Borussia Dortmund is hardly out of the dark woods of financial debt. The latest shareholder meeting revealed though that some calm has returned to the boardroom and that is spilling onto the pitch this season.
Dortmund's Ebi Smolarek (right) has led the team's rise this season
It was probably Borussia Dortmund team president Hans-Joachim Watzke's worst nightmare. Top players like strikers Jan Koller and Lars Ricken, veterans with loads of experience to help the cash-strapped club through troubled times, get hurt and are out for weeks. The possibility of climbing out from the almost 90-million-euro ($108-million) hole by making it to European club competition seemed nothing but a dream.
Yet instead of plummeting to the bottom of the table, manager Bert van Marwijk has performed a minor miracle in the first half of the season and has Dortmund in the upper flights of the Bundesliga. It might be too soon to speak of a phoenix rising from the ashes, but the atmosphere of the recent shareholder meeting on Nov. 22 was the complete opposite of last year's.
Fans heaped abuse on Dortmund president Niebaum (left) and general manager Meier last year
At that time, former club president Gerd Niebaum and general manager Michael Meier received an earful from unappreciative shareholders and fans, and they later handed in their resignations. Supporters' flight in the late 1990s and early 2000s almost ended in the club's demise. Just this spring, the club stood on the brink of bankruptcy after their house of cards based on risky schemes collapsed.
"No more Amoroso deals"
Hans-Joachim Watzke was given the assignment of restoring order to Borussia. He's done his job well, and that has brought back a sense of calm to the Ruhr Valley city.
Be it the sale of the naming rights to the traditional Westfalen Stadium -- soon-to-be Signal Iduna Park -- or more sponsors, Watzke seems to be have turned around the critical situation of last spring, where the club stood on the brink of bankruptcy. The 46-year old has won the confidence of the shareholders -- much needed after the club amassed losses amounting to 145 million euros over the last two seasons.
Marcio Amoroso, once feted and then maligned at Dortmund
"There won't be any financial high-wire acts with me -- there won't be any Amoroso deals," he said at the shareholder meeting.
Watzke was referring to one of the biggest player flops in Dortmund history. Flamboyant Brazilian striker Marcio Amoroso signed on in 2001 for 25 million euros and immediately led the team to a Bundesliga title with his 18 goals. Then he got hurt and became a liability to the club when he returned. During a tumultuous 2003-04 campaign, his contract was dissolved, but the club still had to pay him.
Youth can pay off
In the current campaign, one that the soccer experts thought could result in Dortmund's relegation, the team has performed impressively. Former German international and current Hungary manager Lothar Matthäus recently wrote for the magazine Sport-Bild just how amazed he was by manager Bert van Marwijk's job this autumn.
Manager Bert van Marwijk mustn't hide his face anymore
Van Marwijk has done it with youth. Not because he necessarily wanted to, but because Watzke has brought about an end to expensive foreign acquisitions. The team's average age on the playing field is a youthful 23.8 years. Seventeen-year old Nuri Sahin and 18-year old Marc-Andre Kruska have secured starting spots in the current situation, much to the chagrin of "oldies" like 22-year old Swiss international Philipp Degen.
It has worked so far, but many wonder whether such a young squad can keep up the strong performances. The fact is, Watzke and van Marwijk don't have much choice.