Borussia Dortmund came so close to final success – but what comes next?


Borussia Dortmund came much closer to winning the Champions League than they ever should have done.

This season, head coach Edin Terzic nearly lost his job twice. The team limped to a distant fifth-place finish in the Bundesliga. But Dortmund managed to rattle Real Madrid at Wembley, create a host of chances and could very easily have won.

Their European campaign has been so unusual that ultimate victory might have been a fittingly bizarre end. On the eve of this game, Terzic faced questions about inflammatory remarks made by Mats Hummels, his veteran centre-back, and about the club’s decision to sign a sponsorship agreement with Rheinmetall, a German arms manufacturer.

Terzic played a straight bat to both. Ahead of kick-off on Saturday night, Dortmund’s fans displayed a banner protesting the latter. Their fans then produced 90 minutes of ceaseless noise, but the game began with a pledge against their own club: “Protecting Borussia Dortmund from sportswashing is our mission!”

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Dortmund fans display a banner against the Rheinmetall deal (Getty Images)

This has not been an ordinary season. But what next?

In a literal sense, that’s easy to answer. Ahead of this European run, Dortmund estimated they would make a profit in 2023-24 of somewhere between €15million (£12.8m, $16.3m) and €25million. Just by reaching the Champions League final, that figure is now likely to be closer to €50million.

That windfall will potentially help make their loan moves for Jadon Sancho and Ian Maatsen, who both started on Saturday night, permanent. It’s not clear whether either is affordable, but both have quickly become essential to how Dortmund want to play. While in the Bundesliga, Dortmund were frequently slow and blunt, in Europe and at Wembley against Madrid, they were quick, vertical and full of ambition. Sancho and Maatsen are fundamental to that desired identity.

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What will follow in the more abstract sense is harder to know. Dortmund are currently a club of factions. Hans-Joachim Watzke, who has been CEO since 2005, will leave in 2025. He is close to Terzic and has been extremely supportive of him. Terzic is also close to Lars Ricken, who inherited Watzke’s sporting responsibilities in May this year. Ricken was a guest at Terzic’s wedding in 2012. More importantly, Ricken now occupies a job which Sebastian Kehl, the sporting director, admitted in 2023 would be a “logical next step” in his own career.

The relationship between Terzic and Kehl is less strong. The two disagreed over the club’s transfer activity going into this season. There was a stranger incident back in December with one of Kehl’s assistants. Slaven Stanic joined the club in May 2023 to provide sporting liaison between the coaching and recruiting departments, but he left just six months later.

Dortmund insisted the split was amicable. Stanic’s exit statement read: “From day one, my goal was to use my skills and knowledge profitably for Borussia Dortmund. After recent developments, I am no longer 100 per cent convinced that I can still deliver this added value. Integrity, respect and trust are valuable to me.”

Kehl’s future is far from certain. His current contract is due to expire in 2025 and, most recently, he has been reported to be of interest to Wolfsburg, whose sports director Marcel Schafer seems destined for RB Leipzig. And what role does Sven Mislintat have going forward? Mislintat was chief scout between 2006 and 2017 before leaving for Arsenal. He returned in April 2024 as a squad planner after spells at Stuttgart and Ajax. Mislintat will need to find his fit.

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CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke will leave next year (Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images)

Dortmund need to cultivate greater harmony and find more permanence. They need more certainty in their future and, frankly, whatever advantages that come with that. Dortmund are wealthy but the modern footballing world is run by nation-states and billionaires. German football’s 50+1 rule, which stipulates that the members must retain a controlling stake in their club, means that they will never be able to trade punches with the true elite.

And that means that alignment is especially important. In 2024-25, the Champions League will adopt a new format, which all clubs involved will profit from financially. But it will also adopt a seeding system which, in combination with existing inequities, will keep the biggest clubs apart for longer and make runs into the knockout stages like the one Dortmund achieved this year even harder.

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If they are to replicate what they achieved this season, several internal departments will need to find more common ground.

Ideologically, that’s also true. Before Saturday’s final, the banner protesting the Rheinmetall deal sent a clear message to the club’s decision-makers. Concerns have come from elsewhere, too.

Michael Schulze von Glasser is a Dortmund fan, but also the managing director of The German Peace Society, a pacifist group. He has demanded that the club terminate the agreement. “I am very shocked,” he said. “I would never have expected that Dortmund would even consider entering into a partnership with an arms company.”

This has been jarring because the agreement has been so at odds with the perception of who Dortmund are and what they are supposed to represent. When the agreement was announced, Watzke, the CEO, said that “security and defence are cornerstones of our democracy” and that by making this agreement, Dortmund “were starting a discourse”.

The discourse has certainly started and it will continue for a long time. So far, the reaction has been vicious. Wembley 2024 was an unexpected high point. On the pitch, the players earned tremendous respect. Off it, there is a lot of friction.


On Saturday night, the focus remained very much on the game. Terzic said the only difference between the two sides was “killer instinct”. He was pleased, though, and proud of the fact that “everyone had seen (Dortmund’s) clear belief that they could win the game.”

Hummels, who was publicly critical of his team’s style of play this week and around whose future there is so much doubt, said that Dortmund had “played with courage and heart”. He also praised his side’s offensive impact on the game.

“We created some amazing attacks,” he said. “We should have taken one of our chances. There’s no blame because everyone had a great game.”

Hummels’ contract will expire in the coming weeks and there is still no certainty over whether he will extend. One of the difficulties of his situation is that, even at 35, he is essential to the way they defended. They could lose him for nothing. Having to replace a player of his quality would come at an enormous cost.

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Hummels’ future is uncertain (Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Regeneration is another key theme. There are some very talented players at Dortmund. The club have especially high hopes for Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, even if this season faded out disappointingly for him. Nevertheless, the club’s identity — as an investor in talent and a developer of world-class players — is not what it was.

One of the reasons why Dortmund’s performance at Wembley was so admirable is because, player for player, they simply do not compare with Real Madrid. Nevertheless, for every season for over a decade until this year, Dortmund teams have contained players who could at least be imagined playing for Madrid in the future.

That is no longer the case. It must be again — and soon.

There are many good points to dwell upon. Dortmund defended extremely well for a long period on Saturday. The ball movement that Hummels commented on was truly excellent at times and too much for even Madrid to handle. For that, credit must go to Sven Bender and Nuri Sahin, the two assistants added to Terzic’s coaching staff back in the winter specifically with those improvements in mind.

The standards reached by some of the individual players were hugely encouraging, too. Julian Ryerson has shown how resilient he can be against some of the best wingers in the world this season. Julian Brandt, Marcel Sabitzer and Emre Can have demonstrated a real chemistry in midfield. Nico Schlotterbeck has looked like the player he was at Freiburg. These are standards that have been set in Europe and which these players can (and must) be held to for the rest of their Dortmund careers.

Collectively — and this is the biggest compliment this group is due — for 60 minutes of the Champions League final, they played with the spirit and soul of a Jurgen Klopp team. Backed by ferocious support from their fans, they gave a truly affecting performance. They showed that it can be done. They created a precedent that Terzic can point to in future.

Borussia Dortmund looked like Borussia Dortmund again. For it to be more than a part-time impression, though, plenty of restoration will still have to follow.

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(Top photos: Sancho, left, and Terzic, right; Getty Images)



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