The Dortmund 'utopia': Stars now beg for a move to become Sancho 2.0

INSIDE THE YELLOW MACHINE: The Borussia Dortmund model is a ‘utopia’ for young players and starlets now approach agents to PLEAD for a move… but is Europe’s football goldmine sustainable and will big titles forever elude the Bundesliga giants?

  • Borussia Dortmund’s model of operation is the envy of European football teams
  • In recent years squad value has surged due to smart signings and development 
  • One football agent reveals youth players now actively aim for Dortmund moves 
  • Constant player sales however means top titles are harder to target
  • Sportsmail takes a closer look at the yellow machine and its long-term plan

Another year of the football calendar is coming to a close, and those with a keen European interest will have noticed more names creeping onto their talent radar.

Giovanni Reyna, Youssoufa Moukoko and Dan-Axel Zagadou, Mateu Morey. The list goes on. 

Like Jadon Sancho and Christian Pulisic in recent years gone by, each of these talented youths have a connection binding them firmly together.

That connection is one of deep black and electric yellow; the finishing school that is Borussia Dortmund.

No team in Europe has been able to create a model as efficient as Borussia Dortmund with low purchases and sky-high selling; Sportsmail takes a deeper look inside the yellow machine 

Season upon season Dortmund give a fresh run to what is one of, if not the, boldest football model in top flight European competition.

Faces come and go, average ages seemingly get lower and yet Dortmund continue to intrigue, dazzle and dare to dream in equal measure.

It’s a system not without its faults, but one which a host of envious top flight clubs across the continent have tried and failed to replicate.

For now, Dortmund find themselves sitting on a goldmine. An inflated transfer market in recent years, following Neymar’s astronomical move from Barcelona to PSG, has served to help clubs like the Bundesliga side raise their pricing.

Dortmund indeed found themselves at the epicentre of the sweeping change, as a panic-stricken Barca eventually came knocking the door down with a £135.3m offer for Ousmane Dembele.

That was in the summer of 2017. Now, over three years later, the yellow machine still operates at a ferocious pace. A silk pouch of dazzling jewels, the Dortmund squad we see today has much to envy yet also much to question.

Europe’s goldmine

As of May 2019, financial experts Forbes had Borussia Dortmund’s squad valuation placed around the £670million mark.

This was before the continued meteoric rise of Jadon Sancho, and only in the very recent aftermath of the acquisition of Erling Braut Haaland.

Revised estimates in 2020 from competitor monetary experts place Dortmund’s value closer to the £800m mark, and rising.

Indeed, the humble city in North Rhine-Westphalia has rapidly emerged as an incubator of the continent’s best football talent, and a cash-generating behemoth at the same time.

In Jadon Sancho (left) and Erling Haaland (right) Dortmund have over £200m worth of talent

According to football market analysts Transfermarkt, Dortmund currently boast two stars in Sancho and Haaland who have a ‘base value’ of £90m, which in the reality of their long-term contracts would command way in access of the £100m mark for a transfer.

In Reyna and Moukoko they have two players with projected ‘ceiling’ values in a similar region, forecast between £75m and £160m.

Of the aforementioned stars two – Reyna and Moukoko – are still teenagers, while Sancho and Haaland turned 20 only this year. This month Moukoko became the youngest goalscorer in Bundesliga history at just 16 years and 28 days with a sublime strike against Union Berlin.

Dortmund then have a collection of what are in football financial quarters labelled as ‘middling’ players. Stars approximately in the 21 to 25 age range, either still carrying potential or who have already hit elite performance level but have margin for improvement.

This pocket of players includes the likes of 24-year-old Julian Brandt, acquired from rivals Bayer Leverkusen for just over £20m, 24-year-old Mahmoud Dahoud and 25-year-old Manuel Akanji.

These players, among several others, were acquired for relatively moderate fees and have seen their estimated market value double despite not setting the world alight with their Dortmund careers so far.

Director of Football Michael Zorc takes pride in finding gems like Youssoufa Moukoko

Observing the intricate taxonomy of Dortmund’s system reveals trends, patterns and year upon year of careful planning and preparation.

