Football Features

Hit or miss? How Dortmund replaced recent big-money transfer sales

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 13:30, 11 May 2022

You have to admire Borussia Dortmund. Not only do they play liquid football and hand youngsters a chance, but they also boast one of the most fruitful scouting networks in world football.

Over the years BVB have churned out world-class star after world-class star but, more often than not, those blooming talents have left the Ruhr district after being offered unimaginable riches from Europe’s super-clubs.

Despite having their ranks pillaged on an almost annual basis, Dortmund have not yet slipped into anonymity, instead continuing to produce batches of elite quality to rival the very best.

Some of the biggest transfer deals have involved BVB, though very rarely are the German club on the buying end, instead they have accrued some of the most lucrative fees in world football. They’ve managed to keep this business model sustainable by not then squandering the money on marquee signings or headline acts, but rather, shrewd — sometimes under the radar — investments.

That ability will be called into question again now, with Dortmund selling Norway sensation Erling Haaland to Manchester City, just one summer after selling England sensation Jadon Sancho to Manchester United.

Of course, BVB are not immune to the odd slip-up here and there. Not all of their replacement signings have hit it off as Sancho or Haaland did. Here, we look at the judgment calls they’ve made after some of their recent big-money transfer sales.

Sold: Sokratis Papastathopoulos to Arsenal (£17.6m)

Signed: Abdou Diallo from Mainz 05 (£25.2m)

Season: 2018/19 (summer)

Sokratis joined Dortmund following their impressive run to the 2013 Champions League final. BVB, with Jurgen Klopp at the helm, would establish one of European football’s defining central defensive partnerships in Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic, so it seemed only natural the Greek international would have to bide his time.

But this wasn’t the case. A combination of factors enabled Sokratis to cement a regular berth in Klopp’s starting line-up, and he would continue to feature under the current Liverpool manager’s successors — Thomas Tuchel, Peter Bosz and Peter Stoger — before leaving for Arsenal three years ago and eventually moving on to Olympiacos.

Dortmund‘s record in recruiting centre-backs isn’t too shabby. Sokratis, who served Die Borussen well, essentially made way for Abdou Diallo, who joined from Mainz 05 — the same club as Subotic.

The 26-year-old would spend just one season at Dortmund, though, featuring in 38 games across all competitions in 2018/19 before signing for French powerhouse PSG in July 2019. And, of course, Dortmund made a profit.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Ousmane Dembele to Barcelona (£96.8m)

Signed: Jadon Sancho from Manchester City (£8m)

Season: 2017/18 (summer)

Everyone has a price in football, so when Barcelona were prepared to spend nearly £100m on acquiring the services of Ousmane Dembele, soon after they had lost Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain for a world-record fee, BVB weren’t going to stand in his way.

Truthfully speaking, the relationship between Dembele and Dortmund had broken down, so a transfer was always on the cards. It was a sad end to what promised to be a fruitful partnership.

As he packed his bags for sunny Spain, arriving to inherit Dembele’s ‘number seven’ jersey was teenage English forward Jadon Sancho, who also caused a stir in the way he departed then parent club Manchester City.

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Sancho’s reasoning for the move was simple; Dortmund guaranteed a fast track to first-team football – thus accelerating his development – something that has proven to be difficult for a number of City academy graduates down the years.

Such was his incredible start, he relegated Pulisic to a squad role before the US international signed that blockbuster deal with Chelsea. And Sancho went from strength to strength, scoring 38 goals and recording 51 assists in the Bundesliga since the start of the 2018/19 campaign, form that caught the eye of Man Utd.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Arsenal (£56m)

Signed: Michy Batshuayi (loan) and then Paco Alcácer (loan)

Season(s): 2017/18 (winter) and 2018/19 (summer)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang joined BVB to great fanfare in 2013 but exited amid controversy in January 2018.

The 32-year-old Gabonese marksman’s record, though, speaks for itself. Aubameyang, across 213 appearances, bagged 141 goals in all competitions and finished the 2016/17 season as the Bundesliga top-scorer.

However, disciplinary issues plagued his final months at the club, and in January 2018 he swapped North Rhine-Westphalia for north London to join Arsenal.

Aubameyang ultimately replaced Olivier Giroud, who left for Chelsea, a move that saw Michy Batshuayi (albeit on loan) fill the space vacated by Arsenal‘s ‘number 14’.

Batshuayi made up for Aubameyang‘s lost goals by scoring nine times in 14 appearances, before returning to England. But it would be the signing that followed that can be deemed as Auba’s successor.

