1990s Borussia Dortmund: How a team challenged the status quo by spending on proven experience
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When the 1980s ended, giants Bayern Munich and other teams that at temporary stages challenged them, such as Hrubesch/Magath’s SV Hamburg, Schumacher/Littbarski’s Koln and Rudi Voeller’s Werder Bremen, dominated the West German Bundesliga.
Borussia Dortmund for the most part did not make an impression save a couple of UEFA Cup qualifications.
However, a revolution was about to take place and a team was slowly being built to give Bayern a run for its money for this decade of 1990s.
This team already contained a number of players that would make key contributions to its success, these included long serving midfielder Michael Zorc as well as forward Michael Rummenigge (younger brother of Karl-Heinz).
In goal, the custodian was Wolfgang De Beer with Stefan Klos hot on his heels.
The defenders were Michael Schulz, Gunther Kutowski and Thomas Helmer, who was being groomed as a future defender for the National Team.
The midfield contained players such as occasional international Knut Reindhart, Gerhard Poschner and Thomas Franck.
The strike force comprised of veteran Franck Mill, formerly of Moenchengladbach, and Danish Fleming Povlsen, formerly of Koln who had returned to the Bundesliga after a season in Holland with PSV Eindhoven.
Dortmund made two significant additions in the summer of 1991.
Swiss striker Stephane Chapuisat was acquired from Bayer Uerdingen and most importantly a new manager was appointed in Ottmar Hitzfeld.
Ottmar Hitzfeld as a player had represented West Germany in the 1972 Olympics and had mostly managed clubs in Switzerland.
Photo From: World Soccer, September 1995(Dortmund Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld)
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, April 1993(Swiss Striekr Stephane Chapuisat)
In Germany he was an unknown quantity. He became the most successful Bundesliga manager of the next two decades.
For the 1991/92 season, with Bayern Munich in crisis and out of the running, the League was a three-way horse race between Eintracht Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Dortmund.
Dortmund narrowly lost the title on the last day to future Captain Matthias Sammer’s Stuttgart.
Dortmund had qualified for the UEFA Cup for the 1992/93 season, a tournament that would cement its status as a regular European contender.
Dortmund seemed to be the team of the future and began to make key player purchases.
In the summer of 1992, Thomas Helmer was lost to Bayern, but Dortmund’s ambition was displayed by their purchase of Stefan Reuter from Juventus.
Back then it was rare for German clubs to buy back from the Serie A.
For the 1992/93 season, Dortmund was not in the running for the League title as Bayern and Werder Bremen fought for the title, Dortmund did however, stabilize its place near top of the League and finish high enough to qualify for the UEFA Cup.
Midway through this season another significant purchase was made from the Serie A as Matthias Sammer was brought back from a disappointing spell at Internazionale Milano.
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, August 1995(Matthias Sammer)
Dortmund’s UEFA Cup run that season was historic as they defeated teams like Real Zaragoza, AS Roma and Auxerre on their route to the Final.
In the final they were paired with Italian giants Juventus, with whom they would have many other duels during this decade, not to mention players in common.
For this 1993 UEFA Cup Final, Dortmund were comprehensively defeated by Roberto Baggio’s Juventus, but nevertheless they were now a force to be reckoned with on the European stage.
Financially, this UEFA Cup run earned them more money than many teams in the Champions League.
In the summer of 1993, Dortmund bought back another German International from the Serie A. With new financial muscle, striker Karl-Heinz Riedle joined from Lazio.
Highly rated midfielder, and future German International, Steffen Freund also joined from Karlsruhe.
For 1993/94 season, they were favorites to win the League, however, they had to be content with another high finish as Bayern triumphed and a UEFA Cup run to the Quarter Finals and loss to Internazionale Milano.
In the Summer 1994, Dortmund made another two key buy backs from Italy, as former player Andreas Moller and Brazilian Central defender Julio Cesar were purchased in a joint deal from Juventus.
Photo From: World Soccer, February1995(Brazilian defender Julio Cesar)
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, August 1995(Andreas Moeller)
For the 1994/95 season, Dortmund was finally ready for the title push.
