Amid all of the chaos that is the summer transfer window, spare a thought for Thomas Tuchel. The Borussia Dortmund manager took the reins at Signal Iduna Park last year and — after inheriting a side low on confidence, that had finished seventh in the previous Bundesliga campaign – rejuvenated BVB and transformed them back into title contenders.
And just as the former Mainz 05 coach would have been planning a summer holiday in which he could put his feet up and admire his 12 months of handy-work, the exodus began.
Captain Mats Hummels announced his desire to return to Bayern Munich, midfielder Ilkay Gündoğan joined Manchester City, and playmaker extraordinaire Henrikh Mkhitaryan forced a move to Manchester United.
Three of the players around which Tuchel had built his new-look Dortmund side, gone. A team which had finished runners-up in the title race to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern, with a points tally of 78 – which would have been enough to secure first place in all but four seasons in Bundesliga history – had been dismantled.
But rather than sit around and lick their wounds, Dortmund immediately set around rebuilding the pieces of their shattered side, by acquiring some of the brightest young talents on the continent, as well as a couple of experienced heads to steady the ship.
In has come Sebastian Rode from Bayern, and Marc Bartra from FC Barcelona. Rode is a workmanlike midfielder with plenty of Bundesliga experience. He will be unlikely to pull up trees with his performances, but he is tactically astute and won’t let Tuchel down.
Bartra, now 25, is a full international for Spain, and a product of Barça’s famed La Masia youth academy. Although undoubtedly a downgrade in overall quality when compared with Hummels, Bartra’s ability to bring the ball out of defence and pass forward accurately will mean that Dortmund can usher in the post-Hummels era with little need for a tactical rethink.
Another Spaniard, 20-year-old Mikel Merino, has been signed from Osasuna. Much like Julian Weigl, who moved to Dortmund last summer after captaining 1860 Munich in the Bundesliga 2 at the same age, Merino has been a regular for Osasuna in the Spanish Segunda División for the last two seasons. Tuchel will likely use the 6ft 2in midfielder sparingly next season, but he has been recruited because his skill-set and temperament will allow him to transition to top-flight football with ease
Left-back Raphaël Guerrero has already got BVB fans excited by the prospect of seeing him in the famous yellow shirt next season, thanks to his impressive displays for Portugal at Euro 2016. The 22-year-old has been signed from Lorient, where he was consistently excellent last season. Blessed with pace, skill and a wand of a left foot, the young Portuguese is regarded as one of the finest young full-backs in Europe, and will provide competition for long-time fan-favourite Marcel Schmelzer on the left side of Dortmund’s defence.
Emre Mor has been playing senior football for less than a year, but already the 18-year-old has appeared for Turkey at the European Championship and sealed a move to BVB.
Mor is a pacey, skilful winger who, despite his small stature, in unafraid to take a leading role in his team’s attacks. Signed from Danish side FC Nordsjælland, Mor is another player who is likely to be introduced gradually to first-team action, but the gifted youngster has all the attributes to succeed in the Bundesliga.
Dortmund’s most exciting summer recruit, and perhaps one of the coups of this transfer window, is Ousmane Dembélé, who has been signed from Rennes for a fee in the region of £12 million.
The 19-year-old Frenchman, like Mor, only made his professional debut last season. But that didn’t stop Dembélé from setting Ligue 1 alight with a series of dazzling displays. The Vernon-born youngster is genuinely two-footed, meaning his defence-shredding dribbles are completely unpredictable for opposing defenders, as he is able to move sharply in either direction.
With his 12 goals and five assists in the French top league last season, Dembélé caught the eye of scouts from all of Europe’s elite clubs. But Dortmund moved quickly to sign him, fending off interest from Bayern as well as from the Premier League.
Able to play on either flank or centrally as a number 10, Dembélé’s eye for a defence-splitting pass and ability to shoot powerfully and accurately with either foot, mark him out as one of the continent’s brightest talents. Former Manchester United defender turned Rennes presidential advisor, Mikaël Silvestre, has likened Dembélé to a young Cristiano Ronaldo, and tipped the teenager to be a future Ballon d’Or contender.
And the Yellow and Blacks haven’t closed their chequebook yet, with the confirmation today that former star Mario Götze has returned from an unsuccessful spell at Bayern and rumours of a move for André Schürrle gathering pace.
The options for how Tuchel will line his side up next season are almost endless, but a 4-3-3 starting Bürki – Piszczek, Sokratis, Bartra, Guerrero – Kagawa, Weigl, Castro – Dembélé, Aubamayang, Reus, would serve the 42-year-old German coach very well. A place for the likes of Mor, Merino and Rode can be found on a rotational basis, and Götze (and potentially Schürrle if signed), can easily slot into the front three.
Despite the loss of some key players, Dortmund fans can rest assured that Tuchel will be able to keep them nipping at Bayern’s heels in the title race.
And, having held on to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marco Reus, while adding some of the hottest young prospects in the game, there is plenty of reason for excitement at Signal Iduna Park next season.
About the author – Ryan Baldi
Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here.