The Decision Supporters Hope Dortmund Never Has to Make

The Armchair Insider Borussia Dortmund

Most Borussia Dortmund supporters have long since gotten used to a high rate of player turnover being commonplace every summer, and it is likely that this upcoming summer is no different. Having passed within minutes of bankruptcy and absolute financial disaster in 2003, the club accepted a business model that stressed financial prudence and forward thinking on the transfer market. In Christian Pulisic and Marco Reus, Dortmund possess two tantalisingly skilled attackers that will figure prominently in the team’s plans for as long as they are around the club. Yet both also possess significant value on the transfer market, and the club could be forced into making a decision on keeping one or the other if they entertain the sorts of eye-watering transfer offer in the summer that are expected by some. Pulisic is still a teenager, and the greatest prospective talent in the history of American football. Marco Reus is 28 years old and injury prone, but he and the Dortmund fans share a special bond, and he has only just returned from a cruciate injury to prove he is still one of the most exciting talents in world football whenever he takes the pitch in good health.

We have asked resident, and unabashed, American Robert Hay and Nate Smith to take sides in this debate to find out which of these two players should the club fight hardest to keep. Bet you can’t guess which one Rob chose…

Youth and Promise Make Pulisic the Pick- Robert Hay Jr.

Setting aside the hype, what is Christian Pulisic? He is a fast player whose decision-making has progressed nicely this season and can equally create scoring opportunities while taking quality chances on goal when the opportunity presents itself. These kinds of skills at a high-level are not common, but they do exist. In fact, his teammate Marco Reus is better in almost every category or skill, including number of times on the cover of FIFA. Why, then, would I argue that Pulisic is more valuable to this club and should be kept above all others, including the German hero?

The American has the advantage over Reus in two areas. The first is age. Being 19-years-old does not make you great, but it does mean you could have years of greatness ahead of you. Pulisic could stall in his development or show that what he is today is what he will always be, which is a very good player.  However, who he is today is better than a healthy Marco Reus. Yet Reus, at age 28, is approaching the time in a career when most players start to decline in skill. Absent Cristiano Ronaldo, who remade himself to remain great, a player like Reus over the next five years even without injuries will begin to show a decline in physical skills natural to a player. Pulisic, on a normal path, has another ten or so years of peak physical play which could see him improve, a scary proposition.

The other aspect is healthy. While Pulisic has had his bumps and bruises, to use a phrase, he has not had a major injury that would impact his style of play. Reus, as we know well, is now considered injury-prone. While the injuries have seemingly not negatively impacted his play, combined with his age it is inevitable that if he continues on this path an injury will alter the player he is for the worse. It would be better to let him walk now and receive a transfer fee than risk him suffering that injury with no compensation coming to the club. Pulisic could very well become injury-prone himself, especially playing on some of those CONCACAF pitches. As of today, though, he is not.

We know Pulisic is very good now, but his future is murky. His development could stall and he could join the list of Dortmund phenomena who fails elsewhere (but keep coming back it seems). But with his young age and relatively healthy career, he could continue to develop into a star player. That’s the advantage of youth and talent combined, the unknown promise, that makes him a must keep even over Marco Reus.

As the Better Player Right Now, and For His Place In the Hearts of the Supporters, It Must Be Marco Reus- Nate Smith

I don’t mean to parse my argument straight out of the gate, but by every traditional application of logic, Christian Pulisic would be the player the club should try to keep at all costs. However, the modern football landscape has shifted so drastically, that traditional logic hardly seems to dictate action anymore. The recent trend across Europe of big clubs signing world-class talents at even younger ages than in the past has been driven in large part by the absurd inflation of transfer fees across the board, leaving their combination of future potential and years of prime aged football still to play seem a smarter investment. Now, teams are willing to spend north of €50 million on players who have yet to reach their full potential, and for the very best young talents, fees over €100 million are being quoted almost de rigueur by their clubs.

At 18 and already considered one of Europe’s most talented young players, Pulisic could fetch a massive transfer fee this summer, potentially even eclipsing that €100 million plateau. However, Pulisic is in uncharted waters for American footballers, as none have ever been so highly regarded at his age while playing regularly at one of Europe’s biggest clubs. He is nowhere close to as good as he can be yet, and he appears to be trending up, but what if that changes? What if, as so many players before him who flashed in their teenage years have done, he burns out after a few years and runs the risk of never fulfilling his massive potential? What if he is never worth more on the market than he is now, where most of his value is still represented in what he could be than what he currently is?

Marco Reus may be a decade older and he may have developed a reputation for fragility with his litany of past injuries, but there is no doubt about the player he is when healthy. He has miraculously held on to his pace though his injury struggles, and he is one of the most creative finishers in the business. He has added another level of excitement to the attack since his return, and at the time of writing, he has scored in each of his last two starts.

Besides his obvious talent and contributions to the attack, Reus is one of the crowd favourites at the Westfalenstadion. He was born in the city and grew up playing in the Borussia Dortmund academy. Despite leaving for 7 years and playing for 3 separate clubs as a teenager, he returned home in 2012 from Borussia Monchengladbach and has stayed ever since, as an integral part of the squad. Marco bleeds Dortmund, and despite many opportunities to leave for more money and even bigger clubs, his heart remains die Schwarzgelben through and through. That kind of loyalty is not typical in the modern game.

Given Reus’ age and injury history, it is not certain whether or not he could command as much money on the transfer market as his young American teammate, and his value to the club goes beyond money. Pulisic is not the first exciting young talent that Dortmund has unearthed, and he is not likely to be the last. Given Dortmund’s mix of veteran and young talent, they are arguably in a good position to compete in the league and make some noise in Europe over the next 2-3 seasons. Ideally, the club would obviously like to keep both players as long as possible, but if forced to choose, they would likely come closer to building a title contending squad with the money raised from Pulisic’s sale and keeping Reus right where he belongs, in the city he has called home for three quarters of his life.