Should Borussia Dortmund consider signing Leeds United star Ilia Gruev?

Ilia Gruev
Ilia Gruev / Michael Regan/GettyImages

With preparations for the upcoming season set to go into full swing now that Borussia Dortmund’s campaign has come to a conclusion, reports have begun to come thick and fast in terms of potential targets the club may be looking at. If we take into account the last few months, BVB's interest in Championship side Leeds United players has gone up markedly.

Borussia Dortmund are set to reinforce in a fair few positions this summer, and players such as Archie Gray and Crysencio Summerville have been linked with both the wings and midfield being cornerstones of this coming revamp. Most recently, however, Leeds United’s defensive midfielder Ilia Gruev has reportedly come into focus, with BVB looking to provide competition for club captain Emre Can in the middle of the park.

Gruev has had a strong campaign for Leeds in the Championship, signing from Weder Bremen last season for 6.5 million euros. Under Daniel Farke, especially during the second half of the season, he played a very important role in shielding the Leeds' defence as they pushed for promotion to the Premier League.

Their failure to do so is not an ill-reflection on Gruev, but perhaps allows for an opportunity for Borussia Dortmund to look into a player with Bundesliga experience as a candidate for a transfer.

While it’s still not set in stone that Borussia Dortmund will pull the trigger to sign Ilia Gruev, the report in question indicates that they have indeed sent representatives to watch the Bulgarian international, including squad planner Sven Mislintat. The report also indicates that Leeds want to keep the player and have rejected bids from Premier League clubs in the process. With a contract until 2027, prying the Bulgarian international may not be an easy task.

It would also be in Borussia Dortmund’s best interest to make sure that Gruev is the correct profile of player to challenge and replace the underperforming Emre Can if need be. Taking a look at him from a numbers perspective, this season, Gruev has 1.6 tackles, 0.9 interceptions and 0.4 clearances per 90.

In the case of Can, BVB's current captain put in 2.58 tackles, 1.07 interceptions 1.35 blocks and 1.73 clearances per 90, underlining much more of a defensive involvement than Gruev.

That being said, during his time with Leeds this season, Gruev was lauded for his ability to free up other players in midfield, allowing them to go forward more freely due to his spatial awareness and ability to play the ball into good areas for his teammates to take advantage of.

In the Championship alone Gruev averaged 2.5 key passes per game, which is something we’ve seen Emre Can struggle with. On top of this, Can’s form in the beginning of the season especially made it harder for players like Marcel Sabitzer to go forward and express themselves in the final third (one of Sabitzer’s strengths as we saw in the second half of the season) and this very much disrupted BVB's midfield cohesion.

Gruev, at least in Farke’s system, was commended for providing stability which is something that Borussia Dortmund could benefit from especially in terms of getting the best out of the rest of the midfield contingent.

It is clear that Borussia Dortmund need to reinforce in defensive midfield to provide adequate competition for Can, or to ensure there’s a quality player to step in when he is underperforming. Gruev would be an interesting place for BVB to start in this search, but as any potential deal it will depend on just how much they are willing to spend and how badly Leeds want to hang on to their player.