Borussia Dortmund's rise to becoming one of the meanest sides in European football has been remarkable. Last season's Bundesliga champions will take to the field against Real Madrid on Wednesday night looking to put themselves in a commanding position to reach their first Champions League final since they won it in 1997.
Unfortunately, it could well be their last chance for a while.
Their recent success has been the result of nearly a decade's worth of work from the financial disaster of the early 2000s, when they were forced to sell the Westfalenstadion to keep themselves afloat. The five years of improvement under coach Jürgen Klopp, some excellent business in the transfer market and unquestionably some good fortune in their rich harvest of youth players has led them to this peak.
However, it's an unavoidable fact that with their rise has come prying eyes. Not a single one of Dortmund's key players has failed to be the subject of transfer interest, or at least transfer rumour. Klopp, in his own words, has said won't be the Sir Alex Ferguson of Borussia Dortmund, and he too will likely leave in the next couple of seasons.
The inevitable result will be the sad disintegration of one of the most exciting squads in Europe. You can't fail to have missed the news that Mario Götze -- product of Dortmund's academy and arguably the figurehead of the club's youthful resurgence -- has agreed to join Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich. Robert Lewandowski also looks primed for a move away. Dortmund are still simply unable to compete with the bigger teams in Europe off the field.
Klopp has admitted as much, too. "I fear a situation like Scotland with only one team," he said, in regards to Bayern's ever-increasing domination of the Bundesliga. With the Bavarians already having completely dominated the league this season and looking set to spend big when Pep Guardiola arrives in the summer, it will get increasingly more difficult for Dortmund to compete domestically, and thus continentally.
Of course, they have already had to cope with departures of important players, and have done so admirably. When Nuri Şahin left for Real Madrid in 2011, Shinji Kagawa was ready to slot straight into the first team to replace him. Likewise, when Kagawa was snapped up by Manchester United, Marco Reus came in from Borussia Mönchengladbach. İlkay Gündoğan is another recent example of a relatively cheap capture for the centre of midfield, though he too has admitted a desire to play abroad.
Dortmund have managed to keep spending low while investing excellently in young talent. But, while their finances may be sustainable, realistically managing to produce such consistently good players for such little cost probably isn't. Their current crop is a freak occurrence; a golden era which will go down with some of the greatest teams in their history, led by one of their greatest coaches.
I hope I'm wrong, and they'll still be able to compete continentally with the sustainable business model which has seen their transfer expenditure rarely exceed transfer income. But, when they have been robbed of their star players and the coach who's restored the pride and bounce to the Westfalenstadion's Yellow Wall, it might take a while before they stumble upon such a talented squad again.