It is Dortmund who in my opinion are Europe’s best side this season.

This past weekend Dortmund defeated Bayern in the final of the German cup. It was a comprehensive 5-2 defeat and it was the fifth win in a row for Dortmund over the side from Bavaria. It is a remarkable achievement that Dortmund are where they are, and much credit must go to their impressive coach Jurgen Klopp.

Dortmund completed an historic double by beating Bayern, being only the fourth different club to win the double since the creation of the Bundesliga in 1963. Dortmund are yet to lose in 2012 and although their rivals Bayern are in the Champions League final this weekend, it is Dortmund who deserve the accolades and who, in my opinion, are Europe’s best side this season.

Last season saw Dortmund win the league in convincing style; their brand of attacking football took the league by storm, however the win was somewhat tarnished by the mediocrity of Bayern. This season Bayern were much more focused and determined and after a first day loss to Mongengladbach, they then went on an eight game run winning seven, putting them top of the league. Dortmund however struggled in the early part of the season, picking up just seven points in the first six games. The experience of the Champions League can be said to have affected Dortmund, an experience which was a harsh one for this young and naïve side. Klopp had not experienced Europe before and his use of a domestic style of play did not suit the more punishing environment of Europe. A last minute equaliser against Arsenal gained Dortmund a point, yet they lost all but one of their remaining games in the group stages and ultimately ended bottom. It was however probably a good thing to finish bottom, it meant no more Europe and allowed Klopp to focus just on the league. And focus they did.

A bit of history

For those who don’t know the situation at Dortmund it is important to understand that in terms of winning titles, money was not the reason. In fact, not having money was. Dortmund were one of the top sides in Europe in the late 90’s, an impressive defeat of Juventus in 1997 brought a Champions League to the club, however, the success came from unstable foundations based on high investment and the club went through a bad period at the turn of the century. 

However, the club did not learn it’s lesson and the same problem surfaced due to mis-management of finances. Having spent beyond their means on foreign imports; Rosicky (€14.5m), Koller (€10.5M), Marcio Amoroso (€25m) who all arrived in 2001, the club was close to bankruptcy. It meant that the sale of the stadium and the sale of many players led to Dortmund drop out of the elite levels of the Bundesliga.

During 2005-2008 Dortmund were a mid table side, regarded as an example of financial mis-management. To imagine that this side would be back to back champions in 2011 and 2012 would be a shock to many, yet to have done it without spending huge sums was even more impressive.

An undefeated run

In September Dortmund lost twice to Hertha Berlin and Hannover, putting Dortmund in 11th place, the champions season was very much looking precarious. However, since then Dortmund went undefeated in the league, out of the remaining 29 games Dortmund won 24. At the end of January Dortmund beat Hoffenheim 3-1 and went top of the league. They would remain there for the rest of the season. And they would set a new Bundesliga record for a points haul of 81. They also improved on their goals record from last season too, 80 goals scored this year compared to 67 last.  

Last season players like Nuri Sahin and Lucas Barrios were important members of the title winning side. However, when Real Madrid came in for Sahin, it appeared it was another example of a side losing it’s star players to bigger sides who dangle more money in players faces. Barrios was injured at the start of the season and so the £4.5m signing Robert Lewandowski was used as his replacement. Lewandowski was deemed skilful yet not good enough to lead the line in Dortmund’s 4-2-3-1, bought in 2010 as Barrios' understudy as such, however this season he has proved his doubters wrong; his hat trick against Bayern in the cup final meant that he finished the season with 30 goals, and has been a key figure in the title win this season and his worth was rewarded when he picked up the Bunesliga Player of the Year award.

Lewandowski was enabled to score so many because of the talents around him; this season was supposed to be all about the potentially world class Mario Gotze, however injury curtailed much of his season and it was up to the Japanese star Shiniji Kagawa to step up and carry on his impressive performances from last season. His 13 goals and 9 assists almost fails to justify his contribution, he plays with guile, agility, speed and skill and is regarded as one of the brightest talents in Europe. Along with the impressive Kevin Großkreutz supporting the attack has led Dortmund to play some precise and rapid attacking football.

With any winning side, a strong defence is always important. And this season Dortmund have conceded only 25 goals, a remarkable achievement, even if they only play 34 games. This is no small part to the impressive partnership of Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic, flanked by Marcel Schmelzer and the continually impressive Łukasz Piszczek; who is reported to be interesting Madrid, signed by Dortmund for free in 2010. This is not a rare occurrence for Dortmund, their new model which needed to be sustainable, had to find a way to compete with the financial might of Bayern, Schalke and Leverkusen. 

They did it by investing time and their small amount of money into developing their youth academy, in which time players like Sahin, Gotze and Schmelzer have emerged. They also put intense resources into an intricate scouting network which sought to find under valued talent from around the world. Kagawa is the best example of this, finding him in the 2nd division in the J-league, bought for £300,000. Quite remarkable and if any club is carrying out the “Moneyball” model and being successful then surely Dortmund are it.  

The future

Can Dortmund win the title again next season? As long as Jurgen Klopp is manager then the club will be successful. He has shown the world that he is one of the best coaches in the game; able to work on a tight budget and yet able to overcome the might of Bayern is an achievement which deserves more recognition. His ability to bring out the best in players is a trait of the greats and to have done it with relatively little money is astonishing. Perhaps people assume Dortmund have invested heavily to get where they are, this is just not true. And their model, along with many models in Germany, should be learnt from for the future of English clubs and youth development.

It will be important that Klopp improves Dortmund’s performance in the Champions League however, after this first experience I am sure he learnt a lot, similar to that of Man City, and so expect more tactical nous next year. However, the biggest issue will be of personnel; Alex Ferguson was in attendance for the German final and he was reportedly looking at Kagawa, Lewandowski and Subotic. Kagawa is apparently a near done deal and will give Dortmund a hefty profit margin. Yet Lewandowski would be a bigger loss based on his performance this season, whereas Gotze and new signing Marco Reus (who was a youth graduate of Dortmund) from Monchengladbach will fill the hole of Kagawa, it will be difficult to find a striker as good as the Pole, especially as Barrios is off to China. 

Another worry will be Hummels, who is reportedly a target of Milan, Barca and Man City. Justifiably so, yet Dortmund will not want to break up this great defensive partnership. As mentioned the right back Łukasz Piszczek is wanted to by Madrid. And so it seems that Klopp has a job on his hands to keep this double winning side together. What will be important will be to make sure the scouting is in overdrive in order to make sure replacements are brought in if required. 

What is for sure is that Klopp has built an amazing side considering the restraints put on him and talk of him moving to some of Europe’s elite is not surprising. Yet, Klopp has no intention of leaving this club, he loves it and while they want him, he will be there. Expect to see changes this summer, yet do not be surprised to see Dortmund continue their dominance in Germany, whereas Bayern appears a team divided, Klopp has developed a unified and winning club.