The sight of a club icon playing his final game against a rival team he’s about to sign for would be a surreal feeling that would leave most supporters sick to their stomachs.
But for Borussia Dortmund fans it has become almost commonplace. The 2014 DFB Pokal final against Bayern Munich at the Olympiastadion in Berlin was the scene of Robert Lewandowski’s last appearance in yellow and black.
Just 12 months earlier, a sheepish Mario Gotze was in the stands at Wembley (admittedly celebrating as Dortmund equalised), injured for the Champions League final defeat to Bayern.
But perhaps the worst, and most painful wrench of the gut will be felt, again in Berlin, on May 21, when Mats Hummels leads the team out for the DFB Pokal final against the Bavarians.
A player who had questioned why Gotze would make such a move, declaring he would play abroad rather than sign for Bayern.
At least Dortmund didn’t lose Hummels for nothing. Receiving €38m for a 27-year-old with long-standing injury issues and approaching the final year of his contract is robust business. But it’s scant consolation for the emotional pain and the impact it will have once again on the Bundesliga.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge on Mats Hummels signing pic.twitter.com/HMEAnTxoAl— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) May 10, 2016
In signing Hummels and Renato Sanches yesterday for €73m – potentially rising to €118m when you factor in add-ons for the young Portuguese – Bayern have stuck to their tradition of getting deals done with the minimum of fuss. No drawn-out rumour mill in terms of Sanches, no contract saga or issues with agents. Signed, sealed, delivered. It’s become one of their most impressive strengths and something Manchester United used to be renowned and respected for.
It outlines the awesome financial and pulling power they possess, not just in Germany but the world. Hummels could have had his pick of clubs in the Premier League and La Liga, but chose to head to Bavaria. While Sanches was reportedly scouted by United 24 times, such was the strength of their interest.
How much the incoming Carlo Ancelotti, who’s had players signed for him rather than by him throughout his career, has had a hand in either deal remains to be seen, but with 51 days before he officially takes office, the Italian has quite a squad to work with. And while it clearly emphasises the desire within Bayern to win the Champions League, domestically there seems no way back for the chasing pack, led by Dortmund.
With ninth-placed Cologne at home their only remaining league fixture and Bayern hosting relegated Hannover, Dortmund should finish eight points behind the champions on 80 points with a goal difference of around +50.
Based on points per game – as the Bundesliga has two less clubs than Europe’s other five major leagues – that would be enough for them to win the Premier League by a six-point margin and finish within a point of Serie A champions Juventus and likely La Liga victors Barcelona. Their average goal difference is also better than every Premier League and Serie A club, all the teams in Ligue 1 bar PSG and Spain with the exception of Barca and Real Madrid.
Bar the Europa League collapse at Liverpool, and we’ll see how the DFB Pokal final plays out, they’ve had a phenomenal season under Thomas Tuchel. And yet they still fall short and are now losing their best defender and on-pitch leader.
Champions League qualification, and the work of Tuchel, should ensure other prized assets like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marco Reus, Ilkay Gundogan and Julian Weigl – although Guardiola and City are lurking for the latter pair – remain for another season. But sooner or later at least three of that quintet will move on, perhaps to Bayern, maybe to the Premier League or Spain, and the rebuilding process will have to begin again.
All the while as Bayern get richer, stronger and more powerful with the sort of football/business strategy that is as simple as it is severe: beat your rivals into submission, then sign their best players.
This is no criticism of Bayern at all, they are probably the best-run club in the world, consistently delivering net profits with zero debt; but any hopes the Bundesliga would revert to being a more open competition in the post-Pep era already look misplaced.