The Transfer Monger: Open Season at Signal Iduna Park
Being a Dortmund fan this summer has almost been torturous. On the one hand they have acted quickly in sealing deals for incoming players, but there is a growing fear about how heavily the other shoe is going to drop in their dealings. New reports are surfacing every day of yet another player set to leave the club this summer. Fans are not likely to see any more major moves until a player like Ousmane Dembele or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has taken their considerable talents elsewhere, leaving a glaring squad weakness in their wake.
A Quoted Price
One trend from the last two weeks that should be noted is a general recession of rumoured transfer fees out of the stratosphere and back into reality. Published figures, for strikers in particular, this summer have been outrageous, with initial reports of €90 million for Aubameyang, €140 million for French teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe, €80+ million for Alexandre Lacazette and Ousmane Dembele all demonstrate the power that agents (like Mino Raiola) have today in setting the market for their players.
It can be confusing to hear all of these price tags and “agreed fees” so early in the season, only to see those deals never materialise. In these cases, it boils down to one of two reasons: either the fee is an estimate on the part of the author or the agent is behind it all. Agents use connections in the media to further the commitment of interested teams and in order to drive the price up. When there are several teams all vying for the same player, a bidding war usually results in a fatter payday for the player, the selling club, and the agent himself.
The Guaranteed Departure
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang continues to be the most likely die Schwarzgelben player to move this summer. Since issuing his transfer request, almost daily updates have linked the pacey Gabonese international with Europe’s elite clubs. His price is sure to be north of €60 million as now Liverpool have joined the race that already includes half of the Premier League and Paris Saint-Germain.
Fans have also taken to watching the striker’s social media output daily for updates on his future. These sites are now chock full of footballers dropping cryptic hints (if the fans that follow them are to be believed) about their futures. That Aubameyang recently posted a photograph with the caption “ready for new adventures” has led many to believe a deal could be close. Some reports even indicate that it is in fact Tianjin Quanjian of the Chinese Super League who have reached an agreement with the player. Whoever decides to buy Aubameyang, they will be getting a supremely talented player, leaving a giant 40 goal hole in the Dortmund attack.
One and Done at Dortmund?
It seems that fans were right to be worried. When reports first started surfacing linking young talent Ousmane Dembele with a move to Barcelona, it didn’t make much sense at first. Dembele only arrived last summer from Stade Rennais and had himself a very good first season in the Bundesliga, confirming his status among the best and brightest talents in the sport. With Marco Reus sidelined for the first half of the season, he projected to be a major contributor for Dortmund, even with the overwhelming number of wide forwards and midfielders at the club’s disposal. As the best of he bunch, he would get into every match that he was fit for.
A move to Barcelona, with their famous front 3 of Neymar, Luis Suarez and Leo Messi, would almost certainly mean trading playing time opportunities and star status within the club for a dream move to a big side early on in his career. Barcelona themselves are in the midst of a managerial change, and are perhaps looking for fresh blood to liven up the operation, but Dembele does not really fit anywhere outside the forward line in Barcelona’s 4-3-3 system, so he could end up spending multiple years waiting for Messi to regress to the mean, opening Barcelona’s right flank up to a new starter for the first time in years.
Though this seems far from a good idea for Dembele, reports are suggesting that personal terms have already been agreed, and the transfer fee remains the final hurdle. This is where Dortmund may be able to fight to keep their man, as at such a young age and with term left on his contract, the club have every right to ask for an exorbitant fee. Rumour is that the club are looking for €80 million for the Frenchman’s services, but as one of Europe’s most talented squads, Barcelona have several options should they look to send a player to Dortmund as a sort of make weight for any deal involving Dembele. I still believe he ultimately stays, but it is looking less likely by the day.
Also rumoured to be on the move after just a season in Westphalia is talented full back/midfielder Raphael Guerreiro. After being such a revelation with Portugal last year in Euro 2016, the diminutive dynamo was snapped up by Borussia Dortmund. As the injuries piled up to the squad, including hitting Guerreiro himself, he proved what a valuable player he can be by filling in all over the midfield and at left back.
His efforts have clearly not gone unnoticed, as now Paris Saint-German appear to be in pursuit of his services. With quality starters on the wings and in midfield, any chance he might have of making the starting XI in Paris would most likely have to come on the left side of the defence. Should he want to play further forward, he would likely be looking at a sort of super sub role, where his defensive work rate would make him a perfect late game winger when defending a lead.
The Shape of Things
One factor that could determine what moves are still to be made for Dortmund is how they might choose to line up next season. Under their last two managers, Juergen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, the team predominately employed a 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1 until last season, when a leaky defense necessitated a move toward a 3-4-3.
New Manager Peter Bosz is very much a member of the Ajax 4-3-3 school of tactics, so it remains to be seen which formation the team begin with to start the season. Losing Dembele, while significant, would not hinder the team’s tactical flexibility as much as losing Guerreiro would, but the team most likely will be searching for cover at centre forward regardless of whether or not Aubameyang leaves this summer.
With talented midfield signings in Mahmoud Dahoud and Max Philipp, The team should have enough bodies to make it through a campaign challenging on all fronts. Philipp can augment the wide players in a system with a two man midfield, or drop into a midfield 3 if necessary. Dahoud, on the other hand, has the ability to play anywhere in the midfield, and even to fill in on the flanks in emergencies. He also possesses enough defensive awareness to partner all but Mario Gotze in a pairing.
Whatever the club decide to do, they are in for a fight to keep some of the most talented players this summer. Right or wrong, Dortmund seem to have emerged as a club in a sort of limbo. Like Arsenal from about 2005-2015, they seem to be thought of by members of the media as a sort of feeder team to the stars: a place for some of the world’s brightest talents to come and tune their skills before securing the ultimate dream move to one of Europe’s true wealthy elite: Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Manchester United, PSG and Barcelona.
As many fans may remember, this club once got in trouble for trying to be something they were not, spending money that wasn’t there and in the process almost leading the club to its total ruin. So perhaps a reluctant acceptance of who they are as a club is the best thing. Dortmund are now viewed as an innovative and modern club to work and play for, and the embrace of a fun and familial atmosphere has surely turned a few eyes longingly in their direction. In the absence of unlimited Oligarchical investment, surely there are much worse ways for a club to be.
What do you think Dortmund fans? Should they try to keep the squad together as it is now? Who should they turn to if they lose Dembele, Aubameyang and/or Guerreiro? What will Peter Bosz do tactically? So many questions left to answer with preseason inching ever closer!