Dortmund eye Bayern's title
Borussia Dortmund plan another Bundesliga assault against the odds
When Borussia Dortmund's famous Yellow Wall raises its voice in unison to intimidate Mainz at the Signal Iduna Park tomorrow, it will mark the start of another season of defiance.
Defiance, because they will once more be attempting to surmount huge odds.
Winning the German Bundesliga is demanding enough, what with powerhouses Bayern Munich having much deeper pockets than everyone else in the country.
It becomes doubly hard when Bayern adopt the strategy of buying the best players from their strongest rivals.
Of the seven significant player departures from Dortmund over the last five years, Bayern have been responsible for three - Mario Goetze in 2013, Robert Lewandowski the following year and Mats Hummels this season.
It's a tactic Bayern traditionally employ to stay on top, according to Bayern and Germany legend Lothar Matthaeus.
The 55-year-old said: "Goetze first, Lewandowski next, and now Hummels.
"In 1984, when Borussia Moenchengladbach was very close to Bayern, they bought me.
"Then later the players from Bayer Leverkusen, like Michael Ballack.
"It's the same tactic from Bayern. When teams come close to them, they buy the players from these teams."
And it's not just Bayern lurking in the shadows.
Dortmund have found the tentacles of Europe's biggest clubs tough to fend off ever since Der BVB began their revival under Juergen Klopp at the turn of this decade.
Like a game of musical chairs, their biggest stars have taken turns to head for the exit.
The departure of Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid in 2011, the year he was named Bundesliga Player of the Season by Kicker magazine, triggered a talent drain that they have been struggling to halt since.
Shinji Kagawa (to Manchester United), Goetze and Lewandowski followed suit in successive years, and this season alone, they have lost Hummels, Ilkay Guendogan (to Man City) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (to Man United).
Yet, if past campaigns are anything to go by, Dortmund will once more withstand the plunder.
Three runners-up finishes in their last four seasons attest to their durability.
This season, they are determined to continue with the Dortmund way.
Not only have they mastered the art of spotting potential in youngsters, they have also become adept at making stars out of them, sometimes almost instantly.
Of the eight players to join Thomas Tuchel's team this season, none are above 25 years old, and two of them are mere teenagers.
The high-profile return of Goetze and the addition of Andre Schuerrle may have grabbed the headlines, but the likes of Emre Mor and Ousmane Dembele, both 19, and Raphael Guerreiro, 22, are all mouth-watering prospects.
Lars Ricken, who spent his entire playing career at Dortmund, feels that the temptation of huge fortunes in the modern game has left Dortmund with the only option of discovering talent before the rest do.
Said the 1997 Champions League winner: "We don't have to be romantic and believe that a player will spend a whole career for only one club, as I did.
"It's difficult (to keep players) when, for example, there is so much money in England.
"But we also bought very young, talented players.
"We have a clear philosophy.
"For example, a few years ago, we started with (Neven) Subotic and Hummels as defenders and they were about 19.
"We developed them to become stars, the same like Goetze, the teenager who became a superstar in Dortmund."
The task of turning raw gems into polished diamonds over and over again may seem an arduous, time-consuming cycle, but Carsten Cramer, sales and marketing director of Borussia Dortmund, warned against losing touch with reality in the quest for glory.
Dortmund, he said, will never be able to compete financially with the likes of Bayern Munich.
He said: "We have to find our own way and we never will become a Bayern Munich No. 2, but we will be Borussia Dortmund.
"There will be a moment when we are close to them and there will also be moments when we will be a little bit far away from them, but we don't define our core characteristics by success."
He went on to describe the role Dortmund play in German football.
He said: "If you describe it in pictures, we never will become a king or something like this.
"But a Robin Hood, it's different from a king.
"He will have scratches on his face, or he may lose.
"We are from Dortmund, it's different from a city like Berlin or Munich or the big European capitals.
"We can't create an artificial BVB. We are a smaller club, a more familial club.
"But we definitely will challenge the others, hunt them, and we won't make it easy for Bayern this season.
"It will be a wrong story and we will lose our credibility from our supporters if we were to give them the feeling that we will be competitive year by year with these big clubs.
"So, it's part of our DNA."
Such remarkable tenacity has earned Dortmund widespread admiration, Matthaeus included.
Despite their loss of three influential players, Matthaeus believes Dortmund, who won back-to-back league crowns in 2011 and 2012, will still provide the stiffest challenge to reigning Bundesliga champions Bayern this term.
He said: "This is Dortmund.
"Dortmund in the last years have always found a good answer when they lost players.
"They lost Lewandowski, they lost Goetze, and they were second still in the German championship last season.
"Sure, they lost experienced players but they bought seven, eight very good young players, especially Goetze, Schuerrle and Sebastian Rode.
"They have a good team, and they will be the biggest competitors to Bayern."
"We can’t create an artificial BVB. We are a smaller club, a more familial club. But we definitely will challenge the others, hunt them, and we won’t make it easy for Bayern this season."
- Former Dortmund star Lars Ricken
STAR DEPARTURES (last five years)
2011: Nuri Sahin (now back)
2012: Shinji Kagawa (now back)
2013: Mario Goetze (now back)
2014: Robert Lewandowski
2016: Mats Hummels, Ilkay Guendogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan