Dortmund must stop treading water


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When Borussia Dortmund were so close to making last year's Champions League final at the expense of Real Madrid, Hans-Joachim Watzke headed for the sanctuary of the Santiago Bernabeu toilet with his nerves shot.

"Quite normally, in the place where I always sit," was the Dortmund CEO's response to a question from Kicker about where he endured the closing stages of Tuesday's quarter-final against the same opponents.

Now either Watzke's bladder has strengthened significantly in the near 12 months since, or his lack of a need to test the plumbing of the Signal Iduna Park perhaps shows how far - or not, in fact - Dortmund have come.

Though Marco Reus' brace made it appear a near-run thing this time round, Watzke's admission in the same interview that Dortmund had "nothing to lose" on Tuesday suggests a sea change in attitude.

Last season, he believed his club deserved to beat a team like Madrid to reach the final. This time round, they were - as Watzke put it himself - "a mini-state" in comparison to the superpower status of the seven other quarter-finalists.

Sir Alex Ferguson often said if you stand still in football, you go backwards. Dortmund have, at best, remained in neutral this season.

You could argue that with Bayern so dominant, second place is the new first for the Bundesliga's mere mortals. But it is a shame to see Dortmund, who as Watzke stated, have "come close to Bayern" in recent years, slip away to simply become the best of the also-rans.

Watzke also claimed that "Bayern won't be champions every year till 2020", but it's hard to see how that will not be the case. Jürgen Klopp's amusing statement that his team could see Bayern ahead of them, "but we need a telescope" also carried a sorry undertone. Simply, that Dortmund cannot compete with Bayern in the way they have done in the recent past.

The injuries to Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels, in particular, this season showed Dortmund's lack of strength in depth in stark, garish colours. Sokratis, for example, is a potential boon for the club shop should any BVB supporter insist on having the Greek defender's Scrabble triple-word score surname put on the back of their replica shirt, but on the pitch, he is all too often an accident - of the footballing or disciplinary kind - waiting to happen.

The first-choice first XI may be a match for Bayern's, but the Dortmund bench is far too weak as witnessed by the need to play Manuel Friedrich against Madrid. How the Spanish giants' back four must have shivered in fright at the prospect Julian Schieber might come on for Robert Lewandowski. And Oliver Kirch in front of the back four? Really?

Of course, Dortmund's strength in recent times has been either the grooming of exceptional, youthful talent, à la Mario Götze, or the wily purchase of relatively unknown, potential-packed gems à la Lucas Barrios, Shinji Kagawa or Lewandowski. With their financial clout a weight or two below that of Bayern, it is an obvious and sound policy to follow.

But it relies heavily on Michael Zorc, the sporting director, to consistently come up with gob-smacking successes, pulling the proverbial rabbit out of the hat every summer transfer window, something which you could argue he did with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to a certain extent. But Zorc is always having to patch holes, and often times gaping ones, covering for the loss of star players rather than being able to build on the squad season-by-season the way Bayern can.

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He will be doing the same in the summer, in addition to the signing of Adrian Ramos, whom Dortmund hope will somehow miraculously repeat his current prolific campaign on a consistent basis to cover the shortfall in goals left by Lewandowski's departure to Bayern.

Watzke's statement that, "we're not going to sign players already at the summit, but ones who are on their way there" certainly fits the policy that has already succeeded in the past, but Ramos seems neither young enough nor potentially good enough to step into the boots of Lewandowski, who was a significant upgrade on Barrios.

Reus too has been a success, all the more so given that he shunned Bayern's flirtations when he signed. But his arrival, and Lewandowski and Goetze's departure for Bayern, also shows that Dortmund will never really be able to compete with their southern rivals unless they can change their image. Players see Dortmund as a luxury stepping stone, a testing ground for greatness that is to be achieved elsewhere, namely the Allianz Arena.

Not that Watzke is a man to be underestimated.

He has turned the club round spectacularly since taking over in 2005, wiping away more than 100 million euros of debt, overseeing a four-fold increase in turnover, and adding a couple of Bundesliga titles to the trophy cabinet.

He pointed out that Bayern had had 50 years to get where they are while Dortmund had just had nine, and that solutions to the departures of major players had always been smoothed over in the past.

But if Dortmund are to challenge Bayern's hegemony, they must stop treading water.

By Ian Holyman - on Twitter @ian_holyman

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