The Transfer Monger Week 12: Echte Liebe and the Turning Wheel

Transfer Rumours

Is there any club in Europe that will be happier to see the summer transfer window end as much as Borussia Dortmund? Well, yes there is actually, and that would be Monaco, but after that? Not only did the club wrap up most of its important business early in the summer, but we are now eight days away from the end of the summer window and Ousmane Dembele and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are still at the club.

Furthermore, a convincing 3-0 win over Wolfsburg to open the league season saw Peter Bosz’ men impress. Aubameyang himself netted a goal off of an excellent Christian Pulisic set up, but the way the match unfolded was perhaps the most impressive of all, with Dortmund showing off a blitzkrieg like intensity and Wolfsburg failing to muster a shot on target. Mario Gotze looked like ‘Super Mario’ again for the first time in years, and Marc Bartra, the recipient of terrible injuries during that horrific team bus bombing incident last season, was able to score a goal himself. The win was imperative for the club to put a roller coaster summer behind them and open their account in the new season with a positive result.

Echte Liebe

As any person who counts themselves as a fan of Dortmund, or simply understands the German language knows that the phrase “Echte Liebe” translates into “true love”. It is so much more than just a motto for the club though: it is representative of the symbiotic relationship between a city, its people and its club.

In a contribution to the Players’ Tribune last week, Nuri Sahin spoke with such eloquence, attempting to put into words the love that exists within the Dortmund family. He recalled the moments preceding and immediately following that fateful bombing the day of their Champions League match against Monaco, April 11, 2017. He recalled the terrifying moments afterward: his phone call with Marc Bartra’s wife as the only other player on the bus able to speak Spanish, and his emotions upon returning home an hour later.

Sahin also talked about the moment he decided that his dream was to play for Real Madrid while at Dortmund as a youth player. Having grown up with Dortmund his whole life, it was die Schwarzgelben and not Schalke to knock on his door as a youth, and the only time his dream of playing for Dortmund was interrupted, it was simply joined by a dream of wearing the famous Madrid white kit.

Having gotten his opportunity at the age of 22, and after much soul searching and consultation with then manager Jurgen Klopp, he decided to go and fulfill the second part of his life’s dream: to pull on the famous white kit of Real Madrid. At the time, Sahin realized that staying in Dortmund would leave him with regrets that he simply would not experience if he took his opportunity.

Unfortunately, an injury in his very first training session in Spain immediately derailed any potential headway he could have made into the Real starting XI, and after 6 months out and a lacklustre showing to finish out the season, Sahin found himself on the way to England on a loan deal to Liverpool in the summer of 2012. If he had trouble finding his place in Spain, his foray into the English game was an even bigger struggle. As he takes pains to point out in this piece, he came to the realisation that it wasn’t his football that had suffered his move away from Germany, but rather himself. He missed that feeling of family, that true love, that existed for him and so many more as a member of Borussia Dortmund.

In the winter window of that season, Sahin finally made it back home. His loan with Liverpool was ended and he was sold back to Dortmund, where he would come to find that the Ultras in the Yellow Wall never forgot one of their favorite sons, singing his name as Jurgen Klopp playfully shoved him back on the pitch again in front of the amazing fans. His amazing fans. Fans whom he loved and loved him right back, and for whom he still plays with his entire heart and soul.

So what on Earth does this have to do with Transfer Rumours?

The Turning Wheel

This has been a summer in 3 parts for Borussia Dortmund. The first, a poorly handled departure of then manager Thomas Tuchel, brought out fears that this normally well-run club lacked a plan of succession, particularly when Nice wouldn’t allow Lucien Favre to discuss the role with Dortmund as expected, leaving them without their first choice replacement. The second phase, a righting of the ship, consisted of the rapid signing of several promising players (most if not all covered here in this space) and a return to order for the club. However, many in Dortmund must be wondering now when this summer will end, as both Ousmane Dembele and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang now seem to be ready to depart once again.

For Ousmane Dembele, ever since Neymar left Barcelona for Paris, there has only been one thing on his mind. In truth, he might have joined the Catalans last season were it not for the presence of a fully established and entrenched attacking trio and the existence of a better offer from Dortmund for the sake of his development. However, with an opening in Barcelona’s attacking trident, it appears that he is ready to make his move, at the expense of his Dortmund career and the love of those yellow clad fans.

Having now been suspended by the team, it is unlikely that their fractured relationship will ever be healed. It would be easy, especially for those with yellow in their heart, to wonder how such an infectious feeling of togetherness can be lost on a young player like Dembele. However, given the climate of football in the world today, his case is not altogether unusual. It is not realistic to expect every player in a squad is a fan of his club. Not every player is as lucky as Sahin was to grow up so close to such a major European team, and then to be discovered by that team and invited to join their youth academy. More and more players approach joining a club the same way that Ousmane Dembele did a year ago: as a dispassionate, career driven decision.

To a player like Dembele, joining Dortmund was never like joining a family. It was a career stepping stone, and an effective one at that, given the club’s reputation for youth development. Perhaps even Dembele and his agent would not have imagined that his career could move forward as quickly as it has, only a year after signing on in Westphalia. Having increased his market value tenfold, and being touted as a future Ballon d’Or candidate almost immediately from, ironically, a virtuoso performance against Barcelona in last summer’s preseason, Dembele looks all but guaranteed to be off on the next chapter of his football journey before the window slams shut.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has less of an excuse. Having joined from AC Milan as an underused wide man, Aubameyang almost immediately blossomed into a star at the Westfalenstadion, with his pace and finishing ability adding immediate influence and threat to the Dortmund attack. His career trajectory has been one of steady upward mobility, and now, at 28, he is one of the game’s best strikers. In the process, he has also become one of the most important and beloved players for his team.

But Aubameyang has the same dream as Sahin did over a half decade ago. It is the long held dream of the Gabonese striker to turn out for Real Madrid, and this summer it finally looked likely…until it didn’t. You see, this summer has been one of the growing power and importance of youth. Nearly every top flight club in Europe these days boasts a scouting department on par with some of the world’s best talent mining clubs. The days of managers like Arsene Wenger fleecing some small French club for a global superstar to little fanfare and zero competition from others are all but over. As football in Europe becomes more and more lucrative for even middling sides, young players will become even more important at an even younger age.

In fact, it is this shift in focus toward talented youth, right up to the very top of the game, that might now spoil Aubameyang’s dreams. Normally, when one of the world’s best goal scorers in his prime wants to go to Real Madrid, there are ways of seeing it done. But this summer, a prodigious 18-year-old stole what longing, lusty gazes might have been cast in the Gabon international’s direction from the Club President’s chair in Madrid: Kylian Mbappe.

Yes, Florentino Perez is famous for his Galacticos building desires, but his second term at the head of the world’s biggest club has been marked by a much more resolute focus on youth. So now, it is no longer a question of value when comparing the prospect of spending £80 million on a player at his peak, or £130 million on a player who has over a decade left of elite level football. Both are expensive, but only one of those moves instantly births a new legend of the game for an entire generation to come.

And so the sun may have set on Aubameyang’s ultimate dream, but he still may feel the need to move on. His foot is still hovering over the exit stairs, and he reasserted his desire from the beginning of the summer that he probably must move on to continue to grow. However, with his dream club in and out of the running, the reports of interest in him are thin on the ground. Perhaps Chelsea? Perhaps Liverpool? What about Atletico Madrid, post transfer ban?

All of these clubs could use his talents to be sure, but will they love him like he is (or was, depending on how this all shakes out) now? Unconditionally and truly? Perhaps he should talk to Sahin about what a dream move feels like and practice his badge kissing.