With the recent announcement that Marco Reus would be joining in the summer and a conveyor belt of young talent being produced, time to take a closer look at Borussia Dortmund's youth policy
For one of the most successful clubs in Germany’s footballing history it has not been the best of decades for Borussia Dortmund. After losing in the final of the 2002 UEFA Cup Dortmund’s economic fortunes declined due to poor financial management and poor results on the pitch. After six consecutive finishes outside the top five between 2003 and 2009, now the supporters at the former Westfalenstadion (renamed to Signal Iduna Park) have one of the most exciting and vibrant teams in Europe to watch every week in what has to be one of the best footballing stories of the decade. This is due to management in place that were willing to be patient in order to do things right and in a sustainable way.
Michael Zorc has seen Dortmund through thick and thin having been their Sports Director for the past fourteen years. Zorc has been the architect behind this latest resurgence and he has managed to do it on only a fraction of the budget of domestic rivals Bayern Munich and their European opponents.
Dortmund and Zorc’s success can be attributed to their development of the club’s academy and youth system, as well as some prudent transfers. Zorc introduced the project “Nachwachs-Akademie” [Youth Academy] in 2008 including the introduction of state of the art facilities and dormitories for their youngsters at the academy complex in Brackel. This is a model used by Barcelona and other very successful clubs that have developed a youth-first philosophy. Treating young players well and allowing them access to all the tools needed to develop as players instills in academy graduates a loyalty that is becoming less and less common in the modern game. When asked about the project back in 2008, Zorc shared his vision and strategy for the club:
"Our strategy is to work with highly talented players, develop them, form them and introduce them to the professional level. Recent history has shown that this is a worthwhile goal. The step from the U19 to the professional level is a big one. We want to challenge and support the young people of our academy.
We want them to live and breathe football to be better prepared for the next step as a professional player. And our fans can also identify themselves a lot more with players from our youth system. And with Jürgen Klopp we have a coach who´s very good in this kind of work."
To say that his strategy worked would be an understatement. Not only did Dortmund run away with the Bundesliga title last season but they are in a strong position to challenge Bayern Munich for a second consecutive crown. They have done so with one of the youngest squads in Europe at an average age of just over 23, including youth academy graduates; Kevin Großkreutz, Marcel Schmelzer, and teenage phenom Mario Götze. Götze is just one of the many young thoroughbred footballers in Dortmund’s stable that last year included talented and versatile Nuri Sahin, who is now in Madrid helping Jose Mourinho’s fight for La Liga.
Many clubs would have lost many of their young stars after such a successful season but Michael Zorc and his colleagues once again deserve our praise. Where most clubs use their UEFA Champions League and domestic league money to make a splash in the transfer window, Dortmund astutely spent it on increasing the contracts for their existing players, ensuring that the majority of the Bundesliga-winning side remained intact for the coming seasons.
There are not many sides that can field an entire team from their academy and Dortmund are no different. Mats Hummels, Sven Bender, and Shinji Kagawa were all recruited to strengthen the squad and all have become stars in their own right for both club and their respective countries. Shinji Kagawa has to be considered one of the best transfers recently in world football. The Japanese international was signed for the paltry fee of 350,000 Euros from Japanese club, Cereza Osaka and the versatile attacker had a magnificent debut season until he broke his leg.
The fact that Dortmund were able to snatch Mats Hummels from under Bayern Munich is yet another transfer coup and the German central defender has become one of the best players at this position. Recent reports out of Dortmund have announced that the highly-rated Marco Reus will join the club over the summer from Borussia Monchengladbach. Reus is a player out of Dortmund’s academy, born and bred in Dortmund. Die Schwarzgelben (The Black and Yellows) managed to beat out some of the top teams in Europe to obtain his signature including Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich (much to the disappointment of Munich stars, Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger). The 22 year-old has already been capped by the German national team and has scored twenty-eight goals in only two seasons with Monchengladbach and the Dortmund faithful will welcome him back with open arms.
These sorts of business deals typify what Michael Zorc has done to build Dortmund into a powerhouse in Europe yet again. The overarching theme, whether it is Barcelona’s La Masia, The Boca Factory, Everton, or Borussia Dortmund is that there is more than one way to be a successful club. You do not need a billionaire owner or backing from national banks to become a giant of football.
The philosophy of creating rather than buying stars puts these clubs in good stead as the FIFA Financial Fair Play Rules and other regulations are implemented. But this philosophy needs time and patience from ownership, board of directors, coaching staff, and supporters. The Dortmund project has taken the better part of a decade before we saw results but has it not been worth the wait?