On Wednesday afternoon, Borussia Dortmund will play in their first Champions League semifinal since 1998. In that April tie Die Borussen lost out 2-0 on aggregate to their opponents this year, Real Madrid. After winning the UCL in 1997 and making the semifinals in 1998, BVB and her supporters likely couldn't imagine that it would be another fifteen years before they were that deep in the competition again.
The mid to late nineties were the glory days for BVB. During a four year period, mostly under the direction of the legendary Ottmar Hitzfeld, Dortmund won six trophies including two Bundesliga crowns and the ever-elusive Champions League title.
Juventus, coming off of winning the previous season's Champions League, were the prematch favorites over the German side. However, Die Schwarzgelben prevailed after goals by Karl-Heinz Riedle and Lars Ricken to win their first ever Champions League. The UCL title was the first by a German club since Hamburg edged Juventus 1-0 in the 1982-83 edition.
Fall From Grace
Aside from winning the 2001-02 Bundesliga, BVB began a sharp decline due to extreme financial mismanagement. The club also was relying on several overpaid foreign players instead of producing their own talent. Things were beginning to turn south for Dortmund, and fellow Bundesliga club Bayern Munich even loaned BVB €2 million to help cover payroll. Since Dortmund are listed and publicly traded on the German stock market, the value of their shares began to tank as news of the gross financial negligence displayed by the club's board began to infect every aspect of BVB.
In an attempt to conquer the world of football jerseys, the idea that the club should produce and sell their own football jerseys hit the Borussia Dortmund board, and Goool.de was created. The goal was to create a quality, yet inexpensive, football jersey that supporters would want, while producing money for the club. After an initial period of building the brand from scratch, they would then manufacture full kits for other Bundesliga clubs. However, the business plan was not well thought out, and the always-important distribution channels were forgotten during planning. While Goool.de ma make a less expensive shirt than Nike or Adidas, the inhouse company had nowhere near the distribution capabilities. Within a couple of years, BVB began looking for an economically feasible shirt sponsor and found one willing to bring them back into the fold in Nike.
The 2005-06 season was particularly hard on BVB. After just missing out on European football for the next season, the club was forced to sell David Odonkor and Tomas Rosicky due to their high wages. They spent the majority of the next season battling relegation and then saw Christoph Metzelder walk on a free transfer to Real Madrid.
Rising From The Ashes
Jürgen Klopp was appointed as the new manager of Borussia Dortmund in May 2008. The 40 year old manager had spent his entire playing and professional career at Mainz where he lead them to their first ever appearance in the Bundesliga. His fiery, passionate attitude was a hit with the supporters immediately, but none of it would matter if Klopp didn't start winning matches.
His first season in charge saw them land a sixth place finish and the highest points total in seven years. BVB moved one more spot up the table in the next season, and then the club struck gold.
With a youthful core of players like Mario Götze, Shinji Kagawa, Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic, Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski, and Lucas Barrios, Klopp and company would turn the Bundesliga on it's head for two memorable campaigns. In 2010-11, they captured their first league title since 2001-02. They followed that up the next season by becoming just the fourth German side to win the domestic double (Bundesliga + DFB Pokal).
Almost All The Way Back
While it would be fantastic to sit here and wax poetically about how Borussia Dortmund are back amongst Europe's elite in the Champions League, Die Borussen continue to walk a tightrope on how to move forward.
For the third summer in a row, BVB will be selling the best player from their club. Two years ago, it was Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid. Last year, it was Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United. This summer, it will be Mario Götze to Bayern Munich and Robert Lewandowski likely somewhere else, also. While this is not an ideal situation, since the Bundesliga does not allow for single owners (i.e. billionaires) to buy a club and spend willy nilly, a club like Dortmund must be prudent. They moved quickly to add İlkay Gündoğan from Nürnberg and beat Bayern to the punch at securing the signature of Marco Reus.
For Borussia Dortmund, taking ridiculous risks on players in an attempt to win trophies might seem like the way to go about business --- I mean, why not? English, Spanish, and Italian clubs love racking up debt. ---, this is the way the club will operate for the foreseeable future. Buy low and sell high is the motif for most German clubs.
This doesn't mean that that one should count out BVB against Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid in this semifinal tie. They've proclaimed all season long that their objective was to do better in the Champions League this season. Now, two matches against the most successful club in the history of the competition stand in the way of Borussia Dortmund and the Champions League Final.