Taking their chances: Borussia Dortmund’s transfer policy explained

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 30: Mats Hummels of Borussia Dortmund celebrates after the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 30, 2013 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 30: Mats Hummels of Borussia Dortmund celebrates after the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 30, 2013 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images) /

Borussia Dortmund are stellar navigators of the transfer market, spending shrewdly and recouping large funds in sales. For a club of their budget, the rate of success they’ve had is incredible.

Much of Borussia Dortmund’s transfer success comes by virtue of a quantity over quality policy, over the years. They scout promising youngsters, not finished products. They cannot afford a talent that has already had a breakthrough season in a top 5 league, and it is rare to see them chase a more established player who’s club is in a strong bargaining position.

However, that does not mean they don’t spend big. According to Transfermarkt, Dortmund have a net spend of over €97 million over the past two seasons. Contrastingly, over the last 5 terms the club has a net spend of nearly negative €186 million.

This cataclysmic change in spending is indicative of a change in ambition, but not necessarily philosophy. Borussia Dortmund have operated in the transfer market by taking veritable punts on unproven players. They haven’t been able to afford finished products or even proven talents, the scouting departments at richer clubs in England and Spain are too good for those to sneak under the radar.

As a result, many acquisitions are unproven in top 5 leagues or just under the level of the top European clubs. Sometimes, this policy works to dramatic effect and results in the emergence and subsequent massive sale of a super star. However, for every Jadon Sancho there is a Andriy Yarmolenko.

The Ukrainian winger was signed from Dynamo Kyiv for nearly $30 million, did a few step-overs, missed a few big chances, scored a banger against Spurs, then left to West Ham at a loss of nearly $10 million. His young English colleague was signed the same season for $20 million less, and has gone on to score or assist 31 goals in 34 appearances, making his debut at the age of 17. Now he’s attracted interest from Man United to the tune of £150 million.

Yarmolenko was supposed to be the real deal. There was a great deal of hype around him, and the board expected him to take to the Bundesliga like a duck to water; however, for whatever reason it didn’t work out.

This scatter gun approach to the market isn’t as random as it sounds; of course there is an analytics department and advanced scouting takes place. Signings are difficult, and there are always bound to be flops. Nevertheless, Dortmund have continued on with their transfer strategy, until this season, where we have seen an undeniable change in the club’s transfer approach.

The big change in transfer approach and ambition

Borussia Dortmund have spent over €128 million in the transfer market this summer, and only recouped €7 million of that war chest. This shortly after finishing as close to the title as they had since they last won it, missing out by two points on the final day. Coincidence? It doesn’t seem that way.

Clubs the size of BVB are always going to have trouble holding onto their star players. Foreign shores with sizable wage packets and silverware promises draw wistful glances from people who are using Dortmund as a stepping stone in their career.

So how is a team that is constantly hemorrhaging talent supposed to win trophies and remain a big club? Take Monaco in 2016: a side featuring the likes of Mbappe, Fabinho, Mendy, and Bernardo Silva knocked on the door of the Champions League and stormed to victory in Ligue 1 over a money-laden Paris Saint-Germain.

The next summer most of their star players were gone. The summer after that, the rest dissipated. A footballing exodus from the club that gave them their names. Over the next four windows, Monaco executives grossed over €520 million in transfer fees. In 2018/19 they were nearly relegated.

The French club made a conscious decision to keep that special group of players together long enough to win silverware, letting them run down contracts and attract interest from other sides. That’s how it works for selling clubs: when there is a significant talent pool, assume it is a unique opportunity and challenge for the title while it’s still up for grabs.

With the acquisitions made by Michael Zorc and Hans-Joachim Watzke, it would seem that is exactly the idea at the Westfalenstadion. Not only is the vertiginous spend telling, but so is the profile of player being signed. All four of the new arrivals so far are established Bundesliga players with plenty of experience and quality.

For example, Mats Hummels is not exactly one for the future, but he may be the finishing touch required to finish on top in 2020. Many have called his transfer regressive, and wonder if his acquisition will come at the expense of a young, promising center back such as Dan-Axel Zagadou.

Their fears appear to be coming to fruition, as rumors have surfaced suggesting the young Frenchman has asked to leave amongst interest from Arsenal. Despite this, the fact remains that even if Zagadou swaps the Bundesliga for the Premier League, the re-signing of former captain Hummels remains a necessary risk.

In contrast, it is important to remain wary of the potential consequences of the ambitious stage of the cycle. If, in an effort to win a trophy, Dortmund let contracts run down on key players they may lose an important source of revenue, and if they all decide to force an exit with Dortmund in a weak bargaining position, down seasons aren’t out of the question.

In light of this information, many fans would air on the side of caution and advocate the continuation of safer business. They’re wrong. Fans watch football to be entertained, and there’s nothing more entertaining than a title race. If BVB are going to provide one, they need to take their chances now, because this group of players is the best to come through since Die Borussen were travelling to Wembley for a Champions League Final in 2013.

Let’s hope that this change in philosophy is not one off and we see the club take a similar approach in the transfer window in the coming seasons as well.

Next. 5 key fixtures in Borussia Dortmund’s 2019/20 season. dark

It’s going to be a long road to the Meisterschale or a Champions League, but the destination will never be reached if the parts are falling off the car.