Dortmund keep faith amid slide

Dortmund keep faith amid slide

The joke among Bayern Munich supporters is even the iPhone 6's enlarged screen is not able to display Borussia Dortmund's current position on the German Bundesliga table.

Lying fourth from bottom and 17 points off their arch-rivals even before the mid-season break, a typical English Premier League club would have probably sacked their coach by now.

But not Dortmund, who still draw Europe's highest average home crowd of 80,297 and whose football fans fervently chant the name of coach Juergen Klopp.

Pragmatism trumps panic at the club, which have bad luck and injuries to blame for their uncharacteristic recent struggles, according to their former midfield star Lars Ricken.

"There's so much quality in the team but there are also a lot of problems," said the 38-year-old former German midfielder, who was in Singapore yesterday to open Dortmund's regional office - its first outside of Germany.

"We have more than five first-team players injured, the new players like (Ciro) Immobile are needing time to integrate and, most importantly, we lost the best striker in the world (Robert Lewandowski) to Bayern."

The Dortmund native donned the famous black-and-yellow jersey his entire 15-year career, and still sports the same wavy locks and toned physique he had as a player. Most famous for his long-range strike in the 3-1 win over Juventus in the 1997 Champions League final, he rose through the club's famed academy - which he now oversees in his role as youth co-ordinator.

Like the Dortmund faithful, Ricken trusts the bespectacled Klopp. Under the 47-year-old's brand of expansive football, the once-bankrupt outfit ended Bayern's dominance with back-to-back league triumphs in 2011 and 2012, led by the creativity of Shinji Kagawa, the wing wizardry of Mario Goetze and the finishing of Lewandoswki.

While the current results may not make for good reading, Dortmund's philosophy - preached to every player as soon as he enters the youth set-up - will not change.

Ricken, a three-time Bundesliga winner, said: "Pressing, counter-attack, helping team-mates and always looking to go forward - every Dortmund side has these values, whether it's the first team or our Under-17s, who just won the German youth championship."

The club's academy has churned out its fair share of gems, including German internationals Marco Reus, Goetze, Kevin Grosskreutz and Ricken himself, who had 16 international caps.

Players are taught to be adept in different positions, which explains why Goetze - who scored the winner for Germany in the World Cup final against Argentina in July - can play on either flank or as a support striker.

Dortmund's current crop boasts teenage footballers from across the globe, including Turkey, Japan and the United States.

But the club's priority remains finding talent from within 80km of the city. Ricken explained: "We find that there's a better chance of them succeeding in football if they have a strong social network surrounded by family, friends, a girlfriend and school.

"There's no need to learn a new language or culture. As it is, Dortmund's way of playing takes a few years to learn, so it takes a special kind of player to succeed here."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 12, 2014.
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