Kloppos Kindergarten - A report on Borussia's young guns Part I
The season 2004/05 marked a significant change in Borussia Dortmunds business practices. Due to limited funds, as the ominous events, which culminated in the financial meltdown in spring 2005, were already in progress (Watzke: “BVB was not in intensive care, but in the lobby of the mortuary”), Borussia Dortmund was forced to focus less on purchasing experienced international stars and had to take a look at the talent available in the own reserve and youth teams. Coach Bert van Maarwijk, who was surprised, to find Borussia Dortmund in such a poor financial state on his arrival in summer 2004, made the most of the situation and added young players to his line-up. This provided players like Kruska, Brzenska or Demel with the chance to emerge and led ultimately to the most successful 2nd half of a season in Borussias Bundesliga history in 2005. During a time when Borussia was facing bankruptcy, a team, formed of upcoming youngsters and experienced cornerstones like Koller, Kehl and Dede, alongside with its enthusiastic supporters proved, that this club was very much alive indeed.
But the trust in home-grown talent soon began to fade. Bert van Maarwijk, who still supported the youngsters the following season (a.o. Nuri Sahin), was sacked in winter 2006 and, after a short and chaotic intermezzo under Jürgen Röber, was replaced by Thomas Doll, who preferred to work with more experienced players. Only with the arrival of Jürgen Klopp in 2008 a financial necessity became the concept to develop a team with the prospect of a golden future. He formed a closer link between the Bundesliga squad and reserve and youth teams, managed to incorporate a bunch of young players in leading roles and still came up with the team hardest to beat in the league (only 8 defeats in 53 games). At this point it is time to take a closer look not only at the rising stars, which already form the backbone of a successful team, but also at some aspiring youngsters still waiting for their time to shine. Because with Übungsleiter Klopp you never know, who will be next on the starting line-up.
Here´s Borussia generation U23, commonly referred to as Kloppos Kindergarten.
U23 players in the BVB squad:
The experienced and undisputed Roman Weidenfeller (aged 29) and his loyal and capable substitute Marc Ziegler (33) have given young and upcoming goalies at BVB a hard time in the last couple of years. For example the talented Sören “HUMBA-God” Pirson (24) left the club in summer 07, due to lack of perspective, which seems to have been the right choice for him, as he is now a starter with 2nd Bundesliga Club RW Oberhausen. He will always be remembered by the supporters of our reserve for his great singing abilities. Marcel Höttecke (23) is the starting keeper of our reserve team this season. He already had the chance to play 5 matches for BVB in the Bundesliga in 07/08, when Weidenfeller and Ziegler were injured at the same time. Höttecke has played three times for the German U20 team. Marcel has already announced to leave Dortmund at the end of this season, when his contract runs out. Höttecke missed the complete season 08/09 due to a cruciate ligament rupture and was replaced by Lucas Kruse. When Kruse moved on to Augsburg, BVB U19 Goalie Johannes Focher (20) got to play the 2nd half of the season with the reserve and had a good share in the ultimately successful hunt for Kaiserslautern II, which ended with the promotion of our reserve to league 3. His efforts were recognized by coach Klopp, and Focher was invited to join the squad for their recent winter boot camp in Marbella, even though he is just the substitute goalie of the reserve team this season.
The defence is maybe the part of the current BVB squad, where young players had the biggest impact. After being the worst in the league in 07/08 with 62 goals conceded, Borussia ended the first season under coach Klopp as 2nd best defence, with only 37 goals scored against us. And this progress was achieved by one of the youngest defensive line-ups in the Bundesliga.
Mats Hummels (21), who started his career in the youth teams of Buyern Munich, where his dad worked as a coach, joined the BVB in january 2008. At first he was loaned, but in summer 2009 Borussia bought Mats for €4.2m. In his first half year, although he showed his great talent, Mats could not prevent the disastrous record for the BVB defence. But with coach Thomas Doll, who tried at least 44 different defensive line-ups in the 34 games of the season, it was a hard year for every defender in Dortmund. Mats is an all-around talented defender, but most remarkable about his game, is his coolness at a very early age. Even under pressure he will hardly ever choose to clear the ball with a wide shot, but instead almost always finds a team-mate with a controlled pass. Hummels was joined as centre-back by Neven Subotic (21) in summer 2008, who followed his coach Jürgen Klopp from Mainz 05 to Borussia. It was much discussed in the media, if it was too big a risk, to buy a young defender, who at the time had only one game in Bundesliga 1 plus a season as starter in Bundesliga 2 on his merit, for a transfer fee of €4.5m. Soon these discussions would end abruptly, and different questions arose, like which English club would sign Neven for €20m+. Subotic has a great physique paired with proper technical abilities. While Mats´ game seems a bit more grown-up, Neven might have an even bigger potential. If he learns to keep his concentration up for the whole 90 minutes, he is destined to become one of Europe´s top centre-backs. Neven played every minute of his first season in Dortmund but the last game, which he missed, because he had been booked for the fifth time. He scored six times in 08/09. Hummels and Subotic boosted the quality of Borussias centre-backs to a level unseen in Dortmund since the days of Julio Cesar and Jürgen Kohler. Even though they have not yet reached the class of these legends, they show the predisposition to do so. Borussia Dortmund has not yet lost a league game, when Hummels and Subotic played together as centre-backs. Neven has already won 9 caps for Serbia (1 goal), while Mats won the European U21 championship. Right now Mats is team captain of the U21 and his first nomination for the A-team seems only a matter of time. The dream of Neven and Mats is to meet on the field, when Germany plays Serbia in the world cup 2010 group stage.
