By almost any standard, this season has been a total disappointment for Borussia Dortmund. Die Schwarzgelben first crashed out of the Champions League group stage in the fall, despite drawing an easy group. They then crashed out of the DFB Pokal in January, and then the Europa League, despite being the best team remaining, at least on paper, in both competitions. They clung onto the faint hope of a title chase for a few months before that, too, vanished in the shadow of yet another defeat against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. The only saving grace is that BVB managed to club enough Bundesliga opponents to scrape together a respectable second place finish— helped, in fairness, by the lack of a consistent third place challenger.
Normally, in the wake of unsuccessful seasons such as this, I would be looking forward to a break from Borussia Dortmund... but I’m not. This season hasn’t even ended yet, and I’m already over the moon with excitement looking forward to next season, and it’s all because of one man.
No, not Nico Schlotterbeck... although he is awesome. It’s Sebastian Kehl, BVB’s multi-title-winning midfielder, current Director of Player Licensing, and incoming Sporting Director debutant. Although still nominally subservient to Michael Zorc, Kehl has been the de facto man in charge for a few months, and he has been widely involved in many of BVB’s transfers, including Nico Schlotterbeck.
So far, Dortmund have confirmed two signings (Süle and Schlotterbeck) and are on the verge of a third (Adeyemi) and potentially a fourth (Bensebaini). Not only has Kehl made quick work of improving upon a key weakness in the squad, but he’s signed two proven, first-team players in their primes, both of whom would make almost any squad in Europe, for a combined €25 million in transfer fees. He managed to sign both despite competing with Bayern Munich and various premier league clubs.
Karim Adeyemi has potential to be an amazing signing, and he’s followed by a flurry of additional rumored signings, including Ramy Bensebaini, Hugo Ekitike, Adam Hlozek, David Raum, and Konrad Laimer. Even if only a handful of these transfers come to pass, the fact that BVB are pursuing them demonstrates two things:
- Kehl recognizes the problems within the squad
- Kehl isn’t afraid to spend big if the deal makes sense
Ask any BVB fan what the biggest weaknesses on the squad are, and they’d tell you: back line, central midfield and attacking depth. If BVB’s transfer wishlist is anything to go by, Sebastian Kehl is acutely aware of these flaws. He has already massively revamped the back line, and could further supplement BVB’s full back depth with Raum and Bensebaini. Konrad Laimer could be the defensive midfielder that BVB have desperately missed this season. Ekitike and/or Hlozek could complement Adeyemi and help replace Haaland’s offensive output. All these moves indicate that Kehl is dead set on fixing the problems that torpedoed this season for Dortmund.
Over the past few years, Michael Zorc has gained a reputation for pursuing low-risk signings of young talent. This hasn’t always been a bad thing. Jadon Sancho, Ousmane Dembélé, and Erling Haaland were all great for BVB, and the club was ultimately able to sell for a handsome profit. Unfortunately, the signings that Zorc made to supplement these young players often failed to work out. He’s tended to pick veteran players like Emre Can, Thomas Meunier, and Thorgan Hazard to support his youngsters. These guys haven’t all been bad per se, but many of them, like Nico Schulz and Julian Brandt, have been disappointing. None of these players, except for maybe Julian Brandt, were proven to be elite players at the Bundesliga level, at least not on the level of Süle and Schlotterbeck.
Furthermore, we’ve seen over the last few seasons that the club, having suffered from serious financial damage due to the COVID pandemic, has spent money sparingly, often choosing to fill gaps in the squad with free transfers (Meunier) and loan transfers (Pongracic, Reinier), few of which have turned out in the club’s favor.
So far, Sebastian Kehl’s moves indicate a willingness to spend money in a way we haven’t seen in years. While he signed Süle on a free transfer, his wage bill is nothing to scoff at. Meanwhile, BVB are acquiring Schlotterbeck for about €25 million, and will probably sign Adeyemi for around €35 million. If the rumors about Bensebaini are true, he would cost another €12-15 million. Ekitike would be a similar fee, Hlozek even more. Assuming most of these transfers go through, this could be the most lavish transfer window in the club’s history, and Marco Rose could potentially have an absolutely stacked lineup at his disposal.
All of this indicates something the club has lacked in years: direction. For the last few seasons, the club has gone through a rinse-and-repeat cycle of signing vibrant young stars only to sell them and use the funds from their sales to repeat the entire process again. This has kept the club competing in the Champions League, but it has also meant that there has been an almost constant state of turnover at the Westfalenstadion. Now, though, Kehl is forming a core that has the potential to last for years. Karim Adeyemi is reportedly going to sign a five-year contract with no release clause, Schlotterbeck is now also signed for five years, and Süle has signed on for four. BVB fans will no longer have to worry about constantly watching their key players waltz out the door. And despite all these signings having been completed, there’s no sign that Kehl has any intention of slowing down.
Does this mean that Borussia Dortmund will win the league next year? Of course not. This sport is unpredictable. But if the current trend continues, this will be the most promising single-season improvement in years, even when Erling Haaland leaves. With so many transfers wrapped up already, we’re left with nothing to do but sit and wait in fevered anticipation for the first day of next season, when the possibilities for glory will be virtually endless.