Bundesliga

Is Greed Killing European Football?

Wednesday 14th November 2018: German publication Der Spiegel publishes it’s latest instalment of their Football Leaks articles, revealing how Chelsea midfielder and World Cup winner N’Golo Kante refused to be paid part of his Chelsea salary through Jersey for tax benefit and to receive offshore image rights payments. Kante has rightly been lauded as being one of the seemingly few top-level footballers who is not abusing the tax system.

Just let that last sentence sink in for a moment. We’re lauding Kante for being one of the few footballers at the highest level who is doing the right thing. Much like the Lance Armstrong doping era in cycling, it now seems the number of footballers who are not manipulating the system for financial gain are few and far between.

The Football Leaks documents have shown that the world’s best in football have been engaged in tax avoidance for maximum financial benefit. Mainly centring around Spanish clubs the world’s elite of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have both been forced to pay fines and back taxes for dodging tax. Predicted Ballon D’Or winner Luka Modric has also fallen foul of this, and now also faces a potential perjury charge back in Croatia for links with a former agent whilst at Dinamo Zagreb.

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Luka Modric wins the best FIFA men’s player 2018, yet he has been embroiled in a tax evasion scandal of which he could now face perjury charges for back in Croatia. Photo: Ben Stansall AFP/Getty Images. 

World super-agents such as Pino Zahavi, Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola are all facing allegations based from the latest Football Leaks documents. Zahavi is accused of flouting Belgian league rules by owning Royal Mouscron, along with potential fraud and money laundering charges from Belgian police.  Mendes is accused of bypassing English FA rules with a clear conflict of interest as he appears to profit from player transfers from his business partner who owns Wolves. Finally Raiola is accused of breaking FIFA rules on player transfers by not disclosing he was negotiating on behalf of all three parties in the record-breaking transfer of Paul Pogba from Juventus to Manchester United in 2016, thus earning himself a £41 million pound commission.

The latest allegations are a more serious sporting violation, with articles outlining star Real Madrid and Spain defender Sergio Ramos failing a doping test only hours after beating Juventus to win the Champions League in 2017. He is said to have tested positive for banned in-competition dexamethasone, a cortisone preparation which is an anti-inflammatory which can also help improve concentration levels.

Ramos is also accused in a separate incident from April 2017 of defying anti-doping protocol and taking a shower before providing a urine sample. In Spanish anti-doping regulation to knowingly do this could be considered an violation of anti-doping laws.

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Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos celebrates winning the 2017 Champions League final against Juventus. Hours later he is alleged to have failed an anti-doping test. Photo: Press Association.

This is not even taking into account the fact that in the build-up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, several players from the Russian national side were under suspicion of doping as part of the national sporting doping programme that was exposed after the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

The Russian Football Union sent FIFA a list of eleven professional players who played in Russia who were under suspicsion for doping. Yet due to confidentiality reasons they would not disclose these names with FIFA without written permission from these athletes. This farcical explanation doesn’t pain Russia in an entirely positive light, and Der Spiegel alleges that two of those names were Russia national team defenders Sergei Ignashevich and Mario Fernandes. Star midfielder Denis Cheryshev’s father is also quoted as saying in the build-up to the World Cup his son was given an injection containing growth hormone.

FIFA is also alleged to have dragged it’s heels with a potential independent investigation into doping in Russian football, prolonging this to prevent an adequate investigation being completed before the 2018 World Cup was held in Russia. Maria Claudia Rojas has effectively been FIFA General Secretary, and stalled for months with leading anti-doping investigator Richard McLaren about setting up an investigation into Russia ahead of the World Cup.

The Premier League has not escaped the Football Leaks documents, with champions Manchester City accused of flouting financial fair play rules, along with examples of some of the leagues top clubs and players being accused of avoiding tax on agent fees and players image rights. Then you have outgoing Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore close to getting to £5 million farewell pay-off, and the PFA spending £1.65 million on a L.S Lowry painting, yet only spends £100 000 pounds on research into links between football and dementia.

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This 1953 L.S Lowry oil painting Going to the Match was bought by the PFA in 1999 for £1.9 million pounds, yet they only spend £100 000 pounds on research into dementia and football. Photo: L.S Lowry/ The Lowry Collection.

