It seems like a cycle nowadays – former Borussia Dortmund players coming back after spells elsewhere. It happened with Shinji Kagawa and it happened with Mario Götze. It is close to happening with Mats Hummels now as Sky Germany and Bild reports continue to state that a return to the Signal Iduna Park is edging closer for the defender.
While it might not make too many Bayern Munich fans happy considering that Jerome Boateng has also been heavily linked with an exit, but a deal would present Dortmund with a chance to do an excellent piece of business. Lucien Favre’s men have already been immensely successful in the signings of Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard, but the capture of Hummels could well top all of it off.
The German is still 30, which is a very good age for a defender. Many defenders reach their prime at that very age.
Some believe that Hummels is past his prime from how he used to be one of the best defenders in the world about two seasons ago. That is certainly true to an extent. But not being at his best doesn’t mean that he can’t be the best defender at a side like Dortmund.
Favre’s side was blessed with a raft of young stars playing an attractive brand of football under the former Borussia Mönchengladbach boss. Among all others, Abdou Diallo and Manuel Akanji were two of those who were the defensive walls of a team that was known for its attacking flair and panache. When the likes of Marco Reus, Jadon Sancho and Paco Alcácer sparkled going forward, the two defenders kept things tight at the back.
Even for a team that had its full backs playing high up the pitch, Akanji and Diallo did a formidable job until a certain point. As the games started coming thick and fast around the turn of the year, things began to go wrong. While the pair had injury issues to deal with, especially in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 game against Tottenham, it was a lack of leadership and know-how of digging games out that let BVB down.
The manner in which Dortmund gave up points from winning positions ended up costing them the Bundesliga title. Julian Weigl had to play centre-back if one of Diallo or Akanji had injury issues and while the midfielder did a fair job many times playing in the defence, Dortmund lacked the maturity of managing games.
The 3-3 draw against Hoffenheim came after goals from Götze, Reus and Raphael Guerreiro had put Favre’s men three up at home. But Die Kraichgauer scoredthrice in the last 20 minutes to deal a blow to Dortmund’s title hopes. Earlier in the campaign, Dortmund managed to give up their one-goal advantage twice against Hertha Berlin, drawing 2-2 at home. It happened against Schalke in the Revierderby too.
In games like these and the 2-2 draw against Werder Bremen, Dortmund dropped points from games that they ideally should have picked up all three points from. The dropping of these points proved to be disastrous towards the end of the campaign.
In the UEFA Champions League against Tottenham, the absence of Diallo due to injury proved to be the stumbling block. There was clearly a lack of maturity of playing at that level and the lack of experience of playing in high-pressure European ties against top opposition. Spurs were without Harry Kane and had Jan Vertonghen playing at left wing-back. Dortmund conceded four goals over two legs, failing to score even once. They gave away avoidable goals that came because of poor marking and bad judgement, something that an experienced player like Hummels will bring to the plate in pressure situations.
Bayern are in rebuild mode and know that Hummels will be kept out of the German national team. Dortmund know that too. But they’d know that even when Hummels is not at his best, he could be someone who brings that leadership to the plate, the maturity and experience of winning trophies with clubs. Dortmund hardly have characters like that in the current side.
Perhaps, not being in the German national team will help Hummels concentrate on playing for Dortmund. That will allow Akanji and Diallo to learn the trade of digging out games, something that they have lacked in a lot of times. Their first team football might reduce to an extent but with Hummels, Dortmund will play more games in the Champions League and in the cup than they did this past season.
For a side that boasts of immense attacking capabilities, it is the shoddy defensive side of the game that lets them down. After Hazard and Brandt, Hummels could be the capture that makes Dortmund a balanced side.
By Kaustubh Pandey.