When Dortmund were rooted to the bottom of the Bundesliga as German football entered the winter break, even the most stoic supporters were beginning to wonder. Even during that dismal nadir, most still assumed that Dortmund’s issues weren’t a question of talent. Yes, Klopp had been forced to bid farewell to Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze in successive seasons, with both of them traipsing happily off to hated rivals Bayern Munich. But the personnel that remained, and the replacements that had been brought in, were enough, surely, to secure a top four finish. No, theirs was a problem of the mental variety, a cerebral obstacle that was sapping their energy, blunting their potency and dragging the club into the depressing fog of a relegation battle. So, if confidence was the problem, then a solution existed; all teams suffer spells where they spiral downwards, and it can feel impossible to reverse. But time invariably shows this to be false, and all it takes for a team to hoist itself out of the muck is a boost. Where this comes from, and in what form it takes, is more difficult to predict.
Dortmund have been searching desperately for a boost of their own. The return of Ilkay Gundogan was supposed to be the shot in the arm they needed to clamber back up the table, but it wasn’t. When he came back after missing nine of the first 11 league matches, Dortmund then proceeded to win only two of their next eight fixtures. It was thought that the winter break itself, a chance to rest and recharge, might spur Dortmund on to rally for a strong second half of the season. But they failed to even register a goal in the first two matches after football resumed in late January. After their 1-0 loss to Augsburg, Mats Hummels and Roman Weidenfeller went face to face with the furious fans, taking every vicious German expletive on the chin. Where would it come from, the magic needle to jolt them out of this most deathly of slumbers?
All season, with every loss, the rumblings over the future of Marco Reus got more and more audible. The German star, flaxen-haired and impossibly nimble, was Dortmund’s one remaining superstar, but it seemed like he too would promptly be making tracks, just as Lewandowski and Gotze had. A player of his towering calibre was ill-fitted to a relegation battle, of all things, and mootings of Real Madrid and Manchester United were grating the ears of the Dortmund clan. Reus had been injured for periods during the season, and the dearth during these intervals was not being filled by Ciro Immobile or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Immobile in particular had been a huge disappointment since his move from Torino; after 22 goals in 33 appearances last season in Serie A, he’s only scored 3 in 15 matches in the Bundesliga. The juicy carrot that is Champions League football was a certain absentee for next season, and this season’s excellent European performances had tailed off somewhat, with Dortmund losing and drawing their last two group stage matches.
It was at this moment that Dortmund needed a miracle. And then Reus made the most unexpected of gestures. On the 10th of February, he resigned with the club, extending his contract there until 2019. At age 25, Dortmund have secured their best player, a German international, for the majority of his peak years. Leaving aside the depressing fact that a team merely retaining a quality player is now considered something of a coup, this small victory drove a huge breath of life-giving air into the club. Reus’s words were like a sweet tonic to the ears of the faithful; “I am very happy with my decision to stay at BVB,” said Reus. “Dortmund is my home town and Borussia simply my club. I am looking forward to a successful future with our team and our fantastic fans supporting us. There is a lot to do and I want to be part of that.”
The team has responded, it seems, as well. Reus has led them to back-to-back victories for only the second time this season, scoring in both. The latest triumph, a very hard fought 4-2 victory over Mainz, was a lesson in grit and resilience the likes of which hasn’t been seen at the Signal-Iduna-Park this season. Of course, it was Reus scoring the go-ahead goal to make in 2-1 in the second half. The fillip that is Reus’s resigning has transformed the club. Finally, the wretched pattern of key player sales has ended (assuming a new contract will at least dissuade suitors from enquiring about Reus in the near future). Will the upturn last? We’ll have to wait and see, but the win over Mainz has lifted Dortmund out of the relegation zone. They currently sit 10 places and 12 points off the final Champions League position. 13 league games remain. At last, thanks to Reus, things are looking up at BVB.