The international break is a time for teams to regroup and focus on their goals for the rest of the season. In contrast, Borussia Dortmund have decided to use some of their valuable time this week to make their kit sponsor very happy indeed. As everyone has no doubt heard by now, Usain Bolt joined the team for training this week (amusingly dubbed a “trial” by those that think the word has no relation to a real attempt at earning a place) and the world’s media, even beyond the usual outlets that cover the sport, has been falling over each other to micro-report his progress. Perhaps the most amusing image one can conjure up is of the diligent and focused Peter Stoeger, and how he must view the whole circus when in the privacy of his office. It is difficult to imagine a situation that seems less conducive to making real progress on the training pitch, but sometimes a little fun and a change of pace during the long season is just what a mentally and physically tired squad needs.
Potential benefits aside, there is still little doubt that Puma benefits most of all from this week’s publicity stunt (let there be no mistake, that is exactly what this was). Photographs of Bolt and the Dortmund team in training hav been broadcast all over the world, with all parties decked head to foot in their black and yellow Puma training kit. For the kit and boot manufacturer, who have also been a long-term sponsor of the world record Jamaican sprinter, his presence with the team has been an absolute treasure trove of free advertisement. The club themselves benefit from the exposure, as publications from America to Asia that would never carry news about the Ruhr based club have given people a glimpse into one of the hippest clubs in all of Europe. By proxy of curious readers and viewers alone, Dortmund will have increased their global brand recognition simply by allowing one of the world’s most elite athletes to satisfy another of his passions.
Whatever his reason for training with die Schwarzgelben, Bolt was still able to produce some noteworthy moments in his adventure. At one point, he was spotted streaking past his marker and smashing a powerful header past the keeper, which set social media abuzz with video evidence of his feat. He was also able to pull off a nutmeg during some passing drills, much to the delight of the watching crowd, and even the commentators on hand to narrate the occasion. When taking a spot kick later on in the session, Bolt was particularly impressive as he calmly strode up to the ball and stroked it into the top right corner with the goalkeeper lunging the other way. As easy as his presence at Dortmund’s training ground is to mock, he did not look altogether out of place with his muscular build, bouncy gait and smooth striking ability on the ball. Despite the 31 year old’s impossibly late arrival to the professional game, there is undoubtedly some considerable talent in the Jamaican that could potentially find a home in a lower league, should he elect to give football a real go.
No Days Off For The Scouts
While the team was busy mixing a little fun into their work week, the club was still hard at work behind the scenes, searching for he next crop of talent to work into the squad this summer. They even attempted to poach Argentinian club Racing’s star young striker Lautaro Martinez from Inter Milan just as a deal between those 2 clubs was reaching its conclusion. Despite reportedly offering Racing a significantly improved deal from the one the received from the Italian club, they were nevertheless informed that it was too late, and they ultimately missed out on their man. The 20 year old Martinez has been a revelation for Racing this season, scoring 12 goals in 14 games and attracting the rumoured attention of several top clubs. Martinez was even though by some to be preferred to Michy Batshuayi within the club, as they will now reportedly look to make his loan move permanent in the wake of their disappointment. Batshuayi has been magnificent since joining Dortmund during the January window, but given that his parent club paid the token Premier League premium to secure his services 2 summer’s ago, he could cost Dortmund significantly more to pry away from Chelsea.
In other transfer news, it has been rumoured that Napoli are interesting in signing Jeremy Toljan from Dortmund, despite the right back only arriving at the club this season from Hoffenheim. Toljan has not had quite the flawless move into the Dortmund starting XI that some were predicting, as his limits going forward are exposed in this aggressive Dortmund attacking side. His defensive ability is significantly more developed than his attacking instincts, however, and despite being an equally questionable fit in Maurizio Sarri’s uncompromising tactics at Napoli, he does have the traits to be a successful defender in Serie A. When it comes to players leaving the club, it is hard to rule anything out given the amount of changes to the team over the last several seasons, but for Toljan, it is difficult to imagine a better place for him to continue his progression than the one he currently is.
One They Need, One They Don’t?
With the team regrouping during the 2 week break from league matches, there are 2 players currently out injured that could be inching closer to a return to action: Andriy Yarmolenko and Shinji Kagawa. The Ukrainian Yarmolenko was a late addition in the summer, but he was thought to be an essential one due to the long-term absence of Marco Reus to start the campaign. Despite flashing positively after a brief bedding in period, his performances tailed off as the season progressed, culminating in a serious foot injury in a January training session that has kept him out ever since. His left foot is an undeniable asset cutting in off of the right flank, but with Marco Reus now back playing and healthy, Andre Schurrle has grown into the best complimentary piece to pair with Reus, Mario Gotze and Michy Batshuayi in a frightening attacking quartet, with Christian Pulisic fitting in across the front. Yarmolenko will have to show a more versatile side of his game if he is to work his way back into a starting berth when he returns, as he seemed to settle into a worrying pattern of taking and missing a tremendous amount of shots.
On the other side of the coin lies the injured Shinji Kagawa, who was almost certainly the most energetic player in the side since December, but has been out of action since February with ankle issues. In many ways, the return to prominence of the much-adored Mario Gotze has made some forget exactly how important Kagawa was to Dortmund’s winter turnaround of their horrid form, but the Japanese midfielder ran proceedings from his attacking midfield position, his 6 goals and 7 assists in all competitions the best for a midfielder in the team. Dortmund have been able to get by without his energy by utilising Schurrle alongside Gotze in the attacking midfield, but Kagawa’s return (projected to be in early April) can only add another dynamic to the position. With Max Philipp also back and available to use up front, Peter Stoeger is all of a sudden finding himself with a variety of ways to attack his opponents, which can only mean good things for the run up to the end of the season, and the team’s focus on securing second place and Champions League football.