Let’s face it, Borussia Dortmund is struggling. That’s actually putting it quite kindly. If people thought Manchester United under David Moyes, with its string of losses and broken records, was facing a crisis in 2013/2014, then I don’t know what one would call what Dortmund is going through. A catastrophe?
The 2013-2014 Bundesliga runner-up and 2014 DFL Supercup winner – beating Pep Guardiola’s formidable Bayern Munich – are now sitting squarely in the relegation zone. Just 4 wins and 3 draws in 17 games, 26 goals knocked past their keeper and a mind-blowing 30 points behind the league leaders. Yes, this is nothing short of a catastrophe.
In football, you can’t put the blame squarely on the defence if a team loses. You blame the whole team. In Dortmund’s case, that includes United targets Ilkay Gundogan and Mats Hummels. The former is known for his smooth-passing and midfield smarts, while central defender Hummels has caught United’s eyes with his ball interception and stoic presence in the back line. Yet, despite their much-lauded skills, they – along with another United target Marco Reus, ex-United winger Shinji Kagawa and a whole host of other stars – have not been able to lift Dortmund from its unbelievable collapse this season.
Is it merely a storm cloud over the Westfalenstadion that will soon pass, or are we looking at two players who have peaked prematurely – Gundogan is 24 and Hummels is 26 – and are no longer at their best?
United have reportedly offered Dortmund £35 million for Hummels (which has apparently been rejected), while BVB has tagged a price of £16 million on Gundogan. The latter is out of contract in 2016, which could see him walking out of the club for free.
Van Gaal wants Hummels. Fans want him. Will the Dortmund captain be able to patch up United’s leaky defence and bring back the trophies to OT despite not being able to do it in Germany? With youngsters Blackett and McNair growing with each game, Jones, Shaw and Smalling putting in respectable performances despite the occasional hiccup, and Rojo expected to return to the first team soon, is there a place for Hummels?
Moving further up, United has no shortage of skill in central midfield. Blind is out injured but is back in training; Carrick is experiencing a renaissance this season, matching play-for-play and switching between defence and attack mode at will. Mata and Herrera melt United hearts with their runs, assists, and at times, screamers into opposing goals that come out of nowhere. Before picking up his injury, Fellaini showed just why Van Gaal was right to give him a second chance with strong performances game-after-game. With Rooney dropping into midfield – and counting support from Di Maria on the left and Valencia on the right – this is a midfield that packs a very solid punch. If United were to buy Gundogan, two questions will have to be answered: where will he play, and who will be forced to go?
There is no doubt that despite the world-class talent in the squad today, Manchester United lacks the cutting edge, and a midfield or defensive general who has the unwavering tenacity and dogged drive to take the team by the scruff of its neck and push it along. The kind that never looks back, displays no fear, and won’t take no for an answer. The Keane, the Cantona, the Vidic. Who will that general be? Will he come from Carrington? Or will United look to Germany to provide the answer?