Borussia Dortmund is starting the new season with many personnel changes. In an interview with the DPA (German Press Agency), CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke (63) talks about squad planning, new head coach Edin Terzic and the perpetual dogfight at the top of the league against Bayern Munich.
You are now not only managing director of Borussia Dortmund, but since February you have also been the chairman of the supervisory board of the DFL and Vice President of the DFB. Is it an exaggeration to describe you as the most influential manager in German football at the moment?
I don’t think in such categories and agree with Pope John XXIII: One shouldn’t take oneself too seriously. I didn’t push myself into those positions. At some point, the vast majority of clubs simply wanted me to get involved. And when I do something, I do it right. I probably had an influence in German football before, now however I have responsibility at least to some degree for the direction, That is the difference.
With such intensive part-time roles, is there still enough time for BVB?
Borussia Dortmund will not lose an hour of my working time as a result. I’ve only missed one league game in 18 years at BVB because I had a fever of 40.8 at the time. BVB is my job, my life task, my passion. Everything else is in addition to that task. It is possible to manage the balance – you have to be ambitious to do it, but it is possible.
There is enough work to do at BVB. There is a new sporting director, a new coach, and a much-changed team. This feels like the start of a new era, or at least the biggest upheaval in years. Do you agree?
Honestly no. If you want to speak of a new beginning, then that’s more the case with the DFB or the DFL. There is a very high degree of continuity at BVB. The new sports director and the new coach didn’t just fall from the sky. Sebastian Kehl had four years to get used to the job and learn it from scratch. And the job as head coach is not new territory for Edin Terzic either. It makes a difference whether you bring two complete strangers into your organization or two people who know the organization inside out.
BVB has already invested over 80 million euros in the new squad. Is the impression misleading or is the desire for more investment risky for the growth of Borussia Dortmund after years of solid business figures?
Not at all. So far we have invested maybe 15 million euros net. Other Bundesliga clubs invest significantly more in net terms. We mustn’t forget that we gave up Erling Haaland. It is also a fact that after two and a half years of Corona and damage amounting to more than 100 million in terms of loss of income, as of today, Borussia Dortmund does not have a single euro of financial liabilities to banks or credit institutions. We are debt free.
The reason for the high staff turnover was certainly the performance of the team in the past season. You yourself sometimes found clear words and described the performance in Europe last season as a “complete disaster”. What bothered you most about the team last season?
Football is results-driven and the results at the international level were simply bad. In addition, there was the early exit of the DFB Cup against a second-tier team. If you are as committed to success as I am, you have to talk straight. That was not what Borussia Dortmund wanted, it was simply not enough. That’s it. But we were somewhat satisfied with the second-place finish in the Bundesliga, that was okay.
The external BVB consultant Matthias Sammer spoke about his need to see more continuity at Borussia, what did he mean by that?
BVB has more continuity than almost any other club. Reinhard Rauball has been the club president for many years. I’ve been here for 18 years now and Michael Zorc had been Sporting director for 24 years. Sebastian Kehl has been with us for a long time, Lars Ricken has been with us for a long time. That’s why I think Matthias meant the coaching position, even if he was also convinced that letting Marco Rose go was the right thing to do in the summer. Of course, every club would like to work with a head coach for as long as possible. But it is also a fact that the average in the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga is 1.3 years.
What makes you confident that Edin Terzic will achieve above-average results? You had recently expressed the wish to be able to work with a trainer again for “three or four years”.
What makes me optimistic is his high degree of professionalism. On top of that, Edin has really put all his focus on being a coach and a member of staff at Borussia Dortmund. Edin knows every branch of the club. This club is not only ambitious, it also has an identity which Edin understands. Edin knows for sure that when he presses a button, eight other lights will come on. That helps, then you have a good early warning system and you can also assess things. This total passion for the club has not been learned by Edin he has lived it from an early age. So he has an ideal starting point.
The coach’s workload has not been made any lighter by the shocking diagnosis of Sebastien Haller. How did you personally experience this situation?
