Compared to most clubs in Europe, Borussia Dortmund have already experienced a flurry of activity this summer. However, depending on what happens with a couple star players in the next few weeks, they could just be getting started.
Despite deciding to part ways with coach Thomas Tuchel, Dortmund continued to quietly go about the same sort of business that has dominated the Westfallenstadion for the last several years. Unlike most big clubs in Europe, Dortmund have been stockpiling young talent and layering it throughout the squad. As a result, the team have been able to continue being one of the most exciting teams in world football.
New signing Omer Toprak is the most experienced of the incoming players, and he has the ability to slot immediately into the Dortmund back line, regardless of whether they continue experimenting with 3 man back lines or revert to manager Peter Bosz’s preferred 4-3-3. At 27, he is entering his prime, and has proven over the last few years with Bayer Leverkusen to be one of the league’s best defenders. His signing represents an acknowledgement from the backroom staff that this club can certainly challenge for top honours in the league and abroad.
Further supplementing the defence, and representing the more traditional youth option, Dan Axel-Zagadou was brought in from PSG. Though he is still just 18, he has all he size, pace and strength required to succeed as an elite defender in Europe. By joining Dortmund, he has assured that he will be in a place that honours the development of youth. It should be only a matter of time before his name is mentioned amongst the most promising in world football.
In central midfield, a position that had required creative solutions at times last season, the acquisition of Mahmoud Dahoud is going to be huge for the club. Mario Gotze is one of the most talented players in this generation, but Dortmund can not count on him to make it through the season. Dahoud gives them a player able to offer most of what Gotze could do going forward, but is also considerably more responsible while defending.
Finally, as if that wasn’t enough, the signing of Maxim Philipp from Freiburg will offer even more depth on the flanks and in attacking midfield. The 23 year old is a fantastic depth option behind players like Marco Reus and Ousmane Dembele, but perhaps his role could soon become much larger than some might have anticipated.
Time to Sell?
Taken with the depth and talent of the squad already present, those 4 new signings represent a very solid supplementation. Dortmund have been able to layer almost every position with enough talented players to survive the attrition of a full Bundesliga and Champions League campaign. However, much to the consternation of fans, the club’s real business may just be beginning.
Though there have been a lot of players rumoured to be on the move this summer, many of whom will never have even considered it by the end, two Dortmund players have become the subjects of intense transfer speculation: Ousmane Dembele and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Of the two, Dortmund are perhaps more resigned to losing the Gabonese hitman, as Dembele only arrived a year ago.
For Aubameyang, transfer speculation has become something of the norm the last couple summers. This year, with more teams in the Premier League flush with television money, the cry for star strikers to come to British shores has been persistent. Of those that are currently unsettled and ready to move on, few can compete with the Dortmund man. Few players are able to finish in the variety of ways that Aubameyang can, and even fewer possess his pace.
So far this summer, Manchesters United and City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Real Madrid and others have all been linked with the player. With a valuation of over €60 million, a bidding war could drive the strikers price up to a level that leaves the club powerless to refuse, especially if it gives them enough flexibility to try and entice Dembele to stick around. At this point, it is really a matter of “where to” not “if” Aubameyang is leaving to another club.
As for Dembele, there may be less sharks smelling blood in the water, but the one that is happens to be as formidable, cunning and aggressive as any. Barcelona seemed to have upped their interest dramatically in Dembele recently, and a value of around €90 million has been reported.
The Catalan club have something of a reputation for disregarding such trivial things as rules on tapping up, child labour, and wide scale tax evasion practices by several in and around the club, and since the player in question could potentially be the heir apparent to Lionel Messi, there could be no stopping them. Dembele, with his pace, trickery and left foot possesses many of the qualities that make the miniature Argentinian a transcendent player, but the move would not be without its difficulties.
If he agrees to the move, Dembele will more than likely be committing himself to being the 4th man in the most famous attacking trio in the world, maths that doesn’t really work even at Barcelona. He would not only be forced into a role as an impact substitute for at least a year or two, but he would also face IMMENSE pressure at the Nou Camp following in the footsteps of a true all-time footballing great. The Catalans are not a patient fan base, but then, neither should Dembele be for a reduced role at this stage of his career. He has proven to have Ballon d’Or potential, and he currently plies his trade in a side and league that suit his all out attacking style. It just seems far more likely that Barcelona will have success in laying groundwork for a future move far more than pushing for a transfer now. Should the offer start to climb north of €100 million though, the sale could become an irresistible prospect.
The Perfect Replacement?
Given Aubameyang’s unique collection of skills, replacing him would not be easy. Players with his pace seldom have his technique around the goal, but it is worth remembering that at one point in his career, Aubameyang was a lanky, long striding wide player of whom few would expect a 30 goal season.
However, earlier in the spring, a player very much in his mould and of similar potential was cited in some reports: Inaki Williams of Atletico Bilbao. With a release clause of around €50 million, it is clear that Bilbao think very highly of their young speedster, who is under contract until 2021.
Like Aubameyang, Williams is tall and quick, able to effortlessly accelerate, leaving defenders trailing in his wake. At 23, he has shown glimpses of potential in front of goal, as well as a good eye for the final pass. He may not have the top end finishing potential that Aubameyang does, but he is a better dribbler, passer, and aerial threat than the Gabonese striker.
Dortmund are unique in that they don’t need their striker to carry the scoring for the team. Goals can come from almost anywhere on the pitch at the Signal Iduna Park, and Williams himself could expect his goal tallies to rise should he come and carve out a niche here.
Some solace should be taken in the fact that the club have faced this situation before. After losing Robert Lewandowski in 2014, Dortmund were quick to unearth their next great striker, suffering only one forgettable year in between with Ciro Immobile leading the line. Whoever ends up signing on the replace Aubameyang will have the benefit of one of the most talented collections of attacking talent at their side.
That will do it for today, fans of the Yellow Wall! What do you think will happen this summer for Borussia Dortmund? Has the bulk of their business been completed? Will they sell one or both of Dembele and Aubameyang? If so, will they be replaced in time for the new season?