Never Mind The Ballacks

Out of the frying pan, into the fire?

Never Mind The Ballacks

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Dortmund proved last weekend that their catering corps is among the Bundesliga's best, but the question remains whether the club's chefs - and Jürgen Klopp's title-winning players - can make the step up to mix it with the créme de la créme of Europe next season.

The press food at the Westfalenstadion is staple German fare, including top-rate Currywurst. While not quite as good as that dished up at Bayern Munich and - reportedly - Leverkusen, it is vastly superior to that of Werder Bremen. The northerners do edge out their Ruhr Valley rivals in terms of pastries and coffee, you'll no doubt be intrigued to know, but out on the pitch this season, Dortmund have been vastly superior to Bremen, so they probably don't mind all that much.

Bremen could perhaps teach Klopp and his men a thing or two about the Champions League, though, which is the next real - and stiff - test for the newly-crowned champions of Germany. After seeing arch-rivals Schalke do so well this season, and then get humiliated by Manchester United, Dortmund fans will be doubly keen for their team to make a glowing impression.

A quick glance at the squad list does provide cause for concern. With Dede leaving, only Sebastian Kehl and Patrick Owomoyela of the current squad have significant Champions League experience, and they are likely to be little more than bit-part actors in Dortmund's upcoming adventure. You could argue that Dortmund got a decent whiff of that unique European aroma this season in the Europa League, but you may think twice when remembering they were bested in the group stages by Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain, two decent but far from special sides who would not make much headway in the Champions League.

Dortmund will not necessarily be going into the Champions League with realistic ambitions of winning it, but after seeing Bremen- a team with much more big-time experience - embarrass themselves this season, they will at least want to give a good account of themselves.

Dortmund do have two things in their favour that could help them fill the void:

1. Klopp's side have already shown remarkable maturity this season, despite an average age of 24.2 years.The wonderful 3-1 win over Bayern in Munich in February illustrated that superbly. When Bayern levelled, Dortmund did not panic, and though the assistant referee's flag undoubtedly helped them too, they were far from over-awed at what could have been a major turning point in the season. Mitchell Langerak made his Bundesliga debut in goal that night, yet neither he nor the rest of the team showed any sign of nerves up against the reigning champions. It is a quality that will come in more than handy in the Champions League next season.

2. Dortmund's fanatical support was there for all to see last Saturday, and you can imagine what the atmosphere for home games in the Champions League will be like. Few teams will relish the prospect of going there.

Most importantly, Dortmund have a fantastic coach with a heavily-gifted group of players. While other factors can help a side, a fundamental lack of talent can never be compensated for. While the iron-clad defence may be stretched much further than it has been this season, the prospect Mario Götze and Nuri Sahin could actually up the quality of their play still further to deal with the added demands of top European football is mouth-watering. There are question marks, of course, over whether Sahin will still be a Dortmund player when the new season kicks off, and should he leave - which I feel is unlikely given his emotional attachment to the club - sporting director Michael Zorc will have even more work than he would have been expecting.

A member of the Dortmund side that lifted the European Cup in 1997, Zorc will be well aware that the current squad needs to be strengthened to deal with the rigours of both domestic and international competition, which inevitably take a physical and mental toll. Cover is short in a number of positions, and Zorc has already moved to try and find a replacement - whether short-term or long-term - for the incomparable Sahin in the shape of Ilkay Gündogan. As promising as he may be, though, the Nuremberg midfielder also has little top-grade experience, something which costs money - a commodity Dortmund do not have too much of.

A reported €10m transfer pot is peanuts for regular Champions League participants, who consistently dominate their domestic competitions. "We do not see ourselves as serial champions," Zorc said recently, tacitly acknowledging his club's inability to compete financially. "What we said at the start [of this season] was that we wanted to see this young team develop. A few more young talented players joined them, and we said we would be happy if we won a European spot."

The same mantra will have to be used again this summer. So with purse strings clasped tightly, Zorc will have to work the miracle of unearthing another Shinji Kagawa or Lucas Barrios - that rare gem who will fit into the team and play brilliantly, all for barely more than the cost of your average Currywurst.

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