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League title march nearly complete, Dortmund eye the next level

If it ain't broke, don't fix it, runs an old adage. But Bundesliga champions-in-the-making Dortmund are going to have to do some clever wheeling and dealing to reestablish themselves as a perennial powerhouse.

Dortmund supporters celebrate with a mock Bundesliga trophy

The "salad bowl" is heading to Dortmund in May

As if anyone who follows German football really needed reminding, Borussia Dortmund once again showed that they are the team of the season last weekend. Sunday's 3-0 thrashing of Freiburg not only took the maximum number of wins needed to clinch the league title down to two, and dispelled any thoughts of coach Jürgen Klopp's men pulling up lame before the finish line.

It also provided a demonstration of what makes this Dortmund squad so very good.

The men in yellow and black swarmed all over Freiburg from the opening whistle. By the time they had scored their third goal, they had 20 shots on goal to their opponents one and could have easily been ahead by six or seven.

After the match Freiburg coach Robin Dutt put it best.

"To be honest, does anyone care what I say?" Dutt told reporters. "A couple more points and Dortmund are the champions. They presented us with an insoluble task today."

Even the absence of rudder Nuri Sahin, who was substituted out early with a knee injury, didn't put a brake on the Dortmund express. As the players celebrated with 80,000 delirious home fans, it was hard not to think that this is a team that will be unstoppable in years to come.

Dortmund's Mario Goetze, left, celebrates

Dortmund have already extended the contracts of many young players

But a single season does not a dynasty make, as other clubs have found out. Similar scenes of jubilation played themselves out in Stuttgart in 2007 and Wolfsburg in 2009, and a few years down the road, both of those teams find themselves fighting relegation and the suspicion that they were one-year-wonders.

What's more, just before Dortmund kicked off on Sunday, Bayern Munich took out title pretenders Leverkusen 5-1. That result was a reminder that while the Ruhr valley's Borussia may be the team of 2010-11, the team of the past three decades resides in Bavaria.

By winning this season's title, as they all but surely will, Dortmund will have achieved a significant goal. But the next challenge has already arrived - restoring the club's status as a year-in, year-out contender that Borussia enjoyed around the turn of the millennium.

And that means this is going to be one fascinating summer in Dortmund.

Neven Subotic and Nuri Sahin

Dortmund may not be able to keep Subotic and Sahin

Fending off poachers

Dortmund management has done a good job thus far of protecting the squad they've built, appealing to the loyalty of youngsters like Kevin Grosskreutz and Mario Götze and getting them to sign early contract extensions.

But the team's amazing run this season has not gone unnoticed elsewhere in Europe, and a number of key players are now considered among the biggest bargains to be had on the market.

Case in point Sahin. Dortmund are working on re-signing him but the midfielder, who is equally adept as a creator and destroyer, is rumored to have a 6 million euro ($8.5 million) buy-out clause in his present contract, and hardly a day goes by in which German sports pages don't link him with Real Madrid or Barcelona.

Dortmund isn't confirming those rumors, understandably since that would be like announcing you'd hocked the Holy Grail to a pawn shop, where it could be redeemed for a fiver. But Borussia boss Hans-Joachim Watzke has also reportedly been lining up Nuremberg's Ilkay Gündogan as a potential Sahin replacement.

Dortmund should also expect attempted raids on their central defenders. Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic are, to put it simply, the best pair of center backs in the world right now. Subotic learned his trade playing youth soccer in the United States and could easily adjust to England's Premier League as a fluent English speaker. And despite a contract until 2016, Hummels' performance in the Freiburg match, in which he initiated Dortmund's first two goals, was surely convincing evidence that he's worth an eight-figure transfer fee.

Dortmund lack the clout and the riches of Europe's footballing elite. The trick will be to extract maximum money from the players they're forced to sell and reinvest the cash sensibly instead of blowing it on quick-fix big-name signings.

Moenchengladbach's Marco Reus celebrates

It's easy to picture Marco Reus in Dortmund yellow

Chemistry lessons

Teams built last longer than teams bought, as Dortmund's own history shows. The squads that won Bundesliga and Champions League titles in the '90s and '00s were full of expensive transfers that nearly bankrupted the club. The ultimate result was a lost decade of mediocrity - and debts that Borussia are still servicing.

The current squad has been put together economically and efficiently with no one player costing more than 6 million euros. That's a policy Dortmund need to preserve. Not only is it good for the balance sheets, it would also maintain a sense of fairness and camaraderie within the team - which has been another of Borussia's strengths this season.

And Dortmund do appear to be toeing this line. One player they are expected to sign is the young attacking midfielder Marco Reus, the lone bright spot in Borussia Mönchengladbach's otherwise dismally underperforming cadre.

They have also been linked to Croatian international Ivan Perisic, who has scored 20 goals in 53 games for Belgian side Bruges and seems keen to attempt a leap to a bigger league. At the ages of 22 and 21 respectively, Perisic and Reus are the sort of players who could be expected to bolster Dortmund's squad for the Champions League without creating financial strain or disrupting team chemistry.

Will Watzke and Klopp be able to create a new and potentially better compound, or will the squad combust? No one knows at this point. But Dortmund will spend the summer trying to the get the mix right where so many others before them have gotten it so badly wrong.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Matt Hermann

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