Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughBORUSSIA DORTMUND: The Team to Watch Out For in Europe Next Season - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough BORUSSIA DORTMUND: The Team to Watch Out For in Europe Next Season - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

BORUSSIA DORTMUND: The Team to Watch Out For in Europe Next Season

When one looks back at the recently concluded season, it’s difficult to figure out which team actually was the ‘surprise package’ of the season. The English Premier League title went to Manchester United, but was that a real surprise? Not really and the fact that it was their 19th title, says it all. So, what about the other club from Manchester – the one that had gone through a barren run of 34 years without a trophy? Surely when Manchester City won the F.A. Cup last season, it must be termed as a surprise, right? I care to disagree once again. Backed by Sheikh Mansour’s millions, a squad of quality players with a high profile manager at the helm was surely going to win a trophy sooner or later.

Moving on to the Spanish League, well it was the familiar story of the ‘Big Two’ fighting it out for the title. Barcelona eventually won the league with relative ease while Real Madrid had to settle for the consolation prize of the Spanish Cup.

In Italy, it was all about the Milan clubs once again, so no real surprises there either.

For me, the real surprise team of the season had to be none other than the newly crowned German Champions, Borussia Dortmund, with French Champions Lille OSC coming a close second.

The German Bundesliga has more or less always been dominated by Bayern Munich and the Bavarians were expected to romp to the league title again last season. However, it was not to be as Borussia Dortmund took the Bundesliga by storm and won the title with two weeks to spare. Yes, Bayern struggled due to their defensive frailties (which sometimes bordered on the abysmal), but that in no way should take credit away from the deserving champions. Dortmund won the title fully on merit and not because some other team gifted it to them.

So now, what’s really so special about this Dortmund side? Here is a club that had last won the German Bundesliga in 2001 and since then struggled with financial difficulties to such an extent that they were on the brink of bankruptcy in 2005. In the 2006/07 season, the club even went very close to being relegated to the second tier of German football. So what awakened this sleeping giant all of a sudden?

First and foremost there can be no denying the fact that this Dortmund side had potential, this much was obvious at the start of the season. The team had a number of very talented, young players, but they were raw and inexperienced. So even though people expected this set of players to eventually make their mark in the game, given a few years time, no one could have guessed that they would show so much maturity beyond their years, almost instantly. It was like their inexperience counted for nothing and the youngsters simply came of age, all at once.

To make such a swift transition, a team surely needs a great manager. Dortmund found such a talented manager in Jürgen Klopp. He is a charismatic character, great motivator, a shrewd tactician and has very good man management skills, all the qualities that one would expect to find in a successful manager. The way he roams around the touchline, constantly encouraging and shouting instructions at his players, clearly shows the passion he has for the game, so it’s no big wonder that the commitment and urge to win spills over to the players.

Klopp not only provided the team with tactical brilliance, but also combined it with fitness drills that made Dortmund one of fittest teams in Germany. Besides that, the team has the kind of cohesion and team-spirit that people see so rarely in the modern game. Every player seems to play for the team, for each other, and most importantly, for the fans at the Westfalenstadion.

Dortmund’s free-flowing, attacking and quick passing brand of football has won them many fans (including yours truly) and the most amazing thing is the balance they found in their game – the attractive football they played produced loads of goals, but at the same time the team was incredibly responsible at the back and had a rock-solid defense. While many critics may have questioned his decisions early on, Klopp still maintained faith in his youthful side and eventually his trust was fully repaid when his prized starlets brought back glory to the prestigious club, by winning the title.

The tactical genius of a manager is not always enough and the players have to back up the efforts of their manager for a team to be successful. In Dortmund, throughout the course of the season, almost every player played their part in ensuring the team ends the season as league winners.

Starting from the back, Dortmund had a reliable goalkeeper in Roman Weidenfeller, who more often than not, stood up to his task, the few times the well coordinated defensive line in front of him was breached.

In Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic, Dortmund had a very dependable centre-back pairing, that almost any club in the world will feel envious about. Defensively Hummels is absolutely world class. He rarely gets caught out of position, his man-marking ability is second to none and he is also responsible for starting several attacks from the back.

The wing-backs were both revelations for Dortmund last season. Just like Hummels, Marcel Schmelzer became a full German international and deservingly so. His work-rate and crossing ability from the left flank was a joy to watch and his consistent performances during the season earned him rave reviews. Similarly, the Polish international on the other wing, Lukasz Piszczek, had a great season too, tirelessly running up and down the right flank to support the offensive players. It is no great wonder that their combined defensive abilities and efforts contributed to a defensive record, level with the Bundesliga’s all-time fewest goals conceded in a season.

Moving on to the midfield, well Shinji Kagawa was the stand out performer during the first half of the season. No one had expected this previously little known Japanese recruit (from a second division club in Japan) to set the Bundesliga alight, but that’s exactly what he did. He scored 8 goals before the winter break and surely would have scored more had it not been for the cruel metatarsal injury that ruled him out for the remainder of the season.

Many people thought at the time that the loss of their talismanic playmaker will hurt Dortmund badly and their performances would take a tumble. It wasn’t to be though because up stepped, Mario Götze, the 18-year-old starlet, who justified his tag as the next big superstar of German football, by putting in a string of impressive performances. Sven Bender gained widespread recognition for his role as defensive midfielder by frequently breaking up the opposition attacks, while Kevin Grosskreutz chipped in with goals from the left wing.

Nuri Sahin also showed his class over the course of the season and the Turkish international made his name as a world class box-to-box midfielder with his elegant performances. He impressed to such an extent that Real Madrid signed him up at the end of the season for a reported fee of around € 10 million.

Lucas Barrios, the Paraguayan international, blossomed in the striker’s role and despite not being the most clinical finisher, ended the season with an impressive tally of 16 goals.

Regarding prospects for the new season, the transfer of Sahin to Real Madrid will be a big loss for Dortmund, but they have already signed up Ilkay Gundogan from FC Nuremberg, as his replacement. He may not be exactly like Sahin yet, but Gundogan has the skills and the talent to be his successor. It’s not surprising that Joachim Löw already called him up to the Germany squad for their upcoming friendly against Brazil. Moreover, another talented youngster, Moritz Leitner, is back from his loan spell at Augsburg and during pre-season, new signings, Ivan Perisic and Chris Löwe has been quite impressive, so these are the players to look out for in the near future.

Overall, it was a great season for this prestigious club from the Ruhr area of Germany. Their pre-season form suggests that they intend to carry on from where they left off last season. The frightening thing for Dortmund’s Bundesliga opponents and the rest of Europe is that the best is yet to come for this exceptionally talented young team. So will this Dortmund team be able to repeat the success of 1997 in Europe next season? Only time will tell, but even if it’s a step too far, one thing is for sure – Borussia Dortmund will entertain the whole of Europe with their exciting brand of football in the upcoming season.     

Tahmeed Zaman (Tami)

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