Why it’s make or break for Borussia Dortmund tonight: Losing to Man City could force summer sales of Haaland, Sancho and more after £65m Covid hit, and with their Champions League place next season in grave danger
- Borussia Dortmund must turn around 2-1 deficit to beat Manchester City and reach the semi-finals of the Champions League
- A return to Europe’s elite competition next season is far from assured for Dortmund, who are seven points shy of fourth spot in the Bundesliga
- They aren’t widely fancied to win the competition but victory over favourites City could persuade some of their star assets to stay another year
- Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho have been linked with big-money summer moves as Europe’s leading clubs circle
- It’s hard to imagine either playing Europa League football next season
- Loss of Champions League prize money off the back of £65million financial hit from Covid-19 pandemic could force club to sell one or both of them
Ahead of last week’s first leg, the Borussia Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke assessed his team’s chances of beating Manchester City and reaching the Champions League semi-finals at just 10 per cent.
One Marco Reus away goal and a slender 2-1 City victory later, only achieved thanks to Phil Foden’s last-minute winner, and Watzke believes that percentage is now ‘much better’.
That’s just as well because a great deal hinges on Wednesday night’s return leg at the Westfalenstadion for Dortmund, both on and off the field.
Borussia Dortmund celebrate a potentially crucial away goal by Marco Reus (right) in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final with Manchester City
But in the end, Dortmund were left crestfallen after Phil Foden’s last-minute winner for City
Playing against the cream of European football in the Champions League has become an expectation for Dortmund – just once in the past decade have they failed to qualify.
And making it into the continent’s elite competition forms a virtuous circle.
Their share of the revenue from UEFA’s enormous prize pot enables them to replenish and strengthen their squad without the need to sell star players each and every summer, therefore allowing them to compete at the upper end of the Bundesliga and qualify once again.
But the assurance of the last few years that Dortmund will finish in the Bundesliga top four has vanished amid what has been a season of turbulence, managerial change and the constant background noise around leading players Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho.
Dortmund’s chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke is well aware of what is riding on Wednesday night’s second leg at the Westfalenstadion
Dortmund have to bridge a seven-point gap with just six rounds of matches remaining to qualify for next season’s Champions League through the Bundesliga top four
With just six rounds of the league season remaining, Dortmund find themselves fifth in the table and seven points adrift of Eintracht Frankfurt in the last of the Champions League places.
As it stands, they would be playing Europa League football next season for the first time since 2016 and that isn’t an attractive proposition for Haaland, Sancho, Watzke, incoming coach Marco Rose or anyone really.
Which makes Wednesday night’s meeting with City so significant. While few are tipping Dortmund to go all the way and win this season’s Champions League, eliminating favourites City would send out a powerful message.
It might just succeed in convincing one or two of their big names to stay put another year, embrace Rose’s rebuilding project and help mount a title challenge to Bayern Munich.
Dortmund’s Norwegian striker Erling Haaland is attracting interest from Europe’s elite clubs
Jadon Sancho has been linked with a move to Manchester United ahead of the summer
Of course, going on to win the Champions League – the winner of this tie faces the daunting prospect of Paris Saint-Germain in the last four – would secure them a return ticket for next season.
It has been estimated that failing to qualify will cost Dortmund £26million. And like every other club, they have been rocked financially by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The fact their enormous 81,000-capacity stadium is sitting empty on matchdays has cost a colossal £65m in lost revenue this season.
Fortunately, the club was in pretty robust financial health prior to the pandemic with barely any debt. Even after almost a year without fans, that debt only stands at around £22m, as Watzke confirmed last month.
As he told the BBC this week: ‘When Covid-19 struck, we had no debt. Not one Euro. Because of that, it is a comfortable situation. We do not have to sell a player. That is important.’
Haaland’s agent Mino Raiola has been gauging interest in the striker from Europe’s top clubs
Big-money sales of Sancho and Haaland would wipe out Dortmund’s debts at a stroke but would leave them significantly weakened next season
That may have been the case last summer, when Dortmund told Manchester United that Sancho had a price of £108m and not a penny lower, but a failure to make the Champions League could well tip the balance this year.
There have been reports that behind the scenes a list of players who could potentially be sold to balance the books has been drawn up.
It includes the 21-year-old England star Sancho, whose value would only be enhanced by a successful Euros, as well as 18-year-old American starlet Giovanni Reyna and the more experienced left-back Raphael Guerreiro.
Reports have suggested that Dortmund would accept an offer of £86m for Sancho this time around, which reflects the concern about lost Champions League income, especially given he is contracted through to 2023.
Then there is the Haaland situation, which already resembles a travelling circus as his father Alf-Inge and agent Mino Raiola visited Barcelona and then Real Madrid in the same day.
The loss of matchday revenue from over 80,000 fans has cost Dortmund £65m this season
The young American Giovanni Reyna (left) is reportedly on an ’emergency list’ of players who Dortmund could sell if they fail to make the Champions League
Visits to the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea are likely to follow as they try and spark the bidding war to end all bidding wars when the summer window opens.
This would be great news for Dortmund’s coffers, if only they wanted to sell the super-prolific Norwegian. He has scored 33 times in 34 matches this season, albeit not in his last six for club and country.
In an ideal world, next season’s rebuild will be based around their talisman and despite Raiola’s best efforts, Dortmund are still in the position of strength.
Haaland’s £68m buy-out clause kick in during the summer of 2022, when it’s almost certain he’ll depart. By that time, they could be top of the Bundesliga and well on course to return to the Champions League.
And after all, what’s one extra year for a 20-year-old destined to be the greatest player in the world when he reaches his prime?
Champions League football has come to be expected every season by the Dortmund fans
So for Dortmund, the outcome of their second leg with City goes far beyond the simple consequence of making the semi-finals.
It will shape the complexion of their team for next season, determine whether star assets stay or depart, affect their financial circumstances and their prestige within European football.
So can Dortmund do it? A simple 1-0 win would be sufficient thanks to that away goal at the Etihad, yet interim coach Edin Terzic was speaking as though a mountain needs to be climbed.
A spate of injuries provides Dortmund’s main concern. Sancho won’t be fit enough to feature despite returning to training after a thigh injury, while Reus and defender Mats Hummels are also doubtful.
Dortmund’s interim coach Edin Terzic (right) addresses his players in training on Tuesday
Defender Mats Hummels is one of several doubts for Wednesday’s match against Man City
The latter pair were both substituted early in Saturday’s 3-2 win over Stuttgart after picking up knocks.
Their absence would be keenly felt against Pep Guardiola’s City side, romping away with a third Premier League title in four seasons and powered by a sense of destiny when it comes to winning a maiden Champions League title.
‘Belief is big but belief alone will not be enough,’ Terzic said. ‘It will be a brutally difficult task. So believing is not enough. We also need hard work.
‘It’s about showing we can play against the best team in the world and maybe eliminate the best team in the world from the competition.’
It could yet be one of the most famous nights in Dortmund’s illustrious history. But whatever happens, the ramifications will extend far beyond just 90 minutes on Wednesday night.
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