Axel Witsel at BVB: Naturautorität with Wuschelkopf

Axel Witsel at BVB: Naturautorität with Wuschelkopf
  • Borussia Dortmund arrives this Saturday at the county derby at Schalke 04.
  • BVB took a fresh look at management before the season – with Sebastian Kehl and Matthias Sammer.
  • On the transfer of Axel Witsel one recognizes proactively what works at Dortmund and where Schalke still has some catching up to do.


By Philipp Selldorf, Dortmund

Many representatives of professional football expressed in the summer – discrete, confidential and not without anticipatory glee – skepticism, whether the plan with the double Matthias Sammer could work: The fee activities as a non-partisan television expert and as a chief adviser of Borussia Dortmund him straight into conflicting interests and Erklärungsnot to drive, it was said. Now it is almost winter, and Sammer is still blithely doing his double role: As a specialist in the service of the station Eurosport and as a permanent appraiser on behalf of the BVB leadership. Criticism of the Borussia Sammer has remarkably omitted in his analyzes. But that was not partisanship, but because it was not much to criticize the leaders. In fact, the TV guru Sammer even good reason to praise the merits of the BVB expert Sammer, because this is clearly responsible for the upturn.

Over the course of the week, Eurosport has allowed its staff to speak again, meritoriously in the original and always original Sammer sound. In anticipation of the Revierderbys this Saturday, the connoisseur commented on both the situation at BVB and at Schalke 04. There, after unraveling the headstrong Sammer sentence structures, one could be pleased with a benevolent opinion. He has "great respect for the situation" in Gelsenkirchen, said Sammer: "The false start in the Bundesliga is a mortgage that carries itself.The club leadership supports and strengthens the coach, but at the same time it is not a compassion tour as gratitude from last year." Because Domenico Tedesco, Schalke's hard-checked young coach, is "not a spinner or a guy who poses for the showcase because of his success, but he seems too grounded, too fine, too clean," says Sammer.

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At least in Dortmund they have learned to understand Sammer's sometimes mysteriously formulated theses. "His analyzes are world class," states Hans-Joachim Watzke categorically. Last winter, Ober-Borussia and sporting director Michael Zorc came to the conclusion that the club needed more expertise, "more manpower" to withstand the new challenges of the transfer market and an increasingly complex team leadership and to fundamentally correct the accumulated athletic maldevelopment.

"We were too small, too focused on possession and football, you have to defend yourself, the game has changed since 2014 elementary," says Watzke today. This is how the idea came to include the highly ambitious former Borussia team leader Sebastian Kehl in the management and to establish with him a kind of executive committee, in which Matthias Sammer acts as an external expert.

It was "a sign of greatness" that Watzke and Zorc "proclaimed this new start and decided to spread the responsibility over several shoulders," says Kehl. Apparently, the new constellation was also about maintaining the balance of power. Watzke suggests that it was not always easy to define the responsibilities: "Bundling expertise is not that difficult – but you also have to adhere to the decision-making structure." The sports chief Zorc should not emerge as a loser of the new order. In addition, it was necessary to overcome a few resentments from the old days and to compensate for the occasional excessive conscience awareness in the cabinet. So Watzke is less chairman than moderator in this round.

When Zorc announced during the World Cup in Russia that there might be a chance to sign Axel Witsel, there was an immediate agreement: "Everyone was completely electrified," Watzke reports. For a long time one had sketched the profile of the wish player for the central midfielder: He was supposed to be tall, strong in battle and ball-proof, so a player like Witsel. But that the Belgian would be willing to give up his supernaturally endowed, supposedly 16 million euro annual salary heavy contract in China, that had not believed. Apart from the fact that one did not know that there was also a financially viable exit clause. Zorc was given the mandate to move all necessary levers.

Still, the Borussians can hardly believe their luck. Witsel's effect on the Dortmund match? "Exceptional!", Watzke exclaims three times in a row: "a nature authority, simply a leader", a man with "extremely positive charisma, who changes the atmosphere when he enters the room". Next door in Gelsenkirchen one could become jealous. Less because of Witsel, which Schalke could hardly have paid, but because BVB realized a number of other transfers in addition to Witsel, which corresponded to a higher plan. Also Schalke 04 had despite the losses of Leon Goretzka, Max Meyer and Thilo Kehrer in the summer the opportunity to upgrade the team and to create the basis for a sustainable way of playing. Manager Christian Heidel spent more than 50 million euros – but what was the plan, except with players such as Omar Mascarell, Sebastian Rudy and Suat Serdar to compensate for the departures?

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