Dortmund face tough challenges after Champions League defeat

football02 June 2024 04:46| © AFP
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Players of Borussia Dortmund © Gallo Images

They threatened to shock Real Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday before succumbing to a bitter 2-0 defeat at Wembley, but Borussia Dortmund face an uncertain future.

The German underdogs carved out several chances in the first half and had Real on the back foot, with Niclas Fuellkrug hitting the inside of the post and Karim Adeyemi troubling the Madrid defence with his speed.

On another night, with a little more luck and perhaps some more composure in front of goal, Dortmund could have produced one of the most unlikely victories in recent Champions League history.

But Real, as they have done so often in this tournament, waited for their chance and struck, Dani Carvajal heading in after 74 minutes.

The goal cut Dortmund's stubborn resistance and Vinicius Junior added a second eight minutes later to put Madrid on course for a 15th Champions League trophy.

The fight and resilience shown by Dortmund throughout the run to the final will give them plenty to draw from, as will the performances of Julian Brandt, Karim Adeyemi and Gregor Kobel, who are set to stay.

But the effort should not obscure the true nature of the task at hand for a club who have just finished fifth in the Bundesliga, a whopping 27 points behind Bayer Leverkusen, and are in a period of upheaval.


For a club of Dortmund's resources and history, there should be no shame in losing narrowly to Real Madrid.

Several excellent sides have also fallen at the final hurdle against Madrid, including the best versions of Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool and Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid.

Tipped to not even make it out of a group featuring Paris Saint-Germain, Newcastle and AC Milan, Dortmund qualified first.

They made it past Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven, Atletico Madrid and then PSG and Kylian Mbappe again in the semis, before reaching the final for the third time in their history.

Backed by a passionate travelling support, the winners in 1997 had come close to giving stalwarts Marco Reus and Mats Hummels a chance of redemption, 11 years after they were part of the team that lost at the same venue to domestic rivals Bayern Munich.

The deep run means coach Edin Terzic, who narrowly escaped the sack twice after poor showings in the league this season, will be backed to continue, with club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke a strong advocate.

Reus was playing his final game for the club and along with Hummels' likely exit, Dortmund are losing a wealth of experience and class in key positions.

Both players had also fallen out with Terzic, particularly Hummels who criticised the coach's defensive approach in interviews before Saturday's match.

Only twice during the knockout rounds did Dortmund have more possession than their opponents – both times against Atletico – with even PSV seeing more of the ball.

While the approach worked on the European stage against teams used to having more of the ball, its limitations were clear in the Bundesliga, where Dortmund struggled to break down smaller sides who sat deep.

Bundesliga winners Bayer Leverkusen and surprise runners up Stuttgart, the two most impressive teams in Germany this season, each earned 40 points more than their previous campaign thanks to a pass-heavy, possession-based approach.

- Financial challenges -

Dortmund, under sporting director Sebastian Kehl, have also undertaken a marked shift in the way they sign players.

Known as cultivators of future football talents such as Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham, Dortmund have shifted towards signing established stars in recent seasons as other clubs have copied their approach.

The change brought stability and a long run in the Champions League, but for the first time in a decade there is no obvious Haaland, Bellingham, Ousmane Dembele or Christian Pulisic waiting in the wings – which will have financial implications.

Dortmund, a member-run club financially reliant on European competitions, will benefit from their run to the final and have qualified for the Fifa Club World Cup, but are still likely to be deprived of funds to undertake a major rebuilding effort .

Dortmund's financial model has relied on income generated from selling top talents but their two most exciting youngsters – Sancho and Ian Maatsen – are on loan and belong to Manchester United and Chelsea respectively.