Dortmund: Why Life After Mario Gotze Won't Be so Bad After All

Clark Whitney@@Mr_BundesligaFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2013

MALAGA, SPAIN - APRIL 03:  Mario Gotze of Borussia Dortmund looks on prior to the UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg match between Malaga CF and Borussia Dortmund at La Rosaleda Stadium on April 3, 2013 in Malaga, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

It's become a recurring theme for Dortmund, and a bitter one indeed, that regardless of their success, they lose a star player.

In 2011, Nuri Sahin joined Real Madrid after an improbable title-winning season with BVB. The next year, Shinji Kagawa left for Manchester United after claiming the double. And this July, Mario Gotze will be the third Dortmund star in as many years to leave, having already sealed his move to Bayern Munich despite BVB having advanced to the Champions League final.

Gotze's sale was the biggest blow yet for Dortmund. Like Sahin (but unlike Kagawa) he was a local lad, having joined the BVB academy as a nine-year-old in 2001. He was the club's crown jewel, easily their biggest talent, and perhaps the best to come from Germany in decades. And with his buy-out clause activated, Dortmund had no choice but to sell him to their league rivals, Bayern.

Coping without Gotze will be very difficult for Jurgen Klopp and his team. The 20-year-old's class is undeniable and can be decisive in big games. But there is reason to believe Dortmund will bounce back, just as they did following the sales of Sahin and Kagawa.

The fact that Klopp was able to adjust his team to the losses of his biggest star in each of the two previous seasons is greatly encouraging for BVB's prospects. Sahin seemed irreplaceable in 2011, yet after half a season, Ilkay Gundogan adapted to play a similar—albeit modified—role. Kagawa was talismanic, but his replacement, Marco Reus, was even better.

Dortmund will not find a greater talent than Gotze, but it's entirely possible that his replacement will perform on a level comparable to that at which the Germany international played this season. As brilliant as Gotze has been, he was not the finished product this season—much of his hype has come due to the quality he's sure to deliver in the years to come.

It's no debate that Gotze has more potential than Marco Reus, who at 20 was still a very ordinary player with occasional flashes of brilliance. But Reus this season has been more influential in the bigger games: He was involved in all three goals in BVB's dramatic win over Malaga in April, and was the better player in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal with Real Madrid.

BVB's greatest loss in Gotze is the foreseeable quality he could have brought the club in 2013-14 and beyond. This is irreplaceable. But if they acquire a player like Christian Eriksen or Kevin De Bruyne (who will respectively be one and two years more developed than Gotze was in 2012-13 if either signs this summer), they won't have to suffer quite as much of a loss. Klopp will have to modify his system, but he's done just that in the past and each time it's eventually led to a stronger team.

Naturally following any discussion of development in Gotze and his replacement, one must consider also that Dortmund overall will be more mature in 2013-14 than in the current season. Few of the key players in Klopp's team can still be considered young, but there's a mental component of development that can only come with experience at a high level.

For example, although the technical and tactical aspects of Robert Lewandowskis game may have reached their limit long ago, he only had his first encounter with the Champions League in 2011-12. Lewandowski was very ordinary then, but his experience was a good foundation for the current campaign. In 2012-13, his 10 Champions League goals are second only to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Especially given the way BVB have progressed to the final—playing as underdogs against Real Madrid and Manchester City, as favorites against Shakhtar, Ajax and Malaga, saving it to the very last moment against Malaga and holding off a late surge against Real—this season's experiences will go a long way towards rounding off their players' mental development. Come this fall, the remaining core players will be ready for anything.

Finally, the €37 million in proceeds from Gotze's sale will help fund transfers that will make Dortmund more adaptable in a number of ways. BVB are not a club to sign one player with that money, but rather will likely spend it on several up-and-coming stars.

A lack of depth was very costly this season for BVB, who have struggled in Bundesliga matches before and after Champions League fixtures. If they are to make the league more of a contest for Bayern next season, they'll need more quality players to rotate—and this depth is sure to come in the summer.

Depth may not exactly improve BVB's first XI, but it will give Klopp more options. The addition of Nuri Sahin in January gave the trainer a new option to use the newcomer alongside Ilkay Gundogan in defensive midfield when his team needed goals against defensive teams. Should he reach his previous heights at BVB, the ex-Liverpool loanee may even be trusted in a 4-3-3 formation against strong, attacking Champions League opponents. A few new signings in different areas will give Klopp options to tweak his lineup to best suit his opposition.

More than anything, depth will serve as a stabilizing factor. No longer will fans have to bite their nails over the possibility of a couple injuries destroying their club's hopes of success on any stage. And a rotation will of course help keep the best lineup fit and fresh for the games that matter most.

There is no way to reasonably construe Gotze's loss as anything other than a terrible blow for Dortmund. The club will miss the quality he brought this season and undoubtedly will watch him at Bayern wondering how things might have been. But it's not all doom and gloom for BVB.

In all likelihood, the Ruhr club will be behind Bayern both in the Bundesliga and the Champions League in the years to come. But with Klopp at the helm, there's reason to believe Dortmund will be able to at least maintain their level next season. For Champions League finalists, that standard is not so bad after all.


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