Even the Bundesliga, often held up by many fans as the last bastion of fan power within corporate European football has not escaped the greed. In 2016 champions Bayern Munich secretly began planning to breakaway from the Bundesliga along with Europe’s elite, to create a European Super League to replace the Champions League. Lawyers were also drafted in to look at whether they could refuse to release their players for the German national side, to keep them fresh for their club side.

Of course all of these allegations are simply that, and nothing has so far been proven and everyone involved should be given the benefit of innocence until proven to the contrary, however the latest allegations that are presented in the Football Leaks documents provide detailed and compelling evidence. We must not also forget that their first round of allegations led to a lot of unpaid tax convictions across the football landscape that led to suspended prison sentences and heavy fines.

The points that I have listed in this blog are only the tip of the iceberg from the second wave of Football Leaks documents, and they paint a damning image of modern European football. Clubs are trying to bypass the history and tradition of both their club and national sides for financial benefit, along with abandoning the fans who have made these clubs the best in their respective countries. The day that any European Super League is announced will be a very dark day for all football fans.

For professional football players and their super agents, with the exorbitant wages they already earn, to then be trying to maximise their earning further by funneling money through offshore tax havens and not declaring it as gifts to themselves is just greed of the highest order. I can imagine that being taxed heavily is extremely frustrating, but these players and agents will still be earning more than 99% of the population after tax. The potential court cases and perjury charges pertaining to this are an unfortunate consequence of corporate greed that has engulfed football in Europe.

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Borussia Dortmund fans protest at rising ticket prices in the Bundesliga, but yet the club were in talks to join a European Super League several years ago. Photo: Getty Images. 

If these doping allegations prove to be true about the likes of Sergio Ramos and the Russian national players, then what are the hundreds of millions of fans worldwide watching. Fans want to see the best players in the world, not simply the players whose bodies are the most responsive to doping products. We have seen in other sports such as baseball and cycling how widespread doping can ruin the spectacle, leaving fans questioning every good athletic performance. Please don’t let this happen to football. The anti-doping authorities at FIFA have more work to do, as their commitment to the anti-doping message is severely questioned by their obtuse tactics with Richard McLaren and setting up a truly independent investigation into Russia.

The Premier League is widely recognised as the best and most competitive league in the world, with a global following that is unmatched by any other league. The unfortunate truth is that the massive influx of money into the Premier League have largely turned it into a corporate entertainment event. Many fans complain of high ticket prices, players and managers earn obscene wages and the players union spends almost twenty times as much on famous paintings as they do on research into links between football and dementia just shows that money has become a primary motivator for the majority of people associated with the Premier League.

For anyone interested please check out some of the Football Leaks stories from Der Spiegel and their partners at the EIC network a list of their articles can be found here. If you have any comments or reaction to this article I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments section below. Anyone interested can find me on Twitter @JWjournalism and thank you for reading!

By Jordan Wilkins

 

 

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The Disconnect Between the Fans in the Premier League and Bundesliga

The Premier League is known across the world as being the best and most competitive club league in the world.  Football fans across the world tune-in every week to watch players like Kevin De Bruyne and David De Gea, but for all the superstars on the pitch and in the dugout, in terms of fan engagement the Premier League lacks massively behind it’s European counterparts.

Fans in other major European leagues are allowed to express themselves, with flares and choreographic displays common. This ultra culture has not made it across to the U.K on a major scale, and restrictive stadium rules in England severely limit what fans in England can do to show their support for their team besides chanting.

This is a huge factor behind fan disengagement in the Premier League, but other forces are also at play here. As I mentioned in my previous post  the Premier League is becoming an increasingly consumerist for fans. So let’s compare it to another significant European league, the Bundesliga, to see how they stack up in terms of fan engagement.

The Premier League has become the preeminent club league in the world thanks to it’s entertaining brand of football and host of top world players who grace it’s clubs. This has allowed them to market the league into massive TV contracts both in England and across the world. The Premier League sold it’s last domestic TV deal to broadcasters Sky Sports and BT Sport for 2016-2019 for a cool £5.136 billion pounds. Now the Bundesliga has just celebrated it’s biggest ever TV deal for 2017-2021 for £4.123 billion pounds.

