Dortmund heads into Champions League final with an older, tougher team instead of young talents

AP , Wednesday 29 May 2024

Borussia Dortmund is world soccer’s finishing school no longer.

Nuno Menders
Nuno Menders and Jadon Sancho duel in the match between Borussia Dortmund and PSG in the Champions League. AP

A club renowned for readying talented youngsters like Jude Bellingham and Erling Haaland for the big stage is now on that stage itself, facing Real Madrid — and Bellingham — in the Champions League final Saturday.

This Dortmund team is different, though. It’s built around older players making the most of second chances after career setbacks.

“We have our own story,” coach Edin Terzic said Tuesday. “We have the story of ups and downs of the last years. We are one of the teams that is selling players by the end of the season. We are a team that builds up to compete every year, but now we are there and we are facing teams that are built to win the Champions League.”

And then there’s Jadon Sancho.

The former England national team forward has revived his career since rejoining Dortmund on loan in January from Manchester United, where he hadn’t played since August amid a rift with manager Erik ten Hag.

The final at Wembley will be the last game of Sancho’s loan, but Dortmund hopes it will also start fresh talks on keeping him.

“We are so proud, we are so happy that he’s in our team at the moment and I can see his smile every day, I can see his performance on the pitch every day,” sporting director Sebastian Kehl said.

“So I think he will be very important for us on Saturday. He will show the world that Jadon Sancho is really back.”

Kehl said Dortmund plans “discussions” about the 24-year-old Sancho’s future, but only after Saturday’s game. “He’s still under contract with Man United, so nobody knows what’s going on there,” Kehl added. “We’re going to have discussions, but after the final.”

Sancho isn’t the only Dortmund player who has been rejected elsewhere. Defender Mats Hummels and midfielder Emre Can were both left out of the German national team squad for their home European Championship, and Sancho wasn’t picked for England. The Champions League gives them the chance to show they remain competitive at the top level — and maybe even earn a dramatic recall for Euro 2024.

The 30-year-old Can suggested he and Sancho could be inspired by that rejection when they play against Madrid.

“He’s not happy about it, of course. Me also, I’m not in the German squad, I’m not happy about it,” Can said. “Of course, it gives you maybe the extra motivation to show the coaches in national teams that we deserve to be there. That’s what we will try on Saturday.”

Only two Dortmund players made the Germany squad for Euro 2024, including striker Niclas Füllkrug, who spent much of his career in the second division before finally breaking through at 29 with Werder Bremen and making his national team debut in 2022.

Forward Sébastien Haller is in the Champions League final less than two years on from a diagnosis of testicular cancer which left him needing chemotherapy and surgery before he returned to action with Dortmund. He’s seeking his second trophy of the season after scoring the winning goal in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations with the Ivory Coast in February.

Dortmund does have some promising young players, but winger Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and striker Youssoufa Moukoko, both 19-year-olds, have typically been on the bench in the Champions League this season and 21-year-old American Gio Reyna was loaned out to Nottingham Forest.

There isn’t an obvious successor to Bellingham, who was sold for up to 130 million euros ($139 million at the time) to Madrid last year, or Haaland, who earlier moved to Manchester City for 60 million euros ($63 million at the time) and won the Champions League last year.

Sporting director Kehl himself has unfinished business in the Champions League. Dortmund is in the final for the first time since 2013, when it lost 2-1 to Bayern Munich, also at Wembley. Kehl, then a midfielder, was on the bench in that game.

Dortmund is coming off its worst Bundesliga season in nine years with a fifth-place finish, but has shown in the Champions League that its grizzled, battle-scarred squad can peak in crucial games. There’s been a healthy dose of luck, too, after Dortmund survived Paris Saint-Germain repeatedly hitting the post and crossbar in the semifinals.

A year after dropping the Bundesliga title in the final minutes of the season, Dortmund is aiming to end this campaign on a triumph.

“There is one more game left and it’s the biggest game in European club competition,” Terzic said. “This is waiting for us, and we have to show that we are ready to go for it.”

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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