When Hummels got injured in winter 08/09 and missed the 2nd half of the season, another young defender stepped up and took his place. Felipe Santana (23), signed by Borussia for €2.1m from Figueirense FC Santa Catarina in Brazil, was still a “dark horse” for most of the BVB supporters, but took their harts by storm with his unorthodox style of defending, being almost invincible, when it comes to headers and showing spectacular sliding tackles. In fact, Santana was so strong, that, returning from his injury, Hummels had to play in midfield, to find a way back into the starting line-up. In the meantime Mats has gained back his favoured position of centre-back from Felipe. But it is still a great relief for every BVB fan, to know, that a defender as gifted and strong as Felipe is ready to step in, if necessary. Remarkably enough Uwe Hünemeier (24), captain of our 3rd division reserve team, is the oldest of the centre-backs in Borussias squad. When needed, he has proven to be a reliable alternative for the pros, but his main job is leading the U23 reserve. The other centre-back of the reserve Lasse Sobiech (19) has also shown his talent in his first half season with the adults. At 1.96m he has the necessary physical presence to awe any striker, but he is also able to handle the ball smoothly. He has played three times each for the German U18 and U19 teams.
Another home grown talent is well on the way of taking the place of a veteran and darling of the fans: Marcel Schmelzer (22) has replaced Dede (31) as left back, whenever he was injured. Schmelzer came a bit out of nowhere even for most Borussia experts. He was a regular starter with the reserve team, but hardly considered to be one of the greater talents of the team. But Jürgen Klopp had already scouted Schmelzer for his former club Mainz 05, so for Klopp he was a natural choice, when Dede was out with his knee injury. But nobody expected Schmelzer to do so well, that it would actually become a hard question, who should start, when both are fit, as Dede has been a natural starter for more than a decade at BVB. At the moment Schmelzer has even conquered the spot in the starting line-up, but no one expects Dede to give in. The two see each other more as colleagues than as rivals, because Schmelzer, who had a self-designed Dede jersey, when he was a kid in Magdeburg, is still looking up to and trying to learn from his more experienced team-mate. Schmelzers main strengths are his quickness and his solid defensive game, but as he gets more confident, he dares to cross the centre line more often and even showed that he can get good crosses into the penalty box, mind for example his assist to Barrios´ goal against Freiburg on Borussias 100th birthday. Schmelzer won the U21 Euro 09 alongside his team-mate Mats Hummels.
Borussias current squad contains no real substitute for the last remaining old fart in our defensive line-up, Patrick “Uwe” Owomoyela (30) on right back, but still the management did not feel the need to buy a player for this position, when Antonio Rukavina and Young-Pyo Lee left the club. This was of course, partly due to the fact, that “Uwe” has overcome a period prone to injuries and plays at a consistent level. But another reason were the high hopes, the club has for another rough diamond, emerging from Borussias youth teams: Julian Koch (19) a local boy, who joined the BVB in 2001. Since then he has played for all the youth teams of Borussia first as a centre-back, later on as right-back. 2008/09 was his first season for the reserve team and an impressive one as well. He was a permanent starter and his aggressiveness and speed soon caught the eye of coach Klopp and Koch was rewarded with a place in Borussias starting line-up for the friendly against Real Madrid last summer, where he had the chance to play against Cristiano Ronaldo. This season has been a little setback for Julian so far. From start he was struggling to adapt to the higher standards in league 3, then he broke his hand. But as he is training permanently with the pros this season, he will develop further and sooner or later will be able, to put the screws on Owomoyela. Julian Koch has played for the German U17 and U18 and is currently part of the U20. Another promising talent, Dortmund born Marc Hornschuh (18) has also played with the pros in some friendlies, but at the moment is rather circling between the benches of pro and reserve team and matches for the U19 as starter. He is a defensive all-rounder, who can play full-back, right-back and as well in defensive midfield. Marc has played for all German youth teams from U15 up and is currently part of the U19. He played a leading role in last years successful BVB U19, that tragically came in 2nd in both the German U19 Championship and Cup.
So much for the young blood in Borussias defence. If this line-up can be kept together for the next couple of seasons, it is easy to predict, that Borussia will remain among the teams hardest to beat. Part 2 will focus on midfield and attack of course. For now, let me assure you, that there are also a lot of talented young players in stock in these departments of Borussias current squad.