Birmingham City prodigy Jude Bellingham has touched down in Dortmund for a medical and, barring any issues, will sign for Borussia this week. The fee is a reported £20m, which is a beefy pricetag for a 17-year-old player who has never played in a top division. But that’s the Dortmund way. They don’t buy players just to improve their own squad, they invest in ambitious youngsters who they can improve and, after a couple of seasons, sell on at a huge profit. Whilst this strategy might not create the stability that will win you multiple titles, it’s a profitable and sustainable one.
Example: In 2017, Dortmund bought 17-year-old Jadon Sancho from Man City for around £8m. Now he’s valued at £100m+. That’s a hell of a margin on one player. And all Dortmund had to do was promise him regular first-team football – something Man City could not do.
The club gave the same promise to 19-year-old striker Erling Haaland, who they signed at the start of this year from Red Bull Salzburg, for around £20m. In six months, Haaland’s value has probably tripled, and that’s a conservative estimate. Transfermarkt.co.uk has Alfie’s golden-footed son valued at £64m:
Sancho and Haaland will make tens of millions for Dortmund, as Ousmane Dembele and Christian Pulisic did, but they’re also good enough to play in their first team.
This is not Moneyball rehashed. It’s not about identifying players who have slipped through the net, so to speak, and who represent good value in the transfer market. What Dortmund do is a mix of philosophy and economics. More European clubs (Arsenal, for example) would love to be able to copy this model, but Dortmund is doing it better than anyone. This is partly down to the excellence of its Sporting Director, Michael Zorc, and CEO, Hans-Joachim Watzke. Zorc is shrewd, Watzke pragmatic. Zorc puts it simply: “We try to find these extraordinary players when they are not at their peak.”
Zorc, who recently extended his contract with Dortmund, already has his sights on Sancho’s replacement. “If Jadon were to leave, we would do something again in the offensive area,” he told Kicker. “We have certainly set our sights on one or two players.”
Bellingham, who Man Utd tried to sign, is not Sancho’s replacement. He is a box-to-box midfielder, not a position where teenagers traditionally thrive, due to the physical nature of the role – but he looked to the manor born in the Championship.
Watching his highlight reel, he reminded me a bit of a young Patrick Vieira, particularly the way he uses his long legs to make wrap-around tackles (a Vieira trademark).
His signing is perhaps more of a gamble for Zorc and Dortmund than they usually make. Bellingham will not play much for Dortmund’s first team next season, certainly not in the league, but still the club was willing to spend £20m for an apprentice. No one knows if the gamble will pay out, but it’s not like Dortmund don’t have plenty of other chips to play with.