Paco Alcacer struggled for playing time at Barcelona and viewed Dortmund as somewhere he could get his career back on track. Despite never really cementing a consistent starting berth, the Spaniard’s scoring record was immense. In 17, yes 17, Bundesliga starts, Alcacer bagged 23 goals, and he later left for Villarreal, becoming the club’s most expensive signing at the time.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Matthias Ginter to Borussia Monchengladbach (£15.3m)

Signed: Manuel Akanji from FC Basel (£19.3m)

Season: 2017/18

Big things were expected of Matthias Ginter when he joined Dortmund from SC Freiburg in the summer of 2014.

The promising German centre-back was earmarked for the future but remained at the Westfalenstadion for three seasons before joining Borussia Monchengladbach, where he continues to fulfil his talents.

His exit saw Dortmund move in the market and they acquired the services of FC Basel central defender Manuel Akanji, who is a nailed-on starter when available.

Akanji has formed an indispensable part of BVB’s backline under Favre, Erdin Terzic and now Marco Rose, whether that be in a back-three or partnering Mats Hummels.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Mats Hummels to Bayern Munich (£30m)

Signed: Marc Bartra from Barcelona (£7.2m)

Season: 2016/17

It’s never easy losing a key player to a rival, especially when that individual was on course to become a club legend. Mats Hummels symbolised BVB‘s renaissance under Klopp so to join Bayern, the boogeyman, was a kick in the proverbial teeth.

Hummels was there for their incredible back-to-back championship triumphs, subsequently announcing himself as one of Europe’s finest central defenders, before playing a pivotal role in reaching the 2013 Champions League final.

Bayern won that day and soon after purchased Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski (on a Bosman) and Hummels.

Marc Bartra, tipped for stardom during his Barcelona youth days, was supposed to ease the pain. For a while, he did just that but could never live up to the billing and following a difficult final campaign (2017/18) returned to Spain.

At least Hummels has returned.

Verdict: Miss

Sold: Ilkay Gundogan to Manchester City (£20m)

Signed: Sebastian Rode from Bayern Munich (£12.6m)

Season: 2016/17 (summer)

Dortmund‘s reputation for developing footballers is now world-renowned. Gundogan, who joined from FC Nurnberg in 2011, went from a prospect to a great example of a modern ‘number eight’.

The native of Gelsenkirchen soon attracted many admirers but remained loyal to BVB before feeling it was time. One reason he never had an exit on his mind was how the club treated him during his numerous spells on the sidelines.

A healthy Gundogan is only matched by a few. Manchester City can attest to this as the Germany international overcame a jittery start to become one of Pep Guardiola‘s most influential players in the middle of the park. The same, unfortunately, could not be said of Dortmund’s replacement.

Rode, to put it plainly, was a huge disappointment. He came with much promise but offered very little, which can’t be said of his current club Eintracht Frankfurt, where he has played a pivotal role in the club’s route to the Europa League final.

Verdict: Miss

Sold: Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Manchester United (£30m)

Signed: Ousmane Dembele from Rennes (£13.5m)

Season: 2016/17 (summer)

Mkhitaryan enjoyed his best season for BVB prior to joining Manchester United.

The multifunctional Armenian forward created no fewer than 20 goals across 31 Bundesliga outings, thus earning the accolade of ‘assist king’, but he was never able to replicate that at Old Trafford.

But what of his replacement? Well, he’s been somewhat more of a success. Mkhitaryan, who can play just behind the centre-forward, nominally operated wide in his final campaign.

Dortmund signed Andre Schurrle and Ousmane Dembele that summer, though it was the latter who played the most minutes and made the biggest impression.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Mario Gotze to Bayern Munich (£31.5m)

Signed: Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Shakhtar Donetsk (£22.5m)

Season: 2013/14 (summer)

This one really hurt. Mario Gotze, seen as the club’s golden child, soon after BVB reached the 2013 Champions League final made it known he was going to join Bayern that summer.

The revelation took everyone by surprise, including manager Klopp, who did well to compose himself. Up until that point, Gotze was Dortmund’s heart and represented a new breed of playmaker.

To say the supporters were angry is an understatement. As the former Golden Boy exited, BVB welcomed Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Shakhtar Donetsk.

And as soon as the Armenian was settled, Gotze was forgotten. His time at Bayern, meanwhile, wasn’t all sunshine and the German international returned home the summer Mkhitaryan departed like two ships passing in the night. Gotze is now in the Netherlands with PSV.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United (£12m)

Signed: Marco Reus from Borussia Mönchengladbach (£15.4m)

Season: 2012/13 (winter)

Kagawa was a true success story. Signed from humble origins, the Japanese playmaker would turn out to be BVB’s secret weapon in their championship triumphs under Klopp.

If anyone represented the club’s excellent transfer strategy, it was him. For decades Asian footballers have made Germany their home and Kagawa followed in the footsteps of his predecessors.

