[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ince winning the Champions League back in 1996-97 in an epic final against Juventus, Borussia Dortmund’s fortunes have contrasted majorly.
The Signal Iduna Park outfit have experienced relatively similar highs in the seven years since Jürgen Klopp took the club’s managerial reins, with two Bundesliga titles, one cup triumph and an outing in the Champions League final.
Dortmund have become a side admired by many for their slick football and pressing high up the pitch, with Klopp developing a host of top-class young players into global stars.
Prior to the former Mainz head coach’s appointment, Die Schwarzgelben spent time in the middle reaches of German football as others excelled, with the glory of 1996-97 a world away from the mediocre showings of the side.
This season, after finishing second in the Bundesliga last term and being knocked out of the Champions League by eventual winners Real Madrid, everything has started to fall apart.
In Europe Dortmund have been their same old selves; uncompromising, ruthless and successful. A last 16 knockout clash with Juventus awaits.
However, domestically the club have nosedived sensationally and unbelievably find themselves bottom of the Bundesliga table after 19 of the campaign’s 34 games.
Defeat at home to Augsburg in midweek has heightened fears that the Klopp era could well be defined by a tragic relegation, with the club’s notorious supporters rightly concerned that second-tier football could be on the cards in the not-too-distant future.
It is a testament to the calibre of the Bundesliga that something like this can happen.
Other big clubs such as Stuttgart, Hamburg and Werder Bremen all find themselves in the lower reaches of the division for the second consecutive campaign, which shows that there are no easy games in the top flight of German football.
There are a number of key reasons for Dortmund dicing with demotion.
Firstly, with an international cast of top-notch footballers at Klopp’s disposal, the issue is clearly with mentality, as the side are struggling with confidence.
Scared to record another defeat in midweek, Dortmund rarely looked like the attacking threat they should and have something of a domestic hoodoo over them that could claim their Bundesliga status.
Secondly, Klopp’s tenure at the club seems to have run its course. Although the 47-year-old will not resign and the footballing community hopes he will not be sacked, getting the Signal Iduna Park outfit out of the bottom three could well be the coach’s last task as Dortmund boss.
Finally, any club that loses its best player two summers in a row is going to be in big trouble.
Bayern Munich snatched away firstly Mario Götze and then Robert Lewandowski, with the Dortmund hierarchy being forced to helplessly stand aside due to release clauses being met and contracts running down.
Last season’s runners up have struggled to replace the world-class pairing, with the likes of Ciro Immobile, Adrián Ramos, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Shinji Kagawa and others not cutting it.
Although Dortmund’s defence has been far from blame-free this season, the team have only scored 18 goals in 19 matches.
For a side that has been renowned with some of Europe’s most scintillating and free-flowing attacking play in recent times, this is nothing short of a crisis of identity.
If Klopp can salvage the club’s campaign and keep Dortmund in the top flight it may well be time for a change of managerial direction, but finding someone to replicate the feats of the animated and tactically astute German trainer is no easy task.
Unless by some miracle Dortmund win the Champions League this term, the club will not feature in Europe’s top tournament next season and as such a lot of the damage is already done.
Top players naturally want to play at the highest level and as such the Ruhr Valley outfit must prepare to lose their best players.
Whether Dortmund are relegated or not, without participation in the Champions League it will be incredibly hard to keep hold of the likes of Mats Hummels and Marco Reus.
Even worse, should they end up in German football’s second tier a whole host of players that have made a name for themselves at Signal Iduna Park will also surely leave.
Football can come in waves of positive and negative times for specific teams and it appears that Dortmund need a major change this summer to limit the extent of their recent decline.
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