This has a direct impact on the spending power of clubs in the two leagues. In the 2017 summer transfer window Premier League clubs spent a massive £1 billion pounds on player transfers, attracting the worlds best to England. In that same period Bundesliga clubs spent £391 million. Now granted the Bundesliga has two less teams at 18, yet this does not explain a gulf of £609 million pounds between the two leagues spending.

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Alvaro Morata shows off his Chelsea kit last summer after signing for £58 million pounds. This is despite having over 35 players on-loan last season. Photo: ChelseaFC.com.

Premier League clubs also use season ticket prices as yet another revenue stream for themselves. Bayern Munich are by far the biggest club in Germany, affectionately known as ‘FC Hollywood’ for their lavish spending, yet the cheapest season ticket they sell comes in at a measly £125 pounds. Now if we compare that to the biggest club in England, Manchester United, the sum is rather more at £532 pounds.

These figures on season ticket pricing explain why the Bundesliga regularly tops it’s rivals in terms of average attendances. For the 2017/18 season the Bundesliga averages 44,650 fans across all 18 clubs, whereas the Premier League averaged 38,300 fans across it’s 20 clubs.  The latest figures also showed than in breakdowns of specific clubs, German giants Borussia Dortmund topped Europe with an average of 80,830 fans per game. A third of all the top thirty clubs in Europe for attendance came from the Bundesliga.

Whilst the Premier League is the richest league in the world, this relative lack of financial resources in the Bundesliga has led them to take a different approach when it comes to footballing talent. The English model at the moment is largely to use their massive financial resources to sign ready made talent from the rest of the world, whereas the Bundesliga model is more conducive to developing local talent from a young age.

This also affects the respective national sides of both countries. England performed well at the most recent World Cup in Russia, reaching a semi-final when the nation was more used to disappointment and frustration in major tournaments. For Germany the 2018 World Cup was one to forget with a group stage exit, yet in recent decades their respective fortunes have been a reverse of what happened in Russia.

Italia 1990 was the last time England reached a World Cup semi-final, and Euro 96 as host nation was the last time they reached a semi-final of a European Championships. In this same period Germany has won the World Cup twice, and reached a semi-final a further three times. In the European Championships they have a further victory and three consecutive final or semi-final appearances. It’s actually the national sides poor performance at Euro 2000 which initiated what we see today in the Bundesliga.

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German players console themselves after a group stage exit at Euro 2000. This disappointment started a new youth orientated project that has seen them become one of the best nations on earth. Photo: FourFourTwo.com

After an early group stage exit, reform in German football came swiftly. Every club in the top two German leagues was required to have an academy by the 2002-03 season to obtain a professional licence to play in these leagues. Within two years the 36 clubs had spent a combined £77.5 million pounds developing their academies.

The German FA also stepped in, creating over 365 centers across the country for young kids to receive coaching from 1,300 qualified FA coaches. National U19 and U17 leagues were also created to help develop youth players. This wide scale change in direction focusing on youth development has proved massively beneficial to both Bundesliga clubs and the national side.

Premier League clubs or the English FA do not seem to have this approach, as thousands of talented young players are left by the wayside of the extravagant spending their clubs make on foreign players. The Chelsea FC example is an extreme one, but does show the overall mindset of the the people in charge of these Premier League clubs. At some stages last season the club had 38 players out on-loan, largely made up of young English players who cannot reach the Chelsea first team.

Tammy Abraham proved prolific in the Championship with 23 goals but still could only find himself a loan move to another Premier League side, Swansea. Ruben Loftus-Cheek played in the 2018 World Cup for England, yet is still forced out on-loan to get game time. Lewis Baker was voted the Chelsea young player of the year in 2013/14 season, but since then has been forced to make successive loan moves to get minutes.

These examples show how in England promising young players are having their progress stunted because of foreign superstars. Despite having 38 players on-loan last season, Chelsea still spent £235.5 million pounds during the season, signing expensive foreign players with a proven pedigree.

