They were nearly broke a few years ago, but now they're (again) looking like long-term competition for league giants Bayern Munich. Borussia Dortmund are repeat German champs and are established at the top of the league.
It was a triumph of pure hunger that Borussia Dortmund managed to pull off once again. With two games to go before the end of the season, no one can take the title away from Dortmund; the defense of last year's title came earlier than many soccer experts thought possible.
With eight points to spare in front of second-place Bayern Munich, Dortmund secured their eighth German title in the team's history, and won once again with a fresh and inspired approach to the game that has cemented them at the top of the league.
Other than Dortmund's 31-year-old goalkeeper, Roman Weidenfeller, and their 32-year-old captain, Sebastian Kehl, none of the regular players is over the age of 26 - and they're still just as hungry for success as they were last year.
Even without key players such as Nuri Sahin, who transferred to Real Madrid before the start of the season, or Mario Götze, who missed a large part of the season due to injury, the wins kept coming for Dortmund.
The start of the season was a little rocky, and the unofficial fall championship eluded them, but in the end Dortmund's nerves held.
"This team is never satisfied and completely greedy," said a proud Jürgen Klopp, the team's coach, after their second derby victory over archrivals Schalke earlier this month.
For the first time in 15 years, Dortmund also managed to get the best of Bayern Munich twice in the same season.
"It's unbelievable," said the team's chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke. "This team squeezed every last bit of themselves out to the last drop."
The numbers back up Watzke's praise. Dortmund are undefeated in 26 matches and counting, a league record. If they win their final two games, they'll finish the season with 81 points and break Bayern's record that was set in 1972 and tied in 1973 (under the current system of awarding three points per win, Bayern would have had 79 in each of those seasons).
Even as Dortmund tore through the rest of the league in the second half of the season, Klopp never stop focusing on his own team.
"Why should we worry about anything else other than getting points and playing the best season of our lives?" he said.
That called for calmness and patience, which Dortmund could call up in even the biggest of games. Two weeks ago in the Bundesliga's 'Battle of the Titans,' Dortmund coolly handled Bayern and won 1-0, with Dortmund's go-to striker Robert Lewandowski scoring one of the most important of his 20 goals this season.
Eye on Europe
There was some room for improvement in Dortmund's season, however, and it came in any match outside of Germany. In the group stage of the Champions League, Klopp's men only managed one win against Olympiakos Piraeus and a draw against Arsenal, losing the other four matches they played on their way to being unceremoniously bounced from the competition for finishing last in their group.
Uli Hoeness, the president at Bayern Munich, was critical of Dortmund's poor showing.
"Dortmund can be knighted when they play successfully internationally as well as nationally," he said.
"I admit that we haven't done much internationally," countered Klopp, "but it's possible that someday Uli Hoeness might have to tip his cap to this team."
The numbers add up
It's not the first time Dortmund have been serious competition for Bayern Munich. At the end of the 90s, following two straight German titles (1995 and 1996) and a Champions League title in 1997, Dortmund were a force to be reckoned with.
But the success came at a cost, and the team's finances plummeted nearly to the point of bankruptcy, which was only avoided at the last minute in 2005. In fact, Bayern helped save Dortmund with millions in credit.
Since Klopp took over in 2008, though, things are only looking up for Dortmund, on the pitch and on the books. First he led the team to a respectable sixth place finish in 2009, which was followed by a trip to the Europa League the following year. Now, they're back-to-back champs, and that's something that can't go unnoticed in Munich.
With the exception of one-hit-wonders Stuttgart and Wolfsburg coming between Bayern titles in 2007 and 2009, Dortmund are the ones denying the record-German champs their coveted titles, just like in 1995 and 1996.
All the pieces are in place for Dortmund to pose a long-running challenge to Bayern. The record-breaking 2.5-billion-euro ($3.3-billion) deal signed with Sky for the television rights to the Bundesliga brings a lot of money to the top teams when it comes into effect for the 2013/14 season. Bayern and Dortmund could see a 40 million euro boost per season.
Dortmund's roster has also been firmed up for a few years down the line. Young star Mario Götze resisted other offers and extended his contract with Dortmund to 2016. One of Mönchengladbach's best players, Marco Reus, will be coming to Dortmund next season as well.
The team's management is staying, too: Watzke, Klopp and sporting director Michael Zorc have also signed on to stay until 2016. That's the definition of consistency, and as long as the hunger to win remains, count on Dortmund to have another superb season next year.
Author: Olivia Fritz / mz
Editor: Spencer Kimball