Borussia Dortmund: From bankruptcy to Champions League contenders

The story of how Borussia Dortmund have reached their current peak after a tumultuous past

Virendra Karunakar
Published 04/30/2013 16:31 by Virendra Karunakar, read by 4,455 people.

Real Madrid will take the field at the Santiago Bernabeu tonight on the verge of making their third consecutive exit at the semi-final stage of the UEFA Champions League. 

The reason for their current predicament is a team from north-west Germany adorned in Black and Yellow. They trail 1-4 from the 1st leg to their semi-final opponents Borussia Dortmund and while it would be foolhardy to discount any hopes of a comeback, the task in front of them is an arduous one.

For Dortmund, this stage represents a culmination of the club’s efforts to get back on track following a tumultuous few years in the past decade. BVB 09 is a club almost ceased to exist, but they have managed to climb out of the depths of battling against relegation into once again pulling their weight at the top of the Bundesliga.

Dortmund’s financial troubles in the early 2000’s are well documented. However, that wasn’t the first instance of the club being bailed out of trouble. Way back in 1929, the club had its first taste of bankruptcy when an attempt to sign professionally paid footballers fell flat on its face and left the team deep in debt.  

A local supporter of the club eventually managed to cover the team’s losses out of his own pocket and that ensured the continued existence of the football club.

Enjoying modest success before the war, Borussia really came into their own during the formative years following the end of World War II. They managed to win three league titles before the Bundesliga as a concept came into existence. 

The inaugural season of the Bundesliga saw them finish fourth. In 1966, the club became the first German team to win European honours when they beat Liverpool to lift the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

For much of the next two decades, Dortmund enjoyed limited to moderate success, encountering a few relegation battles, some failed and some successful, along the way. 

Their return to prominence began with their 1989 DFB Cup final victory over Werder Bremen, which happened to be their first trophy in 23 long years.

What followed was perhaps one of the most successful periods in the club’s history; in a span of little over 10 years, Dortmund won the Intercontinental Cup (1997), the UEFA Champions League (1997) and three Bundesliga titles (1995, 1996 and 2002). This phase in their history has come to be known as the ‘Golden Age’ of Borussia Dortmund.

But, Borussia’s history has often resembled a sine curve, high one moment followed by massive lows. The fall from grace began with Dortmund becoming the first, and so far only, publicly traded club to be listed on the German stock market.  After securing their third Bundesliga title on the final day of the 2001-02 season things began to go south.

The next few years saw a steady decline in Dortmund’s fortunes plagued by poor financial management that led to the club becoming steeped in debt. It forced the sale of their Westfalenstadion ground to try and pay off some of that debt. €2 million was loaned from Bayern Munich in order to pay off the players’ wages for a couple of months in 2003. P

art of the reason for their stadium being called the ‘Signal Iduna Park’ is the sponsorship agreement the signed with a local insurance company in an attempt to arrest rising debt.

2005-2008 caused more angst to Dortmund fans. Top players such as Tomas Rosicky, David Odonkor and Christoph Metzelder all exited and in the 2006-07 season the team teetered perilously close to relegation.

The current phase that has seen the club claim back-to-back Bundesliga titles and currently challenge for honours in the Champions League is the most positive one after the ‘Golden Age’. Both phases have been overseen by managers whose appointments at the time were viewed as risky, but turned out to be excellent choices going forward.

A man who can be credited with overseeing most of the success in the ‘Golden Age’ is legendary German coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. 

Hitzfeld is one of only three managers, Ernst Happel and Jose Mourinho being the other two, to have won the Champions League with two different clubs.

In 1991, the Borussia board decided to entrust Hitzfeld, at that time still relatively inexperienced, with the responsibility of bringing Dortmund back into the big league. 

In his very first year in charge, he took the team to second spot in the league managing to secure a UEFA Cup place in the process. The following season Dortmund reached the finals of that very tournament, but they would finish 2nd best to Juventus losing both games of a two-legged final. 

In 1995, Dortmund claimed their first Bundesliga title (fourth national title overall). They went on to repeat it the next season, successfully defending the title. The greatest night though in Borussia Dortmund’s history was to come the following season.

The 1996-97 saw Dortmund finish third in the league, but Hitzfeld’s team managed to reach the Champions League final where an old foe in Juventus lay in wait. This time Borussia prevailed 3–1 in the final at Munich’s Olympic Stadium. 

This was no ordinary team as it featured the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps, Alessandro Del Piero and Christian Vieri amongst others. That made the victory all the more special and Hitzfeld was rewarded for the first time with the "World Coach of the Year" award.

