Borussia Dortmund was a founding member of the Bundesliga in 1963 and the first German club to lift a continental trophy three years later, but its run into Saturday’s Champions League final comes against the backdrop of near bankruptcy in 2005.
The 1966 Cup Winners' Cup champion Dortmund won the Bundesliga in 1995 and 1996, the Champions League in 1997 and the league again in 2002, but at the cost of massive overspending which brought the western Germans within days of a financial collapse eight years ago.
“The headline could be ‘From Ground Zero to Wembley’,” managing director Hans-Joachim Watzke said last week, spanning the years between near disaster and Saturday’s final against Bayern Munich.
Financial constraints at Germany’s only club listed on the stock exchange, also from the expansion of its stadium to 80,000 seats, prompted a rejuvenating process which gained momentum once Juergen Klopp arrived in 2008 from Mainz as one of Germany’s new and innovative coaches.
“We didn’t have much money, but a big history and high expectations. We had to get young players. They were 19, now they are 24. It is great to see the boys grow up,” Klopp said.
Mario Goetze, Ilkay Guendogan, Mats Hummels, Marcel Schmelzer, the Polish trio of Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek, Sven Bender, as well as veterans Sebastian Kehl and Roman Weidenfeller are part of “Dortmund 2.0” (Watzke) or “the sleeping giant” (Kehl) that ran away with Bundesliga titles 2011 and 2012.
Maturity then showed in Europe this season when Dortmund went unbeaten against strong opposition before it could afford a 2-0 semifinal defeat against Real Madrid after a 4-1 home win to make the Wembley final.
Klopp is praised by management and players for his important role as Dortmund took Germany and then Europe by storm with its attractive attacking football which relies on relentless running and high pressing.
Watzke vowed that “we will never ever go one cent into debt for sporting success” but Dortmund nonetheless aims to establish itself as a long-term rival for record champions and Germany’s wealthiest club Munich — something no other club has ever managed in the past decades.
Based in Germany’s industrial heartland Ruhr area, Dortmund has turned around its finances over the years and the tens of millions of euros (dollars) from this season’s Champions League are also more than welcome as it draws closer to Munich in this area — with revenue of close to €200 million and a net profit of €34 million last season.
On the field, Dortmund beat Munich in its only previous Champions League date in the 1998 quarterfinals, twice in the league last season, and 5-2 in the 2012 cup final for the first domestic double in the club’s 104-year history.
This season’s Bundesliga duels ended 1-1, Bayern beat Dortmund in the cup quarters and ran away with the league title in record-breaking fashion.
Bayern may be favourite on Saturday but Dortmund certainly like its chances as well even though Hummels has an injury scare and Goetze remains doubtful with a thigh-muscle problem ahead of what would be his last Dortmund game before a summer move to Munich.
“In order to achieve something you have to dream and think big,” Klopp said. “We want to fight for our lives, make our parents proud. If we win we will not be the best team in the world, but we will have beaten the best team in the world. We have a chance.”
Kehl said: “Yes, we believe that we can beat Bayern. We have a game that can hurt Munich. We have a plan and we know we can beat them, and they know it as well.”