When the Bundesliga halted for the World Cup, BVB were sixth, nine points behind table toppers, Bayern Munich. It was a new-look Dortmund team, with 10 players having left and as many having arrived. Today, they’re one game away from the title.
If things fall into place on Saturday, Sebastian Kehl “will have a glass of red wine on Sunday and will enjoy everything.” The Borussia Dortmund Sporting Director will not be the only one celebrating.
For the first time since 2012, the city of Dortmund has the chance to pip Oktoberfest hosts in staging the biggest party in German football. For the first time since 2012, Bundesliga may have a winner that’s not named Bayern Munich. Borussia Dortmund are it.
Seated at 70 points after 33 matchdays — two more than Bayern — all they have to do is win on Saturday against Mainz in front of their typically vociferous home fans at the Signal Iduna Park.
The last time Dortmund won a trophy was in 2021, the DFB Pokal final. One they were unable to celebrate with their fans owing to pandemic restrictions. They’ll surely make up for it come a win on the 34th matchday of the 2022/23 season.
All 17 league games in the ongoing season were sold out to the capacity of 81,365. The 18th can blow the roof off the fabled venue.
“How many people could we bring in on Saturday? I would say perhaps 5,00,000. But the stadium is limited,” says Kehl, who’s had tons of ticket requests for Saturday, including from the players for their families.
It’s been a week without a day off at the club. “What we did is we spoke with the team about this stuff on Monday and Tuesday, and that is something that my experience (as a player) taught me. Then onwards to Saturday, focus only on the game.”
Kehl has been here before. In a playing career spanning 314 games and 14 years at Dortmund, the defensive midfielder managed to lift the league title thrice. The former club captain knows the age-old cliche in sports, focus on the game at hand but that foresight is a must.
“Everybody is just speaking about Saturday but we, as a club, need to organise stuff for Sunday. Because we know what will happen afterwards here in Dortmund. I was there three times and it will be incredible.
“There is no better place to celebrate that than Dortmund,” he reiterates.
What makes him so confident there will be celebrations? After all, the team they face this weekend defeated Bayern Munich 3-1 just last month. “It doesn’t matter which team is the opponent on Saturday,” Kehl says, almost throwing in The Rock impression. “It’s about us.” And for good reason too.
Dortmund in 2023 have the best winning record at home in the Bundesliga. The team that has scored the most goals in Europe this season. The team that has amassed most points in 2023 across European football. “We are strong enough to do it one more time.”
In November 2022, that would hardly appear to be the case.
When the league halted for the World Cup, BVB were sixth in the Bundesliga standings, nine points behind table toppers, Bayern Munich. It was a new look Dortmund team, with 10 players having left and as many having arrived at the club in a hectic summer transfer window.
Kehl admits that in the first half of the season the players and the management were ‘unhappy’ and that they ‘were not patient’. Nine wins and a draw have come of the ten games following the winter break.
Dortmund could feel it. A grip on the title. “If you have nine wins in a row in March, then you can feel it.”
Then, a familiar script followed. Bayern Munich would give their Der Klassiker rivals the ‘ah s**t, here we go again’ meme feeling when they toppled the table leaders with a 4-2 win in March. “It was like a kick on that matchday in Munich because we could’ve done much better,” Kehl recalls.
Bayern had done this to Dortmund a few times in the past decade that’s seen them win 10 seasons in a row. Two points were all that had separated the two in 2018/19. Two points were all the defending champions had over BVB after that win in April. As it stands, two points are what the latter have over the 31-time champions.
Despite the team dropping points against a 10-men VfB Stuttgart and at Bochum, BVB’s Sporting Director says that the ‘belief was always there’.
A story like Sebastian Haller’s surely offers some. Shortly after he arrived to Dortmund from Ajax last summer, the 28-year-old was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
He’d undergo two surgeries and chemotherapy in the ensuing months before returning to the pitch in January and scoring a hat-trick in his first competitive outing for the club.
He’d add six more goals and three assists to his tally as he took over the role that one Erling Haaland had until the last season. “It’s like a miracle,” says Kehl. “What a person!”
While Haller is an Ajax graduate, nothing has defined Dortmund over the years more than their consistency of producing generational talent rather than buying it. Of starting them young. Not just the players, but the managers as well. Jurgen Klopp was 42 when he lifted his first league title with Dortmund.
The same age as Thomas Tuchel was in his first game incharge at the club. Kehl believes the current manager Edin Terzic has the opportunity to show that at the age of 40, he knows ‘how it works’.
“He is Dortmunder Junge,” says Kehl. Translation: he is from Dortmund. Born and raised here.
“He was part of our club in the scouting department (when he joined). As an assistant coach. Then part-time coach,” adds Kehl.
Come Saturday, he may be a Bundesliga winning manager. A proper Dortmund story that’ll be Made in Dortmund.