The Long Way Down

By: Alfonso Duro

Arjen Robben turned things around in the Champions League final two years ago in Wembley when he gave Bayern Munich its first European title in 12 years. The victims? Borussia Dortmund. The Dutch winger became the monster in all of the German team fans’ nightmares—and two years later the nightmares have reappeared. But the fans who once cried over losing the final in the world’s most prestigious club tournament are now crying over losses that may send the team to the Second Division next year.

IT WAS ALL A DREAM. The Golden Age of Borussia Dortmund seemed like it would last forever. In the 1990s, the team from the Rhine-Ruhr region in Germany was one of the most exciting teams to watch. Their magnificent display of talent, teaming up players like Paulo Sousa, Chapuisat, Möller or Sammer, made this historically humble team a force to be reckoned with. They even beat a legendary Juventus squad in the 1997 Champions League final, as La Vecchia Signora suited up stars like Montero, Deschamps or Zidane. But their luck would soon run out, and just a few years later, Dortmund would be back on the wrong side of the tracks, and what’s worse, they were up to their neck in debt. So much so, that in 2006, all-time rival Bayern Munich even had to bail them out economically. Surely the Bavarians thought about that favor when Gündoğan tied things up in the 2013 Champions League final in Wembley.

WHEN I GET TO THE BOTTOM, I GO BACK TO THE TOP (OF THE SLIDE). With Borussia Dortmund on the brink of bankruptcy, the club made a drastic change in their management style, and the output was superb. Jürgen Klopp was hired as head coach, the grounds of their home stadium (mythical Westfalenstadion) were sold, and local insurance company Signal Iduna agreed to become the stadium’s sponsor to help Dortmund through the economic slump. Klopp invested (time, mostly) on creating a talented squad made up of youth system talent and unknown foreigners. Kagawa, Götze, Lewandowski, Nuri Şahin, Hummels or Güdoğan are only a few of the players that turned the club and the city upside down, winning two Bundesligas, back-to-back, and reaching the aforementioned Champions League final. For a club that was inches away from being dissolved in 2007, getting back to the land of the living was impressive—and they did so in style.

TIME TO REBOOT. Dortmund had it all: a sleek coach, homegrown superstars and that glow of the cool that fans of underdog teams find so appealing. The team was winning and fighting head-to-head with Bayern Munich in Germany, while also putting up a good battle in Europe. But then something changed. What was it? Nobody really knows. Lewandowski left the team for Bayern Munich this summer, much like Götze did the year before, but they also got some new strengths on their side: Şahin and Gündoğan regained their healthy state, while prodigal son Shinji Kagawa came back to the team and Colombian Adrián Ramos, who had been outstanding in the Champions League, was added to the roster. Still, the club has done so poorly in the Bundesliga they are now second to last, after 10 games. But with the story being quite different in Europe, where Borussia lead their group comfortably, their present situation could be nothing more than a mental short-circuit in the local tournament that may be quickly reverted. And so Klopp will need to reboot the team pronto or deal with the consequences—which may or may not include a mutiny onboard, as it’s never a good sign when your men start to hurt each other.

Alfonso Duro is a Spanish freelance writer. When he's not managing Google's agency in the United Arab Emirates (his current job), chances are he's watching and writing about soccer.