The attraction of the Bundesliga is clear to see, and it’s sparked an English invasion as young players are now increasingly looking at the Bundesliga as the best place to develop their game. In recent years promising young players Reece Oxford of West Ham has joined Borussia Monchengladbach and Ademola Lookman of Everton has joined R.B Leipzig on-loan. Jadon Sancho has also left reigning champions Manchester City to join renowned youth player developers Borussia Dortmund permanently.

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Jadon Sancho left Manchester City to pursue more first-team opportunities with Borussia Dortmund. Photo: Getty Images.

With the spending power of the Premier League and the youth orientated focus in the Bundesliga, it’s no surprise that the stats show a big difference in the percentage of foreign players in each league. The Premier League in 2017/18 was made up overwhelmingly of foreign players at 64.1%, whereas the Bundesliga last season was just over half at 53.9%.

Players from across the world are attracted to the Premier League thanks to it’s popularity and the financial rewards on offer. Player salaries in the Premier League far outweigh the Bundesliga, therefore it’s usually an easy decision for well-known players to move to the Premier League.

Bayern Munich are the only team that can financially compete with a top level Premier League club, with an average salary of $6.74 million dollars per year for their players. This matches the top two Premier League clubs Manchester United and Manchester City, who each spend $6.81 million dollars per year. Outside of this however the Bundesliga falls well behind it’s English rival. Borussia Dortmund are second in Germany with $3.56 million dollars per year, yet that figure would put them ninth in the Premier League spending last season.

All of this information shows that the Bundesliga is more willing to give young players a chance than the Premier League. It also shows that the Bundesliga is more willing to give young aspiring managers a chance also. Last season the average age of a Premier League manager was 49.95 years old, yet in the Bundesliga it was 44.6 years old. 45% of Premier League managers are over 50, whereas it’s 27% in the Bundesliga.

Whilst a lot of these stats show various figures, they do not explain explicitly why the Bundesliga has better fan engagement than the Premier League. They do however help explain the various factors behind the matter.  The vast wealth of the Premier League has allowed it’s clubs the financial resources to go out and spend big sums for ready made foreign players with a proven track record in prominent leagues.

Fans do not have an affinity with these players because they cannot relate to them. They earn massive sums and do not orbit the same world as the fans. These players often move for financial just as much as footballing reasons, therefore these players know little of the history of the clubs they play for or the city they live in.

Football fans feel a much closer affinity to players who have graduated from a clubs academy because they already known about the club and are more likely to be from the same area as the fans. This is much more apparent in the Bundesliga, where talented youngsters are given chances to gain experience in the first team long before most young English players.

Ticket pricing and increasing commercial aspects within football stadiums are leaving fans feeling like customers not fans, yet in the Bundesliga fans are still held up as the lifeblood of football clubs and are allowed to express the love for their team more overtly than their English counterparts.

The Premier League these days has become a very effective consumer package, where clubs increasingly use revenue streams from sponsors to help them buy the players needed to consolidate their position in the Premier League and compete with their rivals in Europe. In turn sponsors get to market their products exclusively to a large fan base which increases their sales and revenue.

The Bundesliga still feels for many football fans like how football should be. Fans are allowed to show their passion for their team, as they watch a blend of top class players and young academy graduates. Initiatives like the 50+1 rule mean fans will always be the most important thing about Bundesliga football clubs, yet that dream has long since passed in the Premier League. For all it’s wealth and world superstars, the Premier League could learn a lot from the Bundesliga.

I would like to give a massive thanks to Reddit.com, TransferMarkt.com, Statista.com, Goal.com and The Guardian for their help with the research for this article.

If you have an opinion on this topic please leave your comments below I would massively appreciate it!

By Jordan Wilkins

Are Premier League Supporters Fans or Consumers?

Football grew into the nation’s favourite sport through the lower classes of English society. Less than a hundred years ago fans and players would take time off from factory or other manual work to go and watch their local team play. Fast forward to 2018 and the landscape is now very different.

The clampdown on hooliganism in the late 1980’s and the advent of the Premier League in 1992 have been major contributors as the game attracted an entire new audience and a new family atmosphere in stadiums. In the last 25 years player transfer fees and ticket prices have skyrocketed, increasingly taking the sport from it’s working-class roots of community football clubs to more affluent worldwide businesses.