Hitzfeld had assembled an excellent, experienced squad complemented by teenage strikers Lars Ricken and Ghanaian Ibrahim Tanko.
That season Dortmund reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup, defeating along the way the likes of Deportivo La Coruna and Lazio, to finally succumb to old foes Juventus once again.
They finally won the Budesliga title that season in dramatic fashion on the last day of the season, when rivals Werder Bremen lost to Bayern.
Photo From: World Soccer, August 1995(Dortmund players celebrating the 1995 Bundesliga title)
With the League title won, now Dortmund had their eyes on the lucrative Champions League.
In the summer of 1995, Fleming Povlsen had to bow out due to injuries, but once again Italian based experienced players were signed.
Juventus’ German defender Jurgen Kohler and Internazionale’s Uruguayan Forward Ruben Sosa joined, along with new German Internationals Heiko Herrlich and Jorg Heinrich.
Czech Republic midfielder Patrik Berger also joined as the squad was strengthened in quantity as well as quality to compete in the demanding Champions League.
In their inaugural Champions league campaign, Dortmund was paired in a group with Juventus (once again), Rangers Glasgow and Steaua Bucharest. They finished second in the group and qualified for the Quarter Finals, where defending Champions Ajax defeated them.
In the league, they retained their title. They became the first team besides Bayern to retain their title since Hamburg over a decade earlier.
Photo From: World Soccer, July 1996(Long serving Michael Zorc celebrating the 1996 Bundesliga title)
Dortmund players also made significant contribution in Germany’s triumph in the 1996 European Championships, with Sammer as the player of the Tournament.
In fact Germany’s squad mostly comprised of mostly Bayern and Dortmund players.
At the end of the year, Sammer was chosen as France Football Magazine’s European Player of the Year ahead of Ronaldo.
For the 1996/97 season, with the Bosman Ruling fully in effect, many foreign players joined such as Austria’s Wolfgang Feiersinger, Russian Vladimir But, Scottish Paul Lambert, Portugal’s Paulo Sousa (another buy from Juventus and Serie A) and young American Jovan Kirovski.
In the League, Bayern overtook Dortmund, but most of their energy was spent in the quest for the Champions League.
They advanced to the Quarterfinals, from a group containing Spanish champions Atletico Madrid.
They defeated French Champions Auxerre in the Quarters and the mighty Manchester United in the Semi-Finals to be drawn in the Final with Juventus.
This was their seventh meeting in five seasons.
As defending Champions Juventus were odds on favorite, but with Riedle in inspired form, Dortmund defeated Juventus 3 to 1 and reached their zenith.
This was probably the beginning of the end of this team as Ottmar Hitzfeld immediately resigned as Manager after six successful seasons.
Former Parma manager, the Italian Nevio Scala, took his place. Scala, however, was not able to reproduce the magic on an ageing team that had peaked.
For the 1997/98 season, they were once again distanced in the League.
They performed better in the Champions League. After topping a group that included Parma, they defeated local rivals Bayern Munich in the Quarters, which led Moeller to proclaim that Dortmund were the team of the 1990s.
Their Champions League adventure was ended in the Semi-Finals by eventual Champions Real Madrid.
For the 1998/99 season, young Manager Michael Skibbe was appointed and despite the addition of midfielder Thomas Haessler (another former Juventus and Roma, Serie A player), they continued to slide for the rest of the decade.
Since then Dortmund has won a League title in 2002 with Matthias Sammer at the helm and two consecutive titles in the last two seasons.
While today’s team is young and ambitious, it lacks the experience and depth of the 90s team that performed on the European stage.
The 90s team’s transfer policy targeted experienced players hardened by the best League in the World, the Serie A.
They were financially strong enough to buy back from the Serie A and not to sell, as was the custom of those days.
They were not intimidated by Bayern Munich and fought with them on level terms on the field and the transfer market.
Ottmar Hitzfeld went on to win four more Bundesliga titles with rivals Bayern Munich and is now the National Team manager of Switzerland.
He also won the Champions League with Bayern in 2001, becoming one of the select few to win the trophy with two different clubs.With closer look, this may have been Dortmund’s most significant decision in reaching the top.