GERMANY: Borussia Dortmund’s new blood

Germany

When Mario Götze handed in a transfer request to force through a move to rivals Bayern Munich, subsequently ending a largely prosperous twelve year relationship with Borussia Dortmund, many feared that this would trigger a mass exodus at the club.

Indeed, following the news of Götze’s willingness to leave the Westfalenstadion, rumours began to circulate linking the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gündoğan with moves away from Jürgen Klopp’s side, thus casting doubts into the minds of Die Schwarzgelben’s passionate fan base. Any worries were soon quashed by the news of three arrivals: Sokratis Papastathopoulos, ‘we’ll just call him Sokratis’, from Werder Bremen for €9.5m, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Saint-Étienne for €13m and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, try pronouncing that, from Shakhtar Donetsk for €27.5m. In this piece I’ll be looking at all three acquisitions, focusing on their respective past experience and what they will offer to the eight time champions of Germany.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos is 25 years old and has already played for six different clubs, including loan moves, over a period of eight years. BVB will be his seventh. Starting off his career at A.E.K Athens, Papastathopoulos enjoyed a prosperous stint in Greece’s capital city, where he made thirty eight appearances, including three cameos in his former side’s 2006/07 UEFA Champions League campaign. In 2006, Papastathopoulos found first team football hard to come by, so was loaned to Niki Volos, but returned to to the fold at AEK well prepared for their European run. The only win for the Enosis came against Milan, where Sokratis began to make a name for himself on the footballing landscape. The Greek defender, who was only 18 years old at the time, impressed many spectators of the now famous group tie and was a key part in preventing the Rossoneri from breaking his side down and equalising. This performance, along with a stellar 2007/08, caught the eye of many clubs on the Peninsula and on the first of August, 2008, Papastathopoulos put pen to paper on deal to join Serie A outfit Genoa. After an average debut season at the Luigi Ferraris stadium, the Kalamata born centre-back enjoyed a sensational 2009/10 and won the hearts of the supporters, earning almost cult hero status. Unsurprisingly, Europe’s elite sniffed around Sokratis with Milan winning the race to secure his services, after the Rossoblu accepted an offer in the region of €14m plus various rights to other player’s contracts. After a disappointing campaign at the San Siro, where he only made five appearances, Papastathopoulos found himself going back to Genoa due to a deal involving various other players from the two clubs. Once everything was resolved, Werder Bremen took Sokratis to the Bundesliga, initially on a season long loan, eventually taking up the option the purchase the player outright for a fee in the region of €3.6m. After two satisfactory seasons, at least from an individual perspective, at the Weserstadion, Papastathopoulos decided that it was the right time to discover pastures new. Once sporting director Michael Zorc was aware of this, it was only a matter of time before ‘Papa’ found himself on a plane to Dortmund.

Although his most comfortable position is in the heart of the defence, Papastathopoulos is also capable of playing as a right back. With Łukasz Piszczek’s confirmed absence for the immediate future, this was one of the factors taken into consideration when Sokratis was signed. Another reason why the Greece international was bought, is the departure of third choice centre-back Felipe Santana, who joined arch rivals Schalke. When deployed in the middle of the back line, Papastathopoulos is given the license to roam forward and start attacks due to his impressive dribbling ability. One area of Sokratis’ game that needs improvement is his discipline, though. When pressed higher up the pitch, Papastathopoulos is often dispossessed, however instead of biding his time and making up ground, he tends to lunge in early and, on some occasions, suffer the full wrath of the referee. Is Sokratis Papastathopoulos a marque signing? No. But for less than €10m, Dortmund have signed themselves a coup.

Hailing from one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world comes Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Dortmund’s most expensive signing in their illustrious 103 year history. Mkhitaryan was always destined for a career in football as his father, Hamlet, was a successful striker in Armenia and France during the eighties and nineties, his mother, Marina, is the head of the department for Armenian’s national teams and his elder sister, Monica, works for UEFA at their headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland. Henrikh’s father even made two appearances for the Armenian national team, but tragically passed away because of a brain tumour aged just 33 years old. The Mkhitaryan family moved to France, due to Hamlet’s football career, but moved back to Armenia shortly after he died. Henrikh’s passion for football was discovered in France, but his talent came to light when he returned to his home country. Joining the FC Pyunik youth setup at the tender age of six. Mkhitaryan remained in Yerevan for fourteen years, before joining Ukrainian Premier League side, Metalurh Donetsk. The 5’10” trequartista made a name for himself at the Metalurh stadium, making 45 appearances, scoring seventeen goals. Local rivals Shakhtar Donetsk were aware of their nemesis’ prodigy and saw an offer in the region of €6.9m accepted for Mkhitaryan. Armenia’s brightest son won the Ukrainian double on three consecutive occasions during his time at the Donbass Arena, the Albanian Player of the Year award twice, the Ukrainian Premier League Player of the Year award and, most recently, the 2012/13 Ukrainian Premier League Golden Boot, scoring twenty five goals. In total, Mkhitaryan made one-hundred-and-four appearances for Shakhtar Donetsk, scoring on forty four occasions.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan isn’t some twig-like Eastern European hermit who lives off Tesco value baked beans. No, the Armenian international is actually quite the physical presence when running at the opposition and can definitely put himself about on the pitch. Unlike Mario Götze, Mkhitaryan doesn’t have it in his arsenal to dazzle him with skills, however he makes up for this with an extraordinary ability to link teammates into the play, creating neat one-two’s whilst leading the team forward and ‘skin’ them with his explosive speed. If he did not become a professional footballer, Mkhitaryan says that he would been a sprinter. Another one of the 24 year old’s most valuable traits is his intelligence. Did you know that Mkhitaryan is fluent in English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Armenian? The pint-sized playmaker uses his brain to his advantage on the pitch, too, by linking up the midfield with the attack to great effect and making defence splitting through balls, thus exploiting the opposition’s weaknesses, to create chance after chance for his side. Mkhitaryan’s work rate and prolific nature, he didn’t win Golden Boot in the Ukrainian Premier League for nothing, enables him to play as a ‘false nine’, where his ability to shoot is put to use efficiently and effectively. Overall, Henrikh’s one of the most technically gifted players in Europe. His age offers maturity, yet time to grow and gain experience. Does Mkhitaryan merit the tag of becoming Borussia Dortmund’s most expensive purchase in all their existence? We’ll let his footballing skills answer that.

“Eleven goals in eight league matches already is fantastic, but when you add that he is a midfielder, it is phenomenal. You may not have heard of him yet, even if all the scouts at the top European clubs have, but you soon will. He has pace, skill, a rocket of a shot and the ability to arrive in the box like Frank Lampard. This all singles him out as a player who must be watched or more importantly marked.” – Chelsea legend, Pat Nevin

Last but not least, is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, possibly the most flamboyant player Dortmund have ever had on their books. Be it completing a prematch warmup before a game against Olympique Lyonnais wearing a diamond encