Over the course of the last decade, Borussia Dortmund have popularised the starboy methodology into the business model of the football club. It is merely not just a coincidence that so many diamonds have been unearthed in the colours of Black and Yellow, but it has become an ingrained core value for the German club. The formula for such a successful initiative has been: buy a relatively good prospect, inject self-belief, confidence & a winning mentality, turn into an elite athlete, and sell. Rinse and repeat. As a matter of fact, on Dortmund’s business page ‘BVB Share’, the business strategy even mentions this.
“Moreover, a player might be sold based on financial considerations in cases where this would not have happened had the decision been made purely on the basis of sporting criteria. Thus, a conflict arises between the pursuit of financial interests and sporting interests, i.e., a situation in which sporting considerations and financial considerations may be at odds with each other, particularly if the club continually falls short of its sporting goals in the long term. In such cases, management weighs the opportunities and risks to find a solution that does adequate justice to the Company’s strategic objectives.”
It, as in the business strategy, has kept Dortmund a reputable and relatively competitive European club with a sustainable financial system from its sporting side to lean on, as commercial or broadcasting interest isn’t as ridiculously inflated in Germany as it is in England. However, along the way they have picked up a bad habit of becoming the ‘Almost Club’. Think the 2013 Champions League Final or more recently the Bundesliga title thanks to a final day 2-2 draw against Mainz last season.
Jude Bellingham, Robert Lewandowski, Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho, Christian Pulisic, Shinji Kagawa, Pierre-Emerick Aubamenyang and Ousmane Dembele are some of the names who make up an elite list of talent all crystalised in Dortmund. The only one who has rebelled the strategy and played his loyalty card is Marco Reus.
Since Jude Bellingham’s departure, this is the first season in quite some time that Dortmund have gone into the season without a recognised starboy. Versions of Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, Juran Duranville and Giovanni Reyna have not hit those promised heights yet, primarily due to an injury pattern. In fact, the closest thing is Gregor Kobel (25)… or starman Julian Brandt (27).
Brandt does not hit the criteria as his predecessors did, but his level of stardom is the nearest thing to excellence in the current Dortmund squad. The journey to get there has been gradual, as he has played for a number of Bundesliga sides despite being in his mid-20s. This season has seen him encouragingly stand out as a key player for Edin Terzic’s side. With that in mind, there are three significant seasons that will honourably be discussed as they have shaped the trajectory of the German’s career in some way, shape or form.
Petr Bosz joined Bayer Leverkusen a few days before Christmas in 2018, replacing Heiko Herrlich. The Dutchman implemented the same 4-3-3 formation that brought him much success at Ajax in 2016. Brandt at the time was playing at left wing for the majority of his career. Bosz moved him into a central role alongside Kai Havertz, with both of them playing as 8/10 hybrids. It caused a revelation for Brandt as a player as his productivity levels rose excellently, and he would be used in this capacity by future managers. To date, this is still his highest measure of goal involvements in a single season (10G & 17A in all competitions), thanks to Bosz.
When Brandt came to Borussia Dortmund, he found it difficult to settle into his new team for quite some time. In this particular point in time, Brandt had only started 4 out of the opening 9 Bundesliga games as manager Lucien Favre favoured a 4-2-3-1 system, often utilising an attacking trio of Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus and Thorgan Hazard behind Paco Alcacer in the first portion of the season. With Achraf Hakimi and Raphael Guerreiro often deployed in more advanced roles on the wing, this further limited Brandt’s place in the team.
It was not until a switch to 3-4-2-1 with a central partnership between Brandt and Axel Witsel that brought the player back into the fold of relevance. This system would allow Guerreiro and Hakimi to play more advanced whilst using Hazard and Sancho as inside forwards to support an upcoming starlet named Erling Haaland up front. The switch led to Brandt’s role in the team becoming more significant, collecting 7 goals and 13 assists in all competitions by the season’s end.
This season, Brandt’s overall game has gone up a notch and really settled into the top percentiles within the Bundesliga bubble. As the numbers below show, Brandt is in the top 1-2% percentile for creativity-led stats such as assists, xA and key passes.
This is even more impressive given the creativity struggles that Dortmund have had this season under Edin Terzic’s management. Jude Bellingham’s departure subtracted a significant amount of balance and creativity in the middle of the park. Felix Nmecha and Marcel Sabitzer were bought in the summer but are nowhere near as creative or confident in progressive ball-carrying.
This has often resorted to Dortmund’s over-reliance on wing play, where Brandt has been playing for the majority of the season so far. This has been a consequence of playing a 4-2-3-1 system and Terzic’s insistence on playing a holding midfielder (Emre Can/Salih Özcan) and one of Nmecha and Sabitzer to compensate for Reus at #10 as he is no longer able to meet the demands of a wide player.
The proven assumption is that Brandt excels most when he is playing in a ‘free’ role. Rumours circulate that Premier League giants Liverpool and Arsenal could be interested in Brandt for next season. In either scenario, he would either be reunited with Kai Havertz in London or play under Jürgen Klopp in Merseyside. If Mohamed Salah does leave for Saudi Arabia next summer, it could open a number of tactical doors and money for Klopp to play with as part of his 4-3-3 attacking setup. Time may be Brandt’s best friend, as he awaits to see how things go down at Dortmund for the remainder of this season and at Euro 2024. It might after all be fitting that Brandt does fit into the new business strategy at Dortmund.
By: Abdullah Mamaniyat / @mxmnyt
Data visuals: @DataMB_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / BSR Agency / Getty Images