That would be Hitzfeld’s final contribution as manager of Borussia Dortmund as he would go on to take a job upstairs as Sports Manager with the club.

Jürgen Klopp was summoned at the end of the 2007-08 season to take charge. This was to be Klopp’s first stint outside of Mainz as he spent 19 years at the club – 12 as player and when he retired went on to serve as manager of Mainz for another seven years. A squad of players costing somewhere in the range of €15-€20 million Euros in its entirety was put together. 

A sixth place finish in the very first season, followed by 5th a year later, showed positive signs for the Rhine valley club. But, what caught everybody’s attention is their defeat of Bayern Munich in the DFL Super Cup in his first year. 

That was an upset and a sign of things to come as Dortmund would go on to win successive league titles in 2010-11 and 2011-12 completing a first double with their cup win to boot last season.

Since Klopp’s arrival has got the team playing with a renewed charisma and passion and he has had young players who have been able to carry off his high work rate, slick passing brand of high octane football. Many of that motley crew assembled for around €20 million are now superstars in their own right.

A large part of the current squad has been together since Klopp took over with a few additions to replace outgoing stars along the way. What has been remarkable is the team’s failure to cope with the departure of some of its star names.

Nuri Sahin was lured away by the temptation of Real Madrid; since then he has had two ineffectual seasons, one with Real and the second half a season on loan with Liverpool. He is now back at Dortmund having re-joined in January.

Meanwhile, his club did not too fare too badly as they went on win the title yet again. Ilkay Gundogan was brought in from FC Nuremberg to fill the vacancy and the German midfielder’s influence since signing for Dortmund has been spectacular. He was imperious in the first leg against Madrid and along with Sven Bender completely took control of the midfield leaving Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso to feed off scraps.

The next season, Shinji Kagawa left for English shores as Manchester United came calling. Marko Reus, one of the hottest young players around, was signed from Borussia Monchengladbach as a replacement and he has had a stellar season. 

After a slow start, Dortmund have managed to get back to second position and stand one step away from a possible final appearance in this year’s UEFA Champions League.

Part of the reason why they have managed to cope so well is the retention of a strong core of players. Mario Götze, Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic, Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski have provided a strong base for Klopp to be able to deal with the loss of one or two players. Dortmund’s ‘Golden Age’ was driven by the trio of Mathias Sammer, Andreas Möller and Lars Ricken.

After almost a decade since that trio last played, another impressive quartet of players has engineered the club’s more recent successes. Lewandowski, Götze, Reus and Blaszczykowski are easily one of the best attacking quartets around capable of punching a hole in any opposition defence.

Just like Robin Hood and his band, Jürgen Klopp and his band of players have caught the footballing world by storm. Much like the famous brew that the club derives its name from, watching Borussia Dortmund in action guarantees fun and excitement and brings a smile to your lips, just like a good mug of beer.

Reflecting Klopp's strong commitment to playing fast, free-flowing football, Dortmund work hard and press teams high up the pitch. Although their pressing style resembles that of Barcelona, they attack with greater speed and intensity than the Catalan side whose priority is to retain possession of the ball and build up attacks in a more measured way. Klopp believes that open, exciting, attacking football is what Dortmund's loyal fans expect and deserve. How refreshing to hear such a positive attitude towards football and fans.

And the clubs fans have showed their support through thick and thin. Even when in the depths of despair during their financial struggles, Dortmund still managed to rake in average attendances in excess of 70,000. And with the new ‘Yellow Stand’ as it is called, where fans are allowed to stand with a mug of beer in hand and singing and dancing away in their numerous bands, the Signal Iduna Park swells to over 80,000.

Borussia Dortmund have relinquished their Bundesliga title to an all-conquering Bayern Munich side. Their late show against Malaga that took them into the semi-finals and the supremely confident performance in last week’s 1st leg versus Real exemplifies the spirit within this squad and the kind of passion and confidence that Jürgen Klopp has instilled at the club. Though the 2nd leg remains, the Germans are expected to progress barring a miraculous Real turnaround. 

After that, a potentially lip-smacking clash with rivals Bayern Munich awaits. With Mario Götze already signing for Bayern and Lewandowski set to follow his mate out of the club, it represents a last chance for a final hurrah for this group of players.

Two games away from repeating the heroics of the Class of ’97, Klopp and his players have come a long way in putting Borussia Dortmund back on the European footballing map. Going all the way and winning the final in Wembley will just about be the exclamation mark on their efforts!

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