Borussia Dortmund great Karl-Heinz Riedle has told DW that the club must strike a balance between history and commercialism. He also said Ousmane Dembele was the best teenager in world football in an exclusive interview.
Borussia Dortmund must find the right balance between tradition and commercial interests if they are to compete for the Bundesliga and Champions League, according to club legend Karl-Heinz Riedle.
A proudly traditional club, Dortmund alienated some of its support by travelling to China for this summer’s pre-season tour, ending a long tradition of tours close to Germany. The club have defended such trips, and Riedle claims they will only be able to challenge Europe's best if they remain "open to commercial opportunities."
"It's important for Dortmund to find the right balance between tradition and commercialism," the 51-year-old Riedle told Deutsche Welle.
"The fans are all keen to win the Bundesliga or Champions League, and this is the number one aim. A club like Borussia Dortmund needs to perform, otherwise the fans are not happy. To compete on this level we must be open to commercial opportunities to ensure we have the income to buy the best players."
Riedle, who scored two goals in the 1997 Champions League final for Dortmund, compared the club to Liverpool and Manchester United, who he says managed to maintain their integrity and a high level of success while expanding their empires.
'You won't please all the people all the time'
"Liverpool and Manchester United are also traditional clubs but they have found success by ensuring commercial success in places like China and the United States.You’re not going to please all the people all of the time, but Dortmund need to strike the right balance - and I believe they are," he added.
On the pitch, Dortmund are still grappling with the losses of captain Mats Hummels to Bayern Munich and key players Ilkay Gündogan and Henrik Mkhitaryan to Manchester - but Riedle defended the club’s transfer policy, insisting the focus must remain on replacing quality with quality.
"It was very difficult for Dortmund to lose Hummels, Gündogan and Mkhitaryan in one summer. It was like having the heart ripped out of the team" admitted Riedle. "It was not easy for Dortmund or Thomas Tuchel, but all of the signings they made have had a huge impact. As long as Dortmund keep buying the same quality that they sell, then they can maintain their transfer policy. The club has the appeal of being in the Champions League and fighting for the Bundesliga so it can afford to sell its best players and remain at the top - but it's vital that the ones coming in are as good as the ones leaving. That is the challenge."
A bright future for Dortmund
Despite seeing the core of their team walk out the door, Dortmund have plenty of reasons to be optimistic on the pitch, with many new signings impressing under coach Tuchel's tutelage. One of those is 19-year-old Ousamane Dembele, whom Riedle believes is the best teenager in world football.
"Dembele is only 19 and you have to say, in his age group, he is one of the best players in the world." Riedle said.
"He makes some mistakes, like dribbling for too long when he could release the ball, but he is still learning. He has great confidence for a young player and keeps trying to beat defenders and make chances.I’ve never seen a player with such sharp movements and in a couple of years, if he has no injuries, I think he will be a world class talent. He is probably the best teenager in world football right now."
Riedle believes Dembele, who scored his first and only Dortmund goal so far in the 5-1 thrashing of struggling Wolfsburg last month, is the perfect type of player to help Dortmund rebuild for the future.
"Some people have said the squad lacks experience, but I think we have a brilliant mix and we’re doing things the right way. The young players have to learn from the older ones. Dortmund always expects to be fighting for the title, but the board understands that with a group of young players it takes one, two or maybe even three years to reach the highest level. It’s better to sign players like this than ones that are 29 or 30 with no long term future."
One of Tuchel’s biggest challenges at Dortmund is developing a crop of talented but raw youngsters at the club. Riedle believes the former Mainz coach has risen to the challenge, demonstrating that his best qualities as a coach are nurturing his players and spotting new roles for them - as he has demonstrated with Raphael Guerreiro.
"Tuchel has many strengths but developing young players into better ones is one of his key attributes. He loves to sign young players and showed this at Mainz. Everyone expected Guerreiro to be cover for Marcel Schmelzer at left-back, but Tuchel had a different idea and everyone has been surprised at the impact Guerreiro has had."
Dortmund’s young guns will be put to the test this Friday night by high-flying Hertha Berlin, who are in second place in the standings, one point ahead of BVB.