OPINION | Marco Reus winning the Champions League is the fairytale football needs

Marco Reus’s career has often been characterised by unfulfilled potential. It was never because he became a bad player overnight. But because of fitness issues that hampered the progress of a footballer who was seen as the future of the game in around 2011.

For all that has been said about the Dortmund boy’s career and how it panned out to be, him laying his hands on the Champions League title would be everything fans love the beautiful game for. It would be a lesson in life, as in football.

Ever since the starry-eyed 22-year-old joined Borussia Dortmund from Borussia Monchengladbach, there has never been any shortage of attention from bigger clubs. His performances often proved that he was well worth it. He could well have chosen that path at some point, like many of his teammates have done ever since the summer of 2012 dawned.

In a parallel universe, Reus could be playing for Real Madrid and winning Champions League and La Liga crowns. It was never meant to be but for whatever he’s been through during his time at BVB, he has remained a sort of player whose attitude has been rare to find in a footballing world that has left many fans disillusioned.

In the summer of 2012, Dortmund had lost the supremely talented Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United. At the back of another Bundesliga title win, they had to step up a gear and challenge for Europe. Jurgen Klopp’s golden era was at its peak at the Signal Iduna, while Jupp Heynckes was entering his last season in managing Bayern Munich.

The Dortmund side boasted of stars like Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Mats Hummels, Nuri Sahin and Neven Subotic and with the promise of ‘heavy-metal’ football now already instilled well into the club, anything was possible. Reus, a BVB youth graduate, had rejoined for €17 million at a time when he was seen as one of the best young stars in Germany.

That season, focus on Europe meant that Dortmund surrendered the league to Bayern. Some sensational performances in Europe captured the eye of every football fan in the world. The unforgettable comeback against Malaga was followed up by a dominating 4-1 win over Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid. Just about every neutral wanted Klopp’s side to win the Champions League, their second in history.

The final against familiar foes in Bayern witnessed Mr. Wembley Arjen Robben score a late winner at the English capital to snatch the gilded crown from Dortmund. It was a massive heartbreak for a side that had given just about everything to the cause, despite Kagawa’s loss. Many feared that the heartbreak would disintegrate a side which probably had everything to go again in Europe in the 2013/14 season.

Reus had appeared in 49 games in all competitions that season, scoring as many as 19 times. But reaching the Champions League final can do wonders for a young team. Interest in Klopp’s sensational side had reached sky-high. No one was spared. Robert Lewandowski was being linked with top clubs, like Reus himself. Similar was the case with Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan.

Mario Gotze, who shared a wonderful relationship with Reus, left for Bayern in the summer of 2013. But BVB recruited Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Sokratis and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang that very summer, bringing more hope into the fan’s mind about going the distance once again. Reus was now not just the future of Germany. He was the future of Dortmund. Being handed the vice-captain’s tag was a testament to that.

After a very good start to the 2013/14 season, Dortmund lost their way in the league and Real Madrid, out of all teams, knocked them out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals. Robert Lewandowski decided to leave the club on a free transfer at the end of the season to join Gotze at the Allianz Arena. Interest in Reus was at its peak, as he had scored 23 times in all competitions.

The fears about the team disintegrating came true next season. Dortmund won only two out of their first ten games in the league and questions were being asked about Jurgen Klopp and the side’s mental fortitude to keep going after all the disappointment of the last two seasons, the players they had lost and the unsettled futures of many in the side. Nothing helped BVB. Jurgen Klopp announced that he’d leave at the end of the season and head for a sabbatical. The downfall had begun and a seventh-placed finish confirmed that. The Golden generation had passed by without a European crown.

All wasn’t pessimistic though. Aubameyang, Reus and Mkhitaryan had become central forces of a side and the presence of the German was key. He knew the club inside out. He had been through all the disappointments, but had stuck close to the club. Unlike some of his other teammates, he had never seeked a way out despite arguably being the most talented and the most marketable player of all.

Thomas Tuchel’s settling in period was a good one as it helped BVB reclaim the second spot in the league. Kevin de Bruyne’s Wolfsburg exit for Manchester City had left the Wolves in a lurch and had changed some dynamics in the league. Dortmund took advantage and the trio of Reus, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan drew attention.

The season wasn’t devoid of heartbreaks. The Europa League exit at the hands of Liverpool saw the Reds come back from 3-1 down to beat Dortmund 4-3 at Anfield. The most painful of all, it was Klopp himself who had come up with this.

If that wasn’t enough, Hummels joined Lewandowski at Bayern and Mkhitaryan joined Mourinho at Manchester United. In Hummels, Reus had lost another player who was part of the famous side that failed to win the Champions League in 2013. Not just that, but Dortmund also lost Gundogan to the blue side of Manchester, Jakub Błaszczykowski to Wolfsburg and Subotic to Koln.

While Gotze did return to the Signal Iduna Park, Reus struggled with fitness. He played only 17 times in the league, but scored seven times. The signing of Ousmane Dembele from Stade Rennais had given hope to the club of going back again, with Reus leading from the front.

From the 2016/17 season onwards till end of the 2017/18 campaign, Reus never really got himself back on track physically. If that wasn’t enough, the club lost Aubameyang to Arsenal and Dembele to Barcelona. Gotze himself had serious fitness issues.

In the 2017/18 season, Reus could play only ten times in the league. But the man’s ability and temperament never came into question. He scored as many as six times, despite everything and did a very good job every time he called on to do a job. A serious ACL injury around the turn of the year threatened his future at the club and many had begun to wonder if Reus would ever be at the top of his game ever again.

The last one year for Marco Reus has been about everything that he probably deserves for whatever he’s endured at a club that he could have easily left at some point. His return to grace and the silencing of the odds has been a story of its own. The way he’s led Dortmund from the front has been nothing short of spectacular.

Last season ended with another heartbreak for the former Gladbach man, as Dortmund missed out narrowly on the Bundesliga title to Bayern. But it has done nothing to move Reus’ resolve, as he goes back in search of the dream once again this season.

Reus’ case portrays the picture of a player who was meant for a bigger club. He could have become a star at Real Madrid. He could have been exactly what the Los Blancos fans want, an attractive proposition, a top class talent and a marketable personality that they can adore. It could have been him that signed for Real instead of Gareth Bale from Spurs in the summer of 2013. If that happened, Reus would’ve had a career filled to the brim with trophies and success, with less disappointments than how much he endured in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Perhaps, it was never about drowning in trophies. It was always about Borussia Dortmund and fighting for that yellow crest.

It is not a surprise to see that none of the teammates that he has lost since 2012 have gone onto win a Champions League crown with their clubs. While Mkhitaryan did win the Europa League with United, they haven’t won the Champions League since 2008.

It would be unfair to call it a case of ‘karma’, but something about all of it pricks your conscience.

It might be wishful thinking (it indeed is) but Reus winning the Champions League before all of them with Dortmund would go a long way in teaching a lesson about life and football. It would be redemption at last for the now 30-year-old. He would achieve a dream of a lifetime. That would symbolise everything that is so wonderful about football.

After all, football isn’t like how it used to be 20 years ago. There are things about it that have in place in the game. Be it the gulf between the powerhouse clubs and the smaller clubs that is best symbolised by the closing down of Bury or the way players who are supposed to act like role models refuse to play for clubs.

Amidst all of that, it is rare to find players who are, well and truly, characters that the children can look upto. Reus, for all that has happened in his career, is one of those players. Him winning the Champions League would say a lot about no matter how much one can get disillusioned with the beautiful game and all its ills, there will be many fairytale stories in it. Reus winning the gilded Champions League crown could top it all off.

By Kaustubh Pandey.


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