When Christian Pulisic was announced as a Chelsea player recently, the feeling among many initially was that the Blues were getting their money worth in a deal worth about €64 million. While it is certainly arguable how the transfer will turn out to be, upon further reading and thinking, it’d be fair to point out that this could be another one of those deals for Borussia Dortmund in which they’re shrewdly benefitting.
Reliable outlets from across Europe, particularly Raphael Honigstein, stated that the transfer was pretty much a done deal earlier last summer but couldn’t go through because the transfer window in England had closed some days before it had shut in other parts of Europe. What transpired following the completion of the deal is something that only goes onto define how intelligent Borussia Dortmund can be in the transfer market.
Some have raised questions about whether Chelsea have done the right thing in investing €64m on a player who has become a second choice winger for Dortmund this season, but the background of why it has happened makes it interesting. Since Dortmund knew that the deal was done with Chelsea beforehand, they were intent on making sure that the likes of Jadon Sancho and Jacob Bruun Larsen emerged and played in the same position as Pulisic does. They knew that there is no point in playing Pulisic much and in playing him too much since he practically wasn’t theirs after the deal was struck in the summer.
The 20-year-old made only five starts in the Bundesliga this season, appearing six times from the bench. He scored once and assisted twice, sometimes not being played on the left flank as Lucien Favre favored playing Raphaël Guerreiro in that position over him. Larsen made 11 starts and Sancho made seven and both of them had better seasons to boast about than the American. It was not just down to his lack of usage, but also because he wasn’t at his best.
Perhaps, one big factor that swings the deal in Dortmund’s favor is the fact that they have the player on loan until the end of the season. Now that the world knows about the fact that he is not a Dortmund player anymore and he does too, he will have to prove to many as to how good he is and how good he can be. That, after he has an off season because of issues that weren’t known to anyone before the deal was announced.
While it did make sense for Dortmund to use Pulisic in that way after he had enjoyed a better season last term and since the deal was done on the basis of last season, the move just defines the way Dortmund deal a lot of times. They like being cheeky and sensible, but make sure the deal is somehow in their favor and the aftermath of selling the player doesn’t take them down.
Using Pulisic has also made sure that even if they don’t replace Pulisic with a player of similar capabilities, they won’t degrade. The deal that was signed in the summer allowed Dortmund to make sure that they don’t regret letting him go as Sancho and Larsen emerged. And they seem like better players than Pulisic, as things stand. Not just in terms of the stats their performances have generated, but also because of how they have played.
The way Favre’s men replaced Sokratis this past summer too is an example of how they like to deal. Having sold the Greek to Arsenal for a fee of €19m, Dortmund clearly needed a central defender to replace the aging 29-year-old. And when Arsenal could have done Dortmund did, the German side signed Abdou Diallo from Mainz for a fee that was about €10m higher than how much Sokratis was sold for. Before that, they had set the foundation for replacing the Greek. They signed Manuel Akanji from Basel for €19m last January and played him alongside Sokratis in the second half of the season.
It just shows the planning that goes into every first team player Dortmund sell. If they sense that a player is worth selling, the planning to replace him and upgrade themselves begins one transfer window before that player leaves. The wheels are in motion before we see it from the outside.
They sold Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Arsenal €64m, with the general feeling being that they will struggle to replace him. While they did seem to lack his goals, but the fact that they had already signed Max Philipp from Freiburg in the summer of 2017 meant that they never had as many problems as they were expected to have. Marco Reus came back to full fitness in January and Michy Batshuayi was firing on all cylinders once he joined on loan from Chelsea.
And despite having offloaded someone who is one of the best strikers in Europe today in Aubameyang, Dortmund got upto their feet and improved instead of degrading. Not every side can do that, mind you. Whenever a club loses a striker like Aubameyang, they struggle for goals. Liverpool sold Luis Suarez to Barcelona and struggled for two seasons until Jürgen Klopp steadied the ship by using Roberto Firmino well. Chelsea practically lost hold of Diego Costa in the summer of 2017 and they still haven’t replaced him at all, as Maurizio Sarri scampers about to look for a striker who can fetch the Blues 20 or 25 goals a season.
Paco Alcacer was signed from Barcelona when his career seemed stagnating and declining. With Reus now back fit, Alcacer has become the most potent bench player in Europe. It has made every BVB fan forget that Aubameyang played for their club not long ago. Even if Barcelona had brought Alcacer back from his initial loan spell at the Westfalenstadion, Dortmund may not have faced too many problems.
Now that Pulisic has left, it won’t be a surprise to see Alexander Isak get some games in the first team to slowly get in the groove of playing more regularly behind Sancho or Larsen next season onwards. The manner in which Julian Weigl has been phased out of the side seems to prove that Dortmund probably have a new generation of players in their side- a bunch of players who remind many of the way Klopp had Shinji Kagawa, Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Mario Gotze. BILD have stated that Dortmund will be alright with letting Weigl move on loan, with outlets in Italy confirming Roma’s interest in signing him.
And Weigl leaving won’t harm Dortmund at all. They have replaced the midfielder at a time when he was already in the side. It is in stark contrast to how many other big sides in Europe operate. They act only when their key player has left. But Dortmund, they act when they have planned on shipping the player out. That stands true for Weigl. And even Sokratis, to a large extent.
As far as Pulisic goes, Chelsea may get the best out of him at some point soon or they make not. But the way Dortmund have gone about this deal is exceptional. Another club could have agreed a deal in the summer, but would have played him more than Sancho and Larsen, relying on him more than ever because he is one of those players who represents the club on a global stage, let alone in the United States. Another club would have dipped into replacing him when he would have left the club.
But that’s what separates the Die Borussen from everyone else is the planning. When other clubs are busy playing the player who is expected to leave, Dortmund are already replacing him to make sure they don’t fall behind in the future.
By Kaustubh Pandey.