In an interview with the Bundesliga in 2017, Dortmund director of football Michael Zorc admitted: ‘In general it is our approach, not only to find the top talented players but to give each player the chance to become the best he can be. 

‘We have 92 players in the first or second league in Germany and across Europe who have been educated in our youth department, so that is our aim as well.’ 

Is this sustainable?

It’s a straightforward question and it certainly begs asking.

Dortmund’s model has been such a resounding success that plucky German upstarts RB Leipzig, driven by the hugely powerful Red Bull brand and operated in tandem with sister teams Salzburg and New York, have tried desperately hard to emulate it.

In Spain Sevilla have reverted their approach to similar means, while in Serie A Italian royalty Roma have taken comparable steps.

There is an unwavering belief within the Dortmund ranks that their tried and tested model is not only one to lead the club into the future, but also one to build upon and create much more than purely financial success.

Little time was wasted in taking Giovanni Reyna from New York once Dortmund identified him

One Dortmund source who still works within the club’s recruitment structure told Sportsmail: ‘Each year plans are devised way ahead of schedule and steps are taken to ensure Dortmund has full awareness of the football market.

‘So much goes into the process of bringing players to the club and this is only going to grow as Dortmund strengthens. The model in operation is simple on the face of things, but it has taken years of perfecting to see players like [Ousmane] Dembele and Jadon [Sancho] rapidly come through and make their names.’ 

A large part of what makes Dortmund’s modus operandi so effective and, seemingly, so effortless, is the long duration of which it has been slowly implemented and the figures who have made it happen.

Lars Ricken, head of the Dortmund youth system, is a former player who carries the additional title of ‘talent coordinator.’ 

Speaking to the Evening Standard in April 2019, when asked why other teams find it so difficult to successfully follow Dortmund’s lead in this field, Ricken replied rather honestly: ‘It is hard to copy it.

‘I think one part of our success is that we have the most responsible people here for a long time. Michael Zorc has been here, as a player too nearly 40 years since he was youth player.

Lars Ricken, head of the Dortmund youth system, admits rivals find it very hard to emulate

‘In the youth department too; me, the sporting director in the youth department, head of scouting… we are all working for Borussia Dortmund for over 100 years combined. That is I think one secrets of our success.’

What Ricken scratches upon is the club’s steadfast determination to stick with a system. Modern day football sees teams all too commonly hit the panic button when a certain project is deemed to have failed.

Roma, in looking to follow Dortmund’s blueprint, acquired famed director of football Monchi from Sevilla – another side with similar ambitions to recruit young and sell big. The bearded maestro was poached by the Serie A side, only two spend two frustrating years in the Italian capital before heading back to Seville.

Dortmund, in comparison, have never flinched. Of course, some years see greater talent yields acquired than others, yet in the upper echelons of the boardroom a bid or transfer inquiry is always on the agenda. 

Clubs knocking on the door with cash in hand arrive each year, asking for the likes of Mario Gotze, Shinji Kagawa, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ousmane Dembele, Christian Pulisic and Julian Weigl. Each time Dortmund turn a profit.

The list goes on and the model is indeed sustainable. Sustainable and, most importantly, thriving. Pockets are lined and talent is more than willing to pour in, but is this now coming at the ultimate cost to Dortmund?

Title dreamers?

It is fast approaching a decade since Dortmund were crowned Bundesliga champions. It’s a stark fact, and it hurts the fervent fan-base of arguably European football’s most likeable club.

For the best part of ten-years Dortmund have become the nearly men of German football, producing title challenges and plucky European streaks without ever really threatening to put their fingerprints all over a gleaming piece of silverware.

It’s a conflict, for sure. On the one hand supporters are treated to some of the most exciting talent on a weekly basis. The club and its followers take great pride in seeing the likes of a Pulisic plucked from obscurity, before being carefully crafted at the Westfalenstadion and presented to the world.

Dortmund’s youthful team dazzle on the European and domestic stage but lack consistency


2019/20 – 2nd

2018/19 – 2nd

2017/18 – 4th

2016/17 – 3rd (DFB Pokal winners)

2015/16 – 2nd

2014/15 – 7th

2013/14 – 2nd

2012/13 – 2nd

2011/12 –  1st (DFB Pokal winners)

2010/11 – 1st

Current league position today – 4th 

But how long can this go on, with Dortmund in a constant flux of change with new faces and new objectives, has the title now in a rather hushed manner been placed as a secondary objective?