However, as we’ve come to know, the attention generated by success can lead to doomed career moves. Manchester United saw Kagawa as the creative solution their midfield was crying out for. Though, despite winning a Premier League winners medal, he never really found consistent momentum at Old Trafford.

He would return — like Hummels and Gotze — and link up with the man who had initially replaced him. Marco Reus, who came through BVB’s youth set-up and left before making a name for himself at Gladbach, would make up for lost time. Now one of the club’s most influential players (when fit) and captain, there is no question Reus is a hit.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Christian Pulisic to Chelsea (£58m)

Signed: Thorgan Hazard from Borussia Monchengladbach (£22.5m) and Julian Brandt from Bayer Leverkusen (£22.1m)

Season: 2019/20 (summer)

The American wunderkind officially completed his move to Chelsea in January 2019 but stayed on loan with BVB until the summer, where he relocated to Stamford Bridge permanently and Dortmund sought to replace him.

The Hershey-born winger was a trick and a treat during his time in Germany, regularly leaving full-backs befuddled with his deceptive movement, while also delighting those in the stands. When he has been fit and available, Chelsea fans have enjoyed a similar experience.

But, like many on this list, Dortmund refused to rest on their laurels and feel sorry for themselves when their latest boy wonder packed up and left. Instead, they used that money to sign coveted duo Hazard and Brandt — and they still had over £10m left over.

In their first season, both players slotted in fluidly to Favre’s system and really came to the fore as Dortmund pushed Bayern for the title. Certainly, money well spent on the whole.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Paco Alcacer to Villarreal (£19.4m)

Signed: Erling Haaland from RB Salzburg (£19.2m)

Season: 2019/20 (winter)

As far as stopgaps go, Alcacer was as good as they got for Dortmund. He was never expected to guide the club to stratospheric heights, but he certainly remedied the great goalscoring void of Aubameyang during his time in Germany, and that is no small feat.

But, Alcacer served his purpose for BVB and they soon turned their attention to unearthing the next iconic No. 9, someone who could really come in and make the sort of impact Aubameyang made when he first burst onto the scene from Saint-Etienne. Enter precocious goal fiend Haaland.

Dortmund deserve a huge pat on the back for selling Alcacer for £19.4m and buying Haaland for a fee just south of that, despite most — if not all — of Europe’s elite clubs circling Salzburg like a swarm of bloodthirsty vultures.

Haaland received one of the best footballing educations at Dortmund and made the Bundesliga his playground. Never expected to hang around for too long, the 21-year-old recently completed a blockbuster move to Manchester City, following so many in this list to the Premier League.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Jadon Sancho to Manchester United (£73m)

Signed: Donyell Malen from PSV Eindhoven (£27m)

Season: 2021/22 (summer)

It was always going to be a tall order for Donyell Malen to emulate the success of Sancho, such was the impression the England international left in the Ruhr district. By and large the Dutch winger has been a bit underwhelming, particularly at the start of the season after failing to hit the back of the net in his first 11 Bundesliga games, which provoked German legend Lothar Matthaus to explain: “I am disappointed with him so far”.

Form has picked up for a player who scored 27 goals and registered 10 assists for PSV last season in all competitions, but he is some way off matching the lofty heights of his Eredivisie days and the performances of Sancho as well. Still, at 23 Malen has time on his side, but so far he hasn’t had anywhere near the kind of impact Sancho had during his spell in BVB colours.

Verdict: Miss (so far)

Sold: Erling Haaland to Manchester City (£51.2m)

Signed: Karim Adeyemi from Red Bull Salzburg (£32.5m)

Season: 2022/23 (summer)

Could lightning be about to strike twice? Erling Haaland was picked up from Red Bull Salzburg after a blisteringly prolific spell in Austria, and he took those freakish scoring numbers to stratospheric heights at Dortmund. The BVB makers and shakers have now returned to familiar territory to sign his successor.

One of Europe’s most popular shopping destinations for elite clubs, Dortmund have looked to pacify concerns about their future in a post-Haaland world by bringing in another fledgling forward from Salzburg, one with a similarly burgeoning profile as a prolific goal-getter and penalty-box phenom.

The 20-year-old is already capped by Germany, scoring once, and is joining BVB off the back of a tremendous scoring season, in which he netted 23 goals in all competitions, including three in the Champions League group stages.

“We have played football 113 years and 111 of them have been without Haaland,” Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke recently commented. Indeed, Dortmund’s ability to consistently stay competitive at an elite level whilst super-clubs perennially covet their stars is a testament to their ability to unearth gems and entice top talent to the Ruhr Valley thanks to their reputation as a institution that prioritises development.