Dortmund not a feeder club

Dortmund not a feeder club
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Borussia Dortmund may seem like the epitome of a well-run football club this decade - winning the German Bundesliga, reaching the Champions League final, having a devoted fan base and being financially stable.

Yet, less than a decade ago, they nearly went out of business, barely staving off bankruptcy in 2005, having incurred huge debts from expensive signings.

To add insult to injury, they even needed a small loan from arch rivals Bayern Munich to tide them over.

The lessons have been learnt, and, in an exclusive interview with The Straits Times, club chief executive officer Hans-Joachim Watzke said the priority now will always be to spend within their means - even if it comes at the expense of winning titles.

At a soft launch of the club's Singapore office at the International Business Park, the 56-year-old German said: "When I came to Dortmund 10 years ago, one of the first decisions we made was not to spend more than we get as revenue.

"We do not have the (spending power) of Barcelona, Real Madrid nor Manchester United.

"We cannot buy a Neymar, surely.

"Yes, this makes it very difficult but we must do it our own way."

While he admits that this mentality means Dortmund will take time to catch up with the top European clubs, he dismissed concerns they will become a feeder club for the top teams in Europe.

Stars Mario Goetze and Robert Lewandowski have left for Bayern in recent years while current stalwarts Mats Hummels, Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan are heavily linked with moves away.

But Watzke said he is "80 per cent" confident of retaining the trio's services for several more years. He said: "It's correct, when Real or Barcelona come, it's not easy for us. That said, Real wanted Reus but he stayed.

"We did not have a successful year but the big players are still here. Why?

"Because the players feel confident at this ambitious club. And people love this club because it has a special connection with the fans."

And it is because of this close tie with fans that Dortmund have resisted the temptation to raise ticket prices at their Signal Iduna Park - where they boast the highest average attendance in Europe with 80,463 fans - to boost revenue.

"If we increase the ticket prices, it's not true love, it's business. And for that, we will not do it,"said Watzke, a father of two who joined the club's board in 2005.

Noting that around 1,000 fans travel from England each week to watch Dortmund as the airfare and ticket price is cheaper than tickets at some of the English Premier League clubs, he said: "Our biggest asset is our spirit.

"The important thing for the club is that the fans are not clients.

"They are a piece of the whole."

Moving forward, Watzke said Dortmund must continue to be "creative" in terms of generating revenue. One way is by expanding their reach in Asia, and he said the club plan to return to the region in 2017, with possible stops in China, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.

"We are very happy to be here, and all year round, we have people from Germany here talking to companies in Asia, building good relationships," he said.

"It's a long-term project for us."

Next season, Watzke said the key for the club is finishing in the top four, and securing a berth in the Champions League.

He did not put a timeline on when the club will finally catch up with the likes of Real, Barcelona and Manchester United but said: "There are different ways to have success... we can only do it our own way. It is very difficult but there is no alternative."

This article was first published on July 11, 2015.
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