In 1990 the cheapest ticket at Manchester United cost £3.50, yet by the 2016/17 season it would cost £31. This is an increase of over 700%, a massive increase on the normal cost of living inflation. If the ticket price had kept pace with typical inflation the cost today would be a measly £9.

This is a recurring theme amongst the other Premier League giants. An Arsenal ticket cost £5 in 1990, in today’s money that would be £11. Yet the cheapest match day ticket is now £26, a rise of over 400% on normal inflation. Everton tickets cost £4.50 in 1990, which is £11 in today’s money. Yet they have the second highest cheapest ticket at £38, a 600% increase.

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Liverpool fans protesting increases in ticket prices, and a reminder that supporters should not be treated like consumers. Photo credit: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images.

It’s not just match tickets where the sport has seen massive financial increases. TV rights to the Premier League cost Sky Sports £191 million pounds for 1992-1997. With the Premier League rising to be the preeminent league in the world, in just twenty years both Sky Sports and BT will pay a combined  £5.1 billion pounds for the latest 2016-2019 TV rights deal.

This astronomical increase is soon due to the replicated by the separate world TV rights deals, with Premier League clubs increasingly expanding across the world to increase their fan support and reach. Plenty of clubs will have pre-season tours in emerging markets such as North America and Asia for this very purpose.

Premier League clubs now seem to follow the consumerist practices of lucrative exclusive sponsorship agreements. Chelsea FC for example have the likes of Singha as official beer supplier, Vitality as official health insurance partner and William Hill as official betting partner. This is all on top of three premier sponsors such as shirt sponsors Yokohama Tyres and Carabao energy drink.

This trend is now becoming commonplace, and follows basic consumer principles. It allows their partners to market their products exclusively to the fanbase of the club, showing just how lucrative Premier League clubs can be to potential sponsors. Whilst its great for sponsors, it means fans will be restricted on what they can bring into the stadium, and forces them to typically pay high prices for commodities such as beer and food that they may typically not want.

In the Premier League fans have grew increasingly frustrated with the rise in the price of football, from match-day tickets to official merchandise and memorabilia.  Fans are increasingly struggling to relate to the millionaire players on the pitch also, as a players weeks wages is more than 99% of the fans will earn in a year. This is similarly reflected in transfer fees, which again show how footballers are increasingly inhabiting another world of wealth and opulence that does not reflect the real world.

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The famous Yellow Wall at Borussia Dortmund highlights how the link between players and fans is still alive, something that is not evident in the Premier League. Photo copyright: Bongarts/Getty Images.

The only major league in Europe which appears to be combating this is the German Bundesliga.  Whilst the league has the same players and wage structures as it’s European rivals, it does at least appear to be attempting to keep footballs traditional fanbase. Fans can buy season tickets to league winners Bayern Munich for £125, whereas the only Premier League club cheaper than that was newly promoted Huddersfield at £100.

Fans are also the majority owners of every Bundesliga club, thanks to the much publicised 50 plus one rule. This is to stop billionaire owners such as Roman Abramovich at Chelsea owning German clubs. With their emphasis on fans its no surprise the Bundesliga has the highest average attendance of any league in Europe. It leads with an average of 41 000, ahead of the Premier League in 36 000 and La Liga at 28 000.

German giants Borussia Dortmund top the European league table for average attendance with 80 830 fans per game on average, well ahead of Manchester United in second with 75 027. The Bundesliga dominated the final standings with ten of the top thirty average attendances coming from the German league.

The future of the Premier League looks rosy from a commercial standpoint, with increasingly revenue streams through partners and TV allowing them to attract the worlds best players to the Premier League. The league is the richest in the world and shows no sign of losing this title, yet as the revenue streams increase the further the game is going away from its fans.

In the modern game fans cannot relate to the players on the pitch, world superstars earning hundreds of thousands of pounds per week. The heart and soul of English football is being slowly eradicated by the Premier League, and it’s something that I think the Premier League can learn from the Bundesliga.

