Borussia Dortmund and Sven Mislintat reunited: A cause for joy or concern?

Borussia Dortmund have reunited with former scout Sven Mislintat, with the German taking on the role of Squad Planner. What can Dortmund expect with this reunion, and is it a cause for elation or concern?
Excelsior Rotterdam v AFC Ajax - Dutch Eredivisie
Excelsior Rotterdam v AFC Ajax - Dutch Eredivisie / BSR Agency/GettyImages
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Sven Mislintat
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Sven Mislintat: A look at the methodology

Ajax’s final separation with Mislintat was made public at the end of September 2023, which brought his time with the club to an abrupt end. His road has led him back to where he made his name, in Dortmund, but there's still some concerns regarding any potential reunion surrounding his methodology.

Looking at what we’ve seen throughout Mislintat’s career, we can establish a few core tenets of how he both scouts and earmarks players that may fit his vision for any given club that he works for. The first of these is, as we’ve mentioned, Mislintat is very invested in finding young, talented players to help reinforce and build any given side. We’ve seen this work wonders with Dortmund, as the young players he signed for the club, which had very limited funds at the time, showed that he could be successful in identifying talent, even with a constrained budget. The same can be said about his time in Stuttgart, where, as we’ve explored, he built a foundation for them to succeed and be where they are now, as well as helping bring them back from the 2. Bundesliga in his first year in charge. His diamond eye credentials are validated by these projects, and yet he’s clearly far from perfect. 

Both his stints at Arsenal and Ajax proved that while he certainly has an eye for talent, he’s certainly capable of making blunderous transfers as well. His recruitment for Ajax has put the team in a very precarious scenario, as they don’t have the quality to qualify for Champions League football once again this season. It will once again mean that they will likely have to sell players, and it's curious to see if they are able to make enough to properly recruit this coming summer to replace some of the less effective players who came in under Mislintat’s time at the club. 

Then there is Mislintat’s methodology in terms of actually scouting players for their personality off the pitch as well as their ability on it. In Mislintat’s own words, it is an important tenet of how he identifies players he wants to bring into the club:

"I also always try to find out how a player behaves off the pitch, and I never rely on just one opinion. Instead of having a scout observe and analyze the same player live and/or on video several times, I would like to hear the opinion of several scouts.This is the only way to get the multi-perspective view through different tools and observers and thus the necessary basis to be able to make my decisions."

Sven Mislintat (GOAL)

In our exploration of Mislintat’s time at Arsenal, we touched upon why he believed Henrikh Mkhitaryan was a good signing for Arsenal, which culminated in his ability to lead younger players like Matteo Gunedouzi, the young, controversial yet talented midfielder Arsenal also signed under Mislintat’s direction and stewardship. 

As we know, Guendouzi’s time at Arsenal was marred by controversy, highlighted by a famous incident where the Frenchman grabbed then Brighton player Neal Maupay’s neck during a game. The issues regarding Guendouzi’s temperament eventually saw him leave Arsenal permanently. According to an interview from 2018, Mislintat highlighted that the player had “bad habits” on the pitch, but seemingly didn’t catch on to the temperament that would see Gunedouzi fall out with most coaches he’s worked with. In signing him from Lorient, Mislintat wagered that Guendouzi would be able to develop and that his talent would shine through:

"I saw him play in Lorient, when the club was still in Ligue 1…Guendouzi attracted attention with his long hair and his personality, but what interests me is also the weak points of a player…Mattéo runs everywhere on the field, but for me, it was clear: with time, we were going to end this bad habit. For us, the transfer of a young man of 18 years was an important signal to show the world: We are Arsenal again, the one that gives a real chance to young players"

Sven Mislintat (Daily Cannon)

The personality in question was that of a combative player; a trait that unfortunately Guendouzi let get the better of him. In a more recent game against Lazio this season, Guendouzi was back to his on field antics by getting into a tussle with Roma’s Paulo Dybala, which also involved some unnecessary physical contact. This sort of temper and propensity to involve one-self on physical altercations should be taken into account during the scouting process, and yet seems to have been missed by Mislintat during his assessment of the player.

Guendouzi is not the first example of Mislintat looking past certain bad habits in favor of talent. In the case of Ousmane Dembele, Mislintat had indeed uncovered a very talented gem of a player in France; a player who was immense for Dortmund and helped them win the 2016/17 DFB Pokal. On the flip side, however, he was also a player that forced his way out of Dortmund very unceremoniously just a year on from joining. His time at Barcelona, after leaving Dortmund, was also met with controversy as he was often criticized for not taking care of himself properly, which led to very long injury stints.

You can also add Emre Mor to this list, which, after having been dubbed the “Turkish Messi” moved to Dortmund at Mislintat’s behest and despite very solid potential was also criticized for being lazy in training and never made a mark while in black and yellow. These players all perhaps raise a red flag regarding Mislintat’s judgment of character, or rather his willingness to overlook their training or off-pitch antics in favor of their talent. For a professional who notes how important this part of his scouting methodology is, his willingness to take risks in this vein could prove costly in the long run for a club like Dortmund. 

Then of course, there is the underlying tenet of recycling players from his old clubs for his new employers. Dortmund themselves have a very long history of reuniting with familiar faces, most recently with Jadon Sancho. These reunions have been a very mixed bag for Dortmund over the years, and Mislintat was behind one in particular that came as quite a shock for the club. In a semi-recent interview, Götze himmself gave his two cents on his Dortmund return, calling it a mistake.

For Mislintat, Mario Götze's return was one of the core sticking points between him and then Dortmund coach Thomas Tuhcel. Not only did this reunion cause friction amongst the fans initially, it caused friction internally, and in hindsight was a rather underwhelming transfer performance-wise as well. This came down to factors out of either Mislintat’s or Dortmund’s control to a degree but still has to go down as a bit of a dud as far as transfers go. 

On the flip side, Mislintat has also had great success in this vein. Konstantinos Mavropanos comes to mind as one of his more recent masterstrokes. Having signed the Greek defender for Arsenal during his time in London, he then helped facilitate a permanent move for Mavropanos to join Stuttgart, where the Greek defender became one of their most important players. His eventual sale to West Ham also provided Stuttgart with the necessary capital to help build a foundation for the team they have today. 

There is one main tenet of how Mislintat operates which I believe will be a massive refresher for Dortmund, and that is his openness to exploring the plethora of markets and leagues in the world to find talent in perhaps the most unlikely of places. As we’ve seen with Dortmund’s business over the course of the last couple of transfer windows, the club’s focus has become heavily entrenched in securing German internationals and “Bundesliga tested” signings. This narrow viewpoint has led to the squad we have now, which while currently performing, has shown little inventiveness on the part of Dortmund’s hierarchy in terms of it’s overall composition. 

Mislintat’s wide range of contacts and ability to find players such as Robert Lewandowski, Shinji Kagawa, and Ousmane Dembele in Poland, Japan and France respectively shows that Mislintat is able and willing to cast a wider net and be more inventive than those in charge of recruitment have been recently, and this would certainly be a welcome change to how Dortmund operate and do business ahead of the coming season. It would certainly be one of the more appealing facets of the way Mislintat operates for Dortmund to benefit from.