25 April 2013

Dortmund, the new Arsenal?

After Borussia Dortmund reprised Bayern's 4-0 destruction of Barcelona by itself manhandling Real Madrid 4-1, all that talk of an El Clasico cup final has gone by the wayside. I'll admit to knowing very little about the Bundesliga, at least in terms of teams' personalities. Sure, I know a bit about who's good this year and historically, but I couldn't describe to you how, say, Bayern or Hannover is viewed the way I could Man U or Stoke.
However, the more I learn of Dortmund, the more I find to like, and the further they progress in the UCL, the happier I am. The more I learn, the more I see similarities between who they are and who we've been known as, even if we've struggled recently to live up to our own standards for excellence. In other words, Dortmund seems more and more like our own little brother, if not a mirror image. Under Jurgen Klopp, they're playing an attractive, stylish brand of football, they develop and nurture young talent into superstars, and they do so while living within their meanseven if this means that they have to cope with the departure of many of their best players to bigger clubs, such as Shinji Kagawa to Man U, Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid, or Mario Gotze to league rival Bayern. In other words, they're the Arsenal of the Bundesliga.

We played and defeated Dortmund to advance to last year's knockout-stages of the Champions League, a year that saw them win the Bundesliga for a second consecutive year, this time by eight points over Bayern. Bayern has wrested the league championship back this year, but Dortmund's ascendancy over the last few years under Klopp has been stirring, invoking memories (for me, at least) of our finest years under Wenger. After Dortmund bossed Madrid around, Klopp said that Dortmund is "like Robin Hood....that was total football." They face bigger, better-financed clubs and steal the glory. It always feels funny to me, especially when talking to fans of smaller clubs, to claim that we're out-spent, but we are, as are Dortmund. In 2012, Deloitte listed Dortmund as having 138.5m in revenues, less than half of Bayern's 321.4m and a third of Real Madrid's 479.5m. Therefore, it's gratifying to see a team like them playing beautiful football without simply going out and buying the best players money can buy. Relying on youth, speed, passing, and swift counter-attacks, they gleefully snatch from bigger clubs with bigger names and wages.

It's therefore sad to see players depart the club, much as they have departed Arsenal, for "greener" pastures. On the other hand, many who have left have struggled to regain the form that made them successful enough to attract offers from other clubs in the first place. Shinji Kagawa has shown flashes of his form with Man U, but he struggles to find time on the pitch and will not replicate the 21 goals he scored in the Bundesliga last year. Similarly, Nuri Sahin parlayed a 2010-11 Player of the Season award into a new contract with Real Madrid, where he struggled with injury and form enough to be loaned to Liverpool and then finally back to Dortmund, where he finally seems happy again, if not back in form. Similarly, many players who have left Arsenal, notably Samir Nasri and Alex Song, have stumbled along with their new clubs, and even Fabregas and van Persie have seen their numbers dip, even when arguably surrounded and supported by superior talent.

However, this is not meant as some kind of dismal mourning of a club's slow dismantling. Dortmund seems to have more than enough style, talent, and cheek to bounce back. After all, they've done well without Kagawa's goals or Sahin's orchestration (well, before January, at least). To find themselves as close as they are to Bayern, a team playing as ruthlessly as any team has in a while, says a lot about Dortund's quality. It's a compliment to us, then, that there is so much of us in how they play. We could do a lot worse than cheering them on in the UCL.

If none of this earns Dortmund your respect, you at least have to give them credit for this. Epic.