Never Mind The Ballacks

Local rivals set to Ruhr star exits

Never Mind The Ballacks

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Ruhr rivals Borussia Dortmund and Schalke are in line for glory this season but both are set to lose their most important player.

Bundesliga champions elect Dortmund are being forced into selling gifted playmaker Nuri Sahin, while Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, another local boy made good, said this week that he wants to leave the Champions League semi-finalists.

Dortmund's 3-0 win over Freiburg on Sunday virtually wrapped up the Bundesliga title but much of the focus was not on the pitch but on the legendary South Terrace.

Not for the first time, Borussia fans unfurled giant banners bidding farewell to Brazilian veteran Dede, who is leaving after playing more than 300 games for the club.

But others were more revealing: ''In der Champions League mit Nuri,'' read one.

It was a heartfelt, rather sad plea for loyalty to the team's creative force. Dortmund fans didn't know that they had probably seen their local hero in the famous yellow shirt for the last time.

Sahin hobbled off in the first half with ligament damage and will miss the rest of the campaign. That won't stop Dortmund winning the title, but Sahin is unlikely to be with the club in Europe's premier competition next season.

Sahin's contract, with its ridiculously measly release clause of €6 million, expires in 2013 and the club may look to cut its losses.

When asked about a transfer this week, sporting director Hans-Joachim Watzke was hardly opaque: "The only people who know anything about it are Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, and Nuri Sahin,' he said.

Though a Turkish international, Sahin was born close to Dortmund. The 22-year-old joined the club before he was a teenager and became the youngest player to ever play in the Bundesliga and youngest to ever score a goal in Germany's top flight.

His poise and peerless passing have been vital in Dortmund's record-breaking season. Some stats are more useful than others: the one that shows that Sahin has touched the ball more often than any other player in the Bundesliga is revealing.

The logical transfer would be to Real Madrid, a club already delighted with their two Bundesliga recruits from 2010, Mezut Ozil and Sami Khedira. Indeed, some Dortmund fans fear their team might go the same way as Ozil-less Werder Bremen and Khedira-free Stuttgart. Both clubs qualified for European competition this season: both are flirting with relegation this time out.

While Sahin is Dortmund's creative launch pad, Neuer - in the words of former coach Felix Magath - is Schalke's ''soul.''

Born only a few kilometers from Schalke's stadium, little Manuel first trained at the club when he was just five years old.

Since making his debut in 2005, Neuer has become the club's leader and talisman, a figure of loyalty at a proud old club otherwise in turmoil and financial disarray.

Supporters hoped beyond hope that Neuer would extend his contract, which expires in 2012, but this week the goalkeeper said he'd look elsewhere.

"I've played 20 years at Schalke and I owe all to this club. But I always want to play at the highest level, and that's the Champions League," said a tearful Neuer, perhaps unaware that Schalke are only three matches away from actually winning that very trophy and thereby qualifying for it next season.

It's a bitter pill for fans to swallow, not least because he used to be one of them: Neuer was a long-time member of legendary Ultra fan group Buerschenschaft. He even wore a T-shirt bearing the Buerschenschaft name under his keeper's shirt while playing for the first team.

With a Champions League semi-final against Manchester United next week, Neuer knows he won't win any awards for timing.

''I know this is not a great moment for Schalke fans, but I am looking at this from a different perspective.

The 25-year-old doesn't fancy leaving Germany, so United's loss will surely be Bayern Munich's gain.

Still, moving represents a risk. Adored in Gelsenkirchen, Neuer will get a frosty reception in Bavaria, where fans have already reacted angrily to the thought of buying a player who clearly still loves the much-despised Schalke.

No problem, says former Bayern keeper Oliver Kahn, who knows that supporters can be a fickle bunch: "It only takes a couple of training sessions and a saved penalty, and everyone's on your side," the former Germany keeper said.

Like Dortmund, Schalke are in debt after years of financial mismanagement.

So local rivals they may be, but Dortmund and Schalke fans have more in common than they care to admit.

Once the dust settles this summer, don't bet against Bayern fans hero worshipping Neuer. Or even banners at the Bernabeu reading ''en la liga de campeones con Nuri.''

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