The issue got worse and worse within a few hours on Monday. To be honest, we’re still in shock. The least important thing is the sporting aspect. Sebastien’s health is much more important. Within 24 hours his life was turned upside down. The team was also completely shocked. Such bad news, concerning someone from your closest circle, naturally affects the whole training camp. Everyone supports him at the club.
What influence does Haller’s absence have on squad planning for the new season?
From my point of view, we can’t speculate on a player’s health until there has been a diagnosis. And it will definitely be several days before that happens.
Does this diagnosis make you worried about a bumpy start to the season?
It might get bumpy. But we mustn’t use that as an alibi in any way, we have to see it as a challenge which I am confident we will overcome.
Former technical director Terzic is now head coach. The former head of licensed players Sebastian Kehl is now sporting director. So there are two vacancies. Will these positions be filled?
One of the reasons we created the two positions was to be prepared for any eventuality. Sebastian’s position was a so-called ‘onboarding position’ for the position he now holds, preparation. There will certainly be someone at some point who will support Sebastian in some way but not yet. in Edin’s position as coach, the main thing was having a person in the club who identified strongly with BVB. There are no vacancies currently.
Are there any more positions to fill in the squad? Allegedly, BVB is still looking for a left-back …
We have at least three players for this position. But you can never say never in professional football anyway. I don’t see that happening at the moment, but I also know that in two weeks the football world can look completely different again.
FC Bayern is the only club that has so far invested more money in the squad than BVB. Does that worry you a bit?
You have to be able to afford what Bayern have done in terms of transfers. But that’s nothing new. This will not turn the Bundesliga upside down, I’ve said it a hundred times: Leipzig, Leverkusen, BVB – of course, we would all like to see a champion other than Bayern. But you can’t necessarily demand that of us. Just like nobody demands that Mainz 05 finish in front of BVB next year. In fact, to put it into context, the difference between Mainz and Borussia Dortmund in terms of finances is smaller than that between BVB and Bayern Munich. That’s just fact. And the media should take note of that.
Is there renewed boredom in the Bundesliga title fight?
With these new players that have joined, Bayern Munich is the number one favourite. They may lose an exceptional player in Robert Lewandowski, but gain two exceptional players in Mane and De Ligt. At some point in a season, we have to have the quality, the courage and the luck to strike again. Then Bayern would still have to accommodate us or Leipzig or Leverkusen or whoever. But then it would happen at some point that another club would become champions. I never said it would happen next year.
With your statement a few months ago that the champions will one day come crashing down, you caused quite a stir, what did you mean?
There’s no constant in life that lasts forever. In France, Lille won the championship two years ago, although Paris is economically vastly more powerful, it can happen in Germany too.
Are the transfers from Mane and De Ligt to FC Bayern indications that the Bundesliga is also becoming more interesting for international stars?
The Bundesliga was never uninteresting. There are certain people that are interested in badmouthing our league including in Germany. Certain media in the past two years reported that the interest in our league of fans would decrease dramatically after the Corona period. That the chasm between Bayern and the other top clubs has become vast. But looking at the season ticket sales in our league that is simply not the case. The problem is If you hear something a hundred times, you end up believing it yourself. Unfortunately, that happened to me too, I have to admit. You have to simply disregard these things.
The Bundesliga is not facing an ordinary season. There is a World Cup in the middle of winter. Will the long break affect the title fight?
The World Cup award to Qatar was not the greatest feat. But now we have to make the best of it. The effects will not be as severe as one might think. Whether you take the winter break that formally ends the first half of the season on November 15th or December 15th, in the end, it’s a four-week break, simple. As a result, the balance of power and the balance of power in German football is not likely to be different when it starts again in January, all clubs have to manage this new situation.
What has to happen at BVB so that you and the club are satisfied at the end of the coming season?
I’m satisfied when we can have the feeling that we’ve come close to achieving our maximum in terms of reaching our potential. Defining that exactly is of course difficult. But last season we felt we didn’t and that was not at all satisfying. This season will be different.