"Money scores goals" - so the old football cliche. But while some pricey transfers have yet to yield dividends, players acquired for relatively little or nothing at all have been setting German soccer on fire.
Buying Kagawa was one of the smartest and cheapest things Dortmund have done
350,000 euros is a fair amount of a money - enough, for instance, to purchase a comfortable dwelling in a decent neighborhood in most European cities. But it's not sufficient to buy the top-scoring midfielder in a major European football league.
Unless, of course, that player is Shinji Kagawa.
Dortmund's acquisition of the Japanese whirlwind for the soccer equivalent of loose change has been one of the stories of the year. But it's actually fairly typical both of the Dortmund squad overall and a topsy-turvy season in which bargains have outperformed big-name signings.
Germany's Sportbild newspaper recently did some math and discovered that the Dortmund side currently steamrolling the league cost the club less than one-sixth of what it paid for its 2002 squad, the last time Dortmund won the Bundesliga.
Barrios' value has shot through the roof
From back to front, Dortmund have been getting excellent returns on modest investments. Even the club's top striker, Lukas Barrios, only cost 4.5 million euros ($6.2 million) in transfer fees, a pittance compared with the sums Bayern Munich paid for Mario Gomez (ca. 35 million euros) or Schalke for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (14 million).
Kagawa and Barrios illustrate the impact that good scouting can have. Discovering new talent may be harder than opening up the purse strings to purchase established players' services, but it's a better way to improve a squad.
Persistence pays off
Cisse was worth the wait for Freiburg
If Barrios is a bargain, Freiburg's Papiss Demba Cisse is nothing short of sensation. In 29 games for the small Southern German club, the Senegalese striker has scored 16 goals.
The 1.5 million euros Freiburg paid to acquire him from French club Metz in the winter break last year may be the highest transfer sum in club history, but he's been worth every cent. By comparison, Lukas Podolski, who cost Cologne 10 million, only has 6 goals in 40 matches.
Freiburg were originally rebuffed by Metz when they made their first bid for Cisse at the start of last season. But they hung tough in pursuit of the man they wanted, and their patience has been rewarded.
Ya Konan has given Hanover reason to smile
Another steal has been Hanover's Didier Ya Konan who came in at the beginning of last season from Rosenborg Trondheim for 500,000 euros.
His 12 goals in 31 matches doesn't immediately take one's breath away but consider how impotent Hanover's attack otherwise is.
Since his arrival, Hanover hasn't earned a single point from the ten games in which Ya Konan hasn't been able to play. The Ivorian striker was a key reason why Hanover avoided relegation last season and are fourth in the table after thirteen rounds in this one.
The half-a-million Hanover shelled out now seems like next to nothing. But some other valuable contributors have in fact come even cheaper.
In Piszczek, Dortmund got a good defender for nothing
Even better than unearthing bargains is finding players whose contracts are expiring and thus can be had free of transfer charges.
One increasingly important member of Dortmund's squad is right back Lukasz Piszczek, who forced the own goal in the 2-1 win over Freiburg on Saturday that kept the men in yellow's winning streak alive.
The Polish national got relegated with Hertha Berlin last season, but Dortmund recognized his potential. And after an initial period of adjustment, he's established himself in a hard-to-fill position for a title-worthy squad.
Another way, of course, to acquire quality is to borrow it. Mainz, of course, have done fantastically well with rising German star Lewis Holtby this year. He's actually under contract to Schalke, who must be ruing the decision to send him off for a year of development he obviously doesn't need.
The undisputed masters of the rent-a-talent game, though, are Nuremberg. The Club, as they're known, borrowed a quartet of players from Bayern and Hamburg last year and successfully avoided relegation.
Schieber, right, has helped Nuremberg keep an even keel
This year, Julian Schieber from Stuttgart and Mehmet Ekici from Bayern have been key members of a squad that has kept a comfortable distance between themselves and the drop zone.
Arguably, borrowing talent does little for a club's medium-term development. On the other hand, Nuremberg are above Schalke and Stuttgart in the table, and Mainz are better than everyone but Dortmund.
So it's hard to take them to task for temporarily acquiring some good players for free.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Michael Lawton