Thomas Tuchel is disappointed with the departure of a key trio but this is a familiar tale, says Matt Pearson. A "new beginning" with young stars sounds enticing but is it realistic?
The Dortmund coach recently saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan join Ilkay Gündogan and Mats Hummels in beating a path to the exit and there’s a possibility that with them went the club’s hope of wrestling the Bundesliga back from Bayern’s grasp.
The west German club have developed a reputation for rebuilding from the rubble in recent years, consistently losing first teamers only to replace them with youngsters who go on to become key men. Again, this has been their strategy this close-season but there’s a growing feeling three key departures may be too many.
Sebastian Rode and Marc Bartra, both 25, are the senior men in an incoming list of players high on potential but low on experience. Turkey’s Emre Mor (18), who impressed in patches at Euro 2016, and French wonderkid Ousmane Dembele, who set Dortmund back about 15 million euros, are the headliners in a young bunch. The pair have less than 40 career league appearances between them.
Dortmund taking a gamble
As highly-rated as these players are, the average age of the players Tuchel has signed thus far sits around 21, the average age of those who have left a shade over 26. That’s a lot of experience to lose in one go.
The coach himself perhaps summarized the club’s situation best: "It is a risky path," he admitted. "But risk can also be rewarded."
But, for Dortmund fans, the question is: Do the club expect that reward to come in trophies or in future transfer fees?
Since Mario Götze’s controversial move to Munich in 2013, arguably the transfer that cemented Dortmund’s reputation as a selling club, the Bavarians, with former Dortmund man Robert Lewandowski leading the line, have won three championships and two German Cups. In that same period, Dortmund have won nothing.
While the idea of buying, polishing and selling young players makes sense from a business perspective, Dortmund fans must, at least occasionally, be frustrated when a team who look like they could start to challenge for major honors is dismantled, especially by their domestic rivals.
Aiming high enough?
"We have tried everything to keep the players and strengthen the team around them,” Tuchel said in his press conference. “It has to be recognized that we went to our limit."
If second in the Bundesliga is really the best the club ranked 10th in the continent by UEFA and with Europe’s biggest average attendance can hope for, then there’s a real problem with the German league, and with Bayern’s financial and sporting dominance.
But it shouldn’t be the limit of Dortmund’s ambition. It was only four years ago that the club won the title, only three years ago they were a game away from being European champions. Indeed in the same press conference Tuchel said he thinks the club should “challenge the greats in the Champions League, attack the top of the Bundesliga and win the German Cup.”
It could easily be argued that Dortmund are forced to sell players, particularly when - as is the case with all three of the recent departures - they are in the last year of their contract. But equally, it’s hard to blame a player like Mkhitaryan for leaving when the heart is being ripped from the team.
The fees Dortmund have negotiated for the trio are impressive in the circumstances. But should an inexperienced squad fail to finish in the Champions League spots in 2016/17, the numbers start to look a little less positive.
If that seems a remote possibility after a solid campaign last term, one only needs to look back to the 2014/15 campaign under Tuchel’s predecessor Jürgen Klopp when they finished seventh after some key departures in previous years.
Of course, there’s plenty of hope for Dortmund and their fans, not least in the fact that they’ve been written off in these positions before and triumphed.
But should their galaxy of young stars fail to gel this season, it’d be little surprise if the names of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Matthias Ginter and Marco Reus replace those of Gündogan, Hummels and Mkhitaryan in the outgoings column time next year. That really might be a problem.