish. Although the next season, they were relegated.
Klopp stayed with Mainz as they tried to get back into the top flight at the first attempt. After failing to do so, Klopp left Mainz and was quickly appointed as Borussia Dortmund’s new manager.
Before his move to Dortmund, Klopp was considered for the Bayern Munich job. Klopp revealed that he got a call from Uli Hoeness and he told him that they were considering two people for the managers position. Klopp was one of them. After a while, Hoeness decided against Klopp. Hoeness opted for the other candidate, Jurgen Klinsmann.
Klopp was also approached by Hamburg. But Klopp decided against the job because his appearance was not what Hamburg wanted. Klopp wears a team track suit instead of a suit. Hamburg’s hierarchy also didn’t like the fact that the players were calling him by his nickname, ‘Kloppo’. Hamburg believed that he couldn’t have the respect of his players. Hamburg appointed Martin Jol instead.
It seems that he and Dortmund were meant to be. In his first season in charge, Klopp led Dortmund to a sixth place finish and followed that up with a fifth place finish the following season.
But it was in 2010-11 where Borussia Dortmund really came to the fore. Klopp had already adopted a youth policy. He was prepared to be brave and play youngsters. Youngsters like Mats Hummels, Nevan Subotic, Marcel Schmelzer, Sven Bender, Ilkay Gundogan, Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski and Nuri Sahin. These players would be the core to Borussia Dortmund’s recent success.
Germany had decided to restructure their whole football system after their disappointment in Euro 2004. Youth development was given top priority as there was a lack of talent coming through Germany’s youth system. Clubs were to focus on their youth system and infrastructure so that they could develop quality players. Something that Dortmund have reaped the rewards of.
Dortmund won the title in 2010-11. They would follow that up by retaining their title the following season. They would achieve that by accumulating the most points in history, the joint most wins in a season with 25, equalling that of the great Bayern Munich side of 1972/73. Their unbeaten run of 28 games was the longest unbeaten streak in the history of the Bundesliga.
Dortmund would also win the German cup with a 5-2 win over rivals Bayern Munich in the final. But in the Champions League, they failed to get out of their group. Inexperience amongst the players would show. But something they would develop quickly.
Dortmund’s style of play has been breathtaking and refreshing. The speed of transition from defence to attack is phenomenal. The energetic duo of Gundogan and Bender in the centre of midfield and the pace of Marco Reus and Jakub Blaszczykowski on the break. Then there’s Lewandowski upfront who will take any chance that comes his way.
Hummels is a major part of this team. The central defender reads the game so well and his partnership with Subotic is key. Dortmund miss Hummels when he doesn’t play.
Another key part to Dortmund’s play under Klopp is their relentless pressing. The energy that this team has is unbelievable. This was evident in their semi final first leg against Real Madrid. Madrid were hassled at every opportunity. Dortmund never let Madrid settle. Klopp believed that nullifying Xabi Alonso will stop the supply to Cristiano Ronaldo, therefore stopping Real Madrid.
With all the stars Dortmund have, their wage bill is now sustainable. Their wage bill is half of what Bayern’s is and a third of Madrid’s. With the fear of bankruptcy in 2005, Dortmund managed a profit of 160million in 2012.
Even with their financial future secure, big players continue to leave Dortmund. Last year, Shinji Kagawa left Germany for Manchester United and Nuri Sahin left for Real Madrid. This summer will see Mario Gotze join Dortmund’s opponents on Saturday evening Bayern. Lewandowski also looks likely to join Munich.
It’s been quite a decade for Dortmund and Klopp. Dortmund have the chance to be kings of Europe again. As Klopp said, if you respect Bayern and how much they won in the 70s, support them. If you want the new story, the special story, support Dortmund.