German football expert and Bundesliga journalist Chris Williams sheds further light on the situation. 

‘The fans want to see a Bundesliga title first and foremost, the 2016-17 Pokal under Thomas Tuchel should have been a building block, the nightmare under [Peter] Bosz wasn’t foreseen, and then Lucien Favre let two titles slip away—one with a nine point overturn by Bayern,’ says Williams.

‘The Champions League is someway off, to be consistent round of 16 or a last eight team will bring financial rewards to improve the squad. 

‘With their current squad Dortmund should have capitalized on Bayern’s poor run under Niko Kovac, it almost cost Lucien Favre his job in the summer and he never really recovered from the situation.’

Just this month Favre was indeed axed from his position at the Dortmund helm following a poor start to the season which saw the club struggling to penetrate the top four.

It was one of the first murmuring signs that the team in yellow and black have decided that silverware is overdue. Favre is renowned across European football for his minuscule attention to detail and thirst to improve every facet of a player; particularly those just emerging.

Not since the 2011-12 season, under iconic boss Jurgen Klopp – have Dortmund won the title

For this reason the Swiss football scholar seemed a perfect fit for Dortmund, with it’s conveyor belt of unpolished diamonds filtering through. Now, however, the pressure has notched up several levels. 

It is interesting to note that this comes in the immediate aftermath of Dortmund breaking with tradition and refusing to sell Sancho to Manchester United, despite eye-watering figures being discussed. 

Not since Dembele in 2017 have Dortmund sold a big name to a major European side and, when it comes to bitter rivals Bayern, the club have not given up one of their stars since Mats Hummels in 2016.

Williams adds: ‘Dortmund now don’t just want to be financially viable, they want to challenge Bayern on and off the field. Their corporate deals are getting bigger and stronger, as is their expansion into foreign markets to grow the BVB brand. 

‘There has also been a ‘no-sale to competitors’ policy since December 2019, they no longer wish to sell to rival teams at their own squad strength expense.’

The club are in the process of working out how their gem-unearthing model can satisfy the supporters’ desires for silverware and make a go of winning domestic and European trophies

A young star’s ‘utopia’

One football agent, who played an active role in helping facilitate the deal which took Thorgan Hazard from Borussia Monchengladbach to Dortmund tells Sportsmail of previous occasions in recent years in which players have actively sought out the Westfalenstadion.


Since 2011 Dortmund have developed a consistent policy of signing young and selling big.

Players with vast potential are brought in, schooled in the Dortmund way and afforded ample chances to gain first team experience.

Seen below in the table are a series of stars signed and sold by the German giants, showing the profit margins skimmed off by Dortmund each time. 

Huge mark-ups can be seen, with the likes of Christian Pulisic bringing home a whopping £58m of pure profit, while Ousmane Dembele brought in a cash injection of over £120m, despite only playing for Dortmund for one season.

Of the names below, only strikers Alexander Isak and Paco Alcacer can be seen to have caused Dortmund a loss, though these were marginal at a deficit of less than £2m.

In Swedish sensation Isak, Dortmund did all their necessary ground work and research before signing the player at the tender age of 17.

His exit from the club is indicative of Dortmund’s rapid and highly efficient process of determining the ceiling value of a player – should it become apparent that a high sell-on is not attainable, the Bundesliga side will look to make a transfer and take the smallest possible loss margin. 

‘I’ve seen on a few occasions cases where promising footballers have looked to Dortmund as their platform opportunity,’ he said, ‘it’s the player doing all the asking and the agent is expected to make it happen.

‘The reputation of the club for taking players to the next level and giving the opportunity of freedom to showcase themselves now proceeds itself, Dortmund can make little effort to sell itself to youngsters because the results are all around us.

‘Young players now, especially British it should be said, are specifically aiming to get on Dortmund’s radar, it’s the Sancho-effect. They really want this move, and why wouldn’t they. 

