Borussia Dortmund has had the summer to brood on how it blew its chance to dethrone Bayern Munich. Now Dortmund must do it all again — this time without star player Jude Bellingham.
Drawing 2-2 with Mainz on the final day of last season, coupled with a late Bayern win over Cologne, handed the Bundesliga championship to Bayern and silenced the crowd of 81,000.
After 11 Bayern titles in a row, the Bundesliga arguably needs a strong Dortmund more than it needs a strong Bayern, especially in terms of marketing the league to foreign audiences as competitive.
Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke, who also has a senior role with the league, agrees the club carries a responsibility not just to its fans, but to the competition as a whole.
“We know our responsibility but it’s also important to tell everybody that it’s not so easy (to challenge Bayern),” he said in a recent call with reporters, emphasizing that Bayern can afford to spend much more on players than Dortmund.
“In May, it was for us a disaster, on the last matchday to lose the championship in the 89th minute, but for the Bundesliga it was a fantastic season. It was very exciting.”
Falling short last season was a disappointing end to a strong Dortmund challenge led by Bellingham and striker Sébastien Haller, who returned from cancer treatment mid-season. However, that title shot required a string of Bayern blunders, too.
Bayern has signed England captain Harry Kane in a deal which reportedly could hit more than 100 million pounds, but Dortmund’s own England star Bellingham left for Real Madrid in June for an initial 103 million euros, potentially rising to more than 130 million euros with add-ons. He is the latest in a string of young Dortmund stars to move on to bigger clubs, after the likes of Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Christian Pulisic.
Watzke says Dortmund’s niche in world football is developing “the next very, very good player” but admits the club doesn’t have the financial muscle to hang onto its players once they’ve developed.
The latest young stars include winger Karim Adeyemi, who scored a stunning breakaway goal against Chelsea last season; striker Youssoufa Moukoko, who last year became the youngest German men’s player at a World Cup; and American attacking midfielder Gio Reyna, an undoubted talent who is all too often injured, as he was again in pre-season. They will all be expected to step up this season.
The money from Bellingham’s sale has been invested in adding depth with Bayern’s Marcel Sabitzer — who was on loan at Manchester United last season — to fill the hole in midfield and the versatile Felix Nmecha, whose arrival was controversial with Dortmund fans over past social media posts.
Another gap opened up when Dortmund left-back Raphaël Guerreiro’s contract expired and he left to join Bayern on a free transfer. The club has signed Ramy Bensebaini to replace him.
Dortmund’s pre-season tour of the U.S. brought a solid 3-2 win over Manchester United in Las Vegas and a 1-1 draw with Chelsea in Chicago. Dortmund starts its Bundesliga campaign on August 19 against Cologne, the team whose late loss to Bayern last season helped decide the title race against Dortmund.
Dortmund CEO Watzke said in the days after his club fell short in the title challenge, he was contacted by football officials from across Europe enthused about the drama its challenge brought to the league.
“Everybody has watched this match and talked about it,” he said. “For that, it was a fantastic final in the Bundesliga and I hope we are able to make the same in this year, perhaps with a better end.”
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