Dortmund 90 minutes away from ending decade of Bayern dominance

The club are not only developing bankable young talent but now finally on the verge of delivering on their title ambitions

The title parade is scheduled to begin at exactly 12.09pm on Sunday afternoon, shortly after Borussia Dortmund’s victorious squad have signed the city’s famous Golden Book. The team bus will then circle one and a half times around Borsigplatz, the large roundabout in the north of Dortmund, before winding the four kilometres through the centre of town, where anything from 200,000 to 500,000 fans are expected to line the streets in celebration.

All week, as Dortmund’s players and staff have driven around the city going about their business, they will have noticed the barriers and road signs going up. They have felt their phone glow white-hot with ticket demands. They may even have heard the mayor of Dortmund declare: “We’re assuming the team won’t let it slip on Saturday.” And yet they will also know that all this is still contingent on one thing: the 90 minutes of football that could break the drought, or break them instead.

The deed is almost done. Victory at home against ninth-placed Mainz on Saturday afternoon would bring the curtain down on Bayern Munich’s decade of dominance. Victory against Mainz would bring the Bundesliga shield back to North Rhine-Westphalia for the first time since 2012, when Jürgen Klopp was young and Robert Lewandowski was up front and every kid with a copy of Fifa wanted to play as Borussia Dortmund.

Bayern, two points behind but with a vastly superior goal difference, must go to Köln, win and hope. Nothing but a win will be good enough for Bayern; in which case nothing but a win will be good enough for Dortmund. And in Bavaria they retain strong memories of the great escape of 2000, when they began the final day three points behind but sneaked in after Bayer Leverkusen lost at Unterhaching.

And in one sense it would be the most Bayern of outcomes if even in this most chastening of seasons they were to find some way to win. Likewise it would be the most Dortmund of outcomes if, presented with the championship on a platter, they found some way of spurning it again. But there have been plenty of opportunities for Dortmund to choke during the run-in. Instead, they have steadily hacked away at the nine-point lead Bayern enjoyed over them at the turn of the year, with an assurance and a maturity that have not always been their tendency.

Hasan Salihamidzic and Oliver Kahn in the stands at the Allianz Arena.
Hasan Salihamidzic (middle row centre) and Oliver Kahn (middle row right) are likely to bear the brunt if Bayern fail to win the title. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

That we even reached this point is a surprise. Even as Bayern chugged their way through the spring, dropping points, sacking Julian Nagelsmann, there seemed to be a widespread assumption that the old muscle memory would eventually see them through, that their rivals would ultimately drop too many points. “Dortmund are almost too stupid to become German champions,” the president of Bavaria, Markus Söder, said in April.

Instead it was Bayern, title still in their grasp, who crumbled under the pressure at home to Leipzig last weekend. Their record under their new coach, Thomas Tuchel, reads five wins, two draws and four defeats, a run that could see three trophies disappear in the space of two months. “We’ve messed up often enough, it’s our own fault,” Tuchel said this week. And while Tuchel is safe for now, the chief executive, Oliver Kahn, and sporting director, Hasan Salihamidzic, hover nervously over the trap door.

Paradoxically, this has not been a vintage Dortmund season either. They started poorly, and will end with fewer points than in 2016 and 2019, when they finished second. But if they owe their opportunity more to Bayern weakness, it has been seized with elan. The attacking trio of Sébastien Haller, Karim Adeyemi and Donyell Malen have been irresistible in recent weeks. Gio Reyna has chipped in with vital goals. Julian Brandt and Jude Bellingham have run the show from midfield. Meanwhile at the back they have relied on the experience of Niklas Süle and Mats Hummels – the only survivor of Dortmund’s last title win.

This is perhaps the sharpest point of contrast with previous contenders. The signings of Haller and Süle last summer were a recognition that Dortmund’s famed youth model required a little rebalancing. And so alongside bankable young stars such as Bellingham, Reyna and Adeyemi are older heads such as Süle and Hummels, Emre Can and Thomas Meunier, Haller and Raphaël Guerreiro, all of whom have won titles elsewhere. That little core of knowledge and expertise has been crucial. For a young player, Dortmund has long been where you go to grow. Now, the club hopes, it can also be a place where you win.

“It shows that we do not just develop players, produce high potential, but we can also win trophies,” said the sporting director, Sebastian Kehl. “The capacity to win titles is massively important to bring players to Dortmund in the future, to convince their families and agents. We want to be ambitious. But at some point you have to deliver.”

Borussia Dortmund celebrate their win in Augsburg last weekend
Borussia Dortmund celebrate their win in Augsburg last weekend. Photograph: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

A decade after these two clubs contested a brilliant Champions League final, German football became a one-party state. Bayern won the past 10 Bundesligas in a row and everyone else’s job was to applaud. And so what’s at stake here is not so much a title as an idea. Can you have a vibrant league and a proper title race at the same time? Can you keep selling players and get stronger? And in the money-run modern game, can giants ever truly be toppled? By 12.09pm on Sunday, we’ll have more than a faint idea of the answers.


Jonathan Liew

The GuardianTramp

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