‘It was no surprise at all to see [Jude] Bellingham take up Dortmund’s offer over Manchester United. They have to do what is best for them and now it’s possible to do this and this be at one of Europe’s best clubs at the same time, it is a utopia for these guys who can make the grade.’ 

Indeed, Bellingham caught the attention of the football world this summer after snubbing United in favour of Dortmund, and swapping Birmingham for Germany at just 17-years-old.

United had pulled out all the stops in hope of getting Bellingham to sign, including a tour of the training ground facilities with legendary former manager Sir Alex Ferguson as a personal guide.

Yet Bellingham, inspired by Sancho’s resoundingly successful sampling of German football, decided to follow suit. 

Already it looks to be paying off, given that the central midfielder has made 11 Bundesliga appearances so far this season and a further six in the Champions League; all before his 18th birthday.

Dortmund are not stopping here, however. The tactical sweep of mercurial English talents seems to be merely in its infancy.

The excitement can only be heard in whispers at the moment, but in 16-year-old Jamie Bynoe-Gittens Dortmund believe they are slowly unearthing England’s next superstar talent.

Like Sancho, Bynoe-Gittens was also swiped ruthlessly from the Manchester City academy on the promise of rapid progression and a clear pathway into the senior ranks.

‘We don’t want expectations to be too high right from the start,’ Zorc told the Bundesliga’s official website about the attacking teenager earlier this year. ‘He should develop patiently with us in the junior division.’

Dortmund swooped in to nab Jamie Bynoe-Gittens from Manchester City and have huge hopes

The 16-year-old has vast potential and Dortmund believe he can emulate Sancho’s success

The youngster, who celebrated his 16th birthday in August, is currently with the club’s U19 set-up where he will cut his teeth and study the ways of the Dortmund system. 

Bynoe-Gittens is merely the tip of the iceberg. A Dortmund source confirmed the starlet was approached ‘swiftly and given a clear plan of a future which can be highly beneficial to both player and the football club in achieving its goals.’

The Future

Dortmund’s model may well be ‘the future’ of European football, but they have a individual blueprint laid out for their own further progression.

Sportsmail understands that the Bundesliga giants are now making a concerted effort to expand its reach even further into American and South American football, in an attempt to corner the market more.

With the emergence of Pulisic Dortmund saw first-hand the capabilities of talent emerging from the States, and now dotted around the continent the likes of Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Josh Sargent appear to be following suit.

What does appear clear however is Dortmund’s new-found determination to not only develop their gems, but also to retain big name talent and erode the conceptions of European rivals who regard them as prey.

This can be seen with a recent stylistic twist; the removal of release clauses.

The signing of Jude Bellingham was a huge statement after the teen snubbed Manchester United, and Dortmund’s new approach means they will only sell if a future offer is perfect

Bundesliga expert Chris Williams again outlines: ‘Release clauses have pretty much been removed over the last few seasons by Dortmund, players that were on them have signed new improved deals which had the option removed. 

‘Haaland’s is reported to be in the region of £60-£65m, but it’s not valid until 2022. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them try to renegotiate that contract in six months time, similar to what they did for Marco Reus back in 2015. 

‘The clause allows the early move, in Haaland’s case, but the option will try to be removed.

‘It puts them at a disadvantage and they know it – to have players who can leave not on their terms. Haaland’s release fee would recoup everything they outlaid; initial fee to Salzburg, wages and third party payments. 

‘At that particular moment it was a win-win situation, but long term it makes little business sense.’

The Dortmund shop therefore is being shut. Or, at the very least, it is no longer a free-for-all sale, and premium assets will now command beyond premium prices. 

Haaland has a release clause which is active from 2022, though Dortmund are highly likely to offer the young star a meteoric new deal and remove the clause, so they can sell on their terms

As of time of writing the men in yellow find themselves in fourth place in the table, without a permanent coach but with Edin Terzic in charge until the new year. 

The new boss, whether it be Terzic long-term or another of Europe’s famed football scholars, will be explicitly told the gleaming silver Meisterschale bowl – the Bundesliga trophy – must be seen as attainable.

Times are changing for Dortmund, that much is for certain.

In the not too distance future, we could be set to observe what a new era looks like for the one team who has shone the torch into the darkness for so long. 

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