Dortmund take tiny steps back

After underwhelming season, former champs aim for top-4 finish under new coach Tuchel

Three years ago, Borussia Dortmund were on a high after clinching a second straight German Bundesliga title, as players celebrated by dousing one another in beer in front of 80,000 ecstatic fans at the Signal Iduna Park.

Yet, things are far less optimistic for the eight-time German champions now.

Rivals Bayern Munich have surged ahead since, boosted by the appointment of renowned coach Pep Guardiola in 2013. They also managed to sign two of Dortmund's top talents, Mario Goetze and Robert Lewandowski .

And after an injury-hit 2014-15 Bundesliga campaign which saw Dortmund finish out of the top five for the first time since 2009, catching up with Bayern is not an immediate target for Die Schwarzgelben.

Dortmund great Lars Ricken, 38, who coordinates the club's academy, told The Straits Times: "Our aim for next season is not to catch up with Bayern because I think they may have the best squad they ever had.

GRADUAL IMPROVEMENT

Our aim is to catch up with Wolfsburg, Borussia Moenchengladbach, and Bayer Leverkusen.

LARS RICKEN, former Dortmund player

"Losing Goetze and Lewandowski, two of the best players maybe in the world, was of course a big problem for us.

"We will make small steps. Our aim is to catch up with Wolfsburg, Borussia Moenchengladbach, and Bayer Leverkusen... not (just) to catch up with Bayern. "

Towering 1.93m-tall defender Neven Subotic agreed, and said the priority is to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League. The Serb added: "A lot of other teams have the same goal. We need to beat them too.

"We're going to do our best to keep (the gap with Bayern) as tight as possible. We defeated them in the German Cup semi-final last year, so it shows we can beat them. We just have to be more consistent."

The duo also urged patience ahead of the new campaign, especially after the departure of former coach Juergen Klopp, who stepped down after seven years.

His replacement Thomas Tuchel conducted his first training session only last week, with the club set to play their first competitive fixture in three weeks.

Said Ricken: "The team's preparation is not easy because we don't have so much time, and now we have a new coach. He has his own philosophy, own idea for football.

"But his plans are very ambitious. The team and the players are willing to see something new for training. It's an interesting time, and everyone is looking forward to the new season."

Subotic believes, once the team and their new signings settle under Tuchel, the club can hit the heights of 2012, even if more key players depart.

He said: "What's always needed is that we give the new players enough time to develop, to get accustomed to our style of play, which is something unique.

"As long as we do that, we'll be able to compensate (for) the players that leave. We definitely have the team that can win the important games."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2015, with the headline 'Dortmund take tiny steps back'. Print Edition | Subscribe