The Bundesliga is another top European league with strong teams and great players, but the fans are not being priced out of the game. The league and the clubs have kept the affordable tickets for the traditional fanbase, ensuring that world famous shows of support such as the Yellow Wall at Borussia Dortmund are a regular occurrence. With the way the Premier League is currently operating, it’s hard to see something like the Yellow Wall ever be allowed to happen. And that’s sad. Proper fan culture is being replaced by commercialization culture. Fans should be treated as just that, not consumers, otherwise the heart and soul of the Premier League will keep diminishing.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Let me know in the comments section below and feel free to find me on Twitter @JWjournalism I’d love to hear your thoughts and thank you for reading. 

Can Borussia Dortmund Ever Reach Their Previous Heights Again?

The 12th May 2012. Borussia Dortmund are a club in a state of ecstasy. Having retained their Bundesliga title they have humiliated rivals Bayern Munich with a 5-2 trouncing in the DFB Pokal to secure the double for the first time in the clubs history.  This was the moment that Dortmund cemented themselves as the benchmark team in German football, and it would also be the beginning of the end of their reign.

In the four years since that magic moment a lot has changed for the club. A lot of the key players from that team have since left for pastures new, tempted by big money offers from bigger clubs. The charismatic manager Jurgen Klopp has also departed, leaving after a testing 2014/15 season, replaced by Thomas Tuchel. He is seen in German football as the man most like Klopp, and not simply because he has followed his path from Mainz to Dortmund.

In an attempt to return Dortmund to the days of challenging Bayern Munich for the title this summer the club spent a very uncharacteristic amount of money to try and compete for the title.  After finishing last season in second place they used the money from high profile departures of Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan with fellow world class talent.

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Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben is dejection personified as the rival Borussia Dortmund players celebrate yet another goal in their 5-2 humiliation of the German football titans in the 2012 DFB-Pokal final. This result would have wide ranging consequences in the coming years. Photo copyright Associated Press. 

Replacing central defensive rock Hummels was young Barcelona player Marc Bartra, whilst central midfielder Gundogan was replaced with the returning Mario Gotze. The Dortmund youth product left bitterly to main rivals Bayern Munich, but after struggling to cement himself has now returned to his hometown team. Finally Mkhitaryan was replaced with Germany international Andre Schurrle.

It wasn’t just the present that the club was looking at this summer. Looking towards the future they signed several very promising young talents such as forwards Ousmane Dembele and Emre Mor from Rennes and Nordsjaelland respectively. Midfielders Mikel Merino and Sebastian Rode were also signed from Osasuna and Bayern Munich whilst left back Raphael Guerreiro joined from Lorient.

These youngsters along with Bartra join talented players already at the club such as midfielders Christian Pulisic and Julian Weigl along with emerging defenders Erik Durm, Matthias Ginter and Felix Passlack. Whilst this season things have not gone perfectly for the team in the league this season, they currently sit a close fifth but a long way off the top two Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig, in the cup competitions they have shown promise.

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Dortmund’s striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang shows the emotions when celebrating a crucial Champions League equaliser against powerhouses Real Madrid at home. He has cemented himself as one of the world’s best strikers and the Madrid club are strongly linked with a £60 million plus bid for him next summer. The match would end 2-2 but Dortmund would have the last laugh, topping the group. Photo copyright TF Images/Getty Images.

They have made it to the last 16 of the DFB-Pokal cup and will be hoping they can continue their good record in the competition.  In the Champions League they have also impressed as they overcame Real Madrid to top their group unbeaten as they now face Benfica in the next round.

It’s clear that the club are still in transition right now, with the legacy of the Klopp era looming largely over the club still. This is entirely natural as his reign took the club from mid-table obscurity to German football powerhouses and world football pioneers. With the squad also in transition as the previous generation of unknown players leave for bigger clubs the next generation of talent is coming through into the first team.

With the likes of Marco Reus and Gotze to guide them they have the potential to once again challenge the established order in Germany, much like RB Leipzig have done this season. The squad is getting younger and this can only mean good things for the future, therefore don’t think that because the majority of well known players and manager Klopp have gone,that the Borussia Dortmund era is over. It might simply be regenerating with a new assortment of players and manager at the helm.

By Jordan Wilkins

Thank you for reading and if you have any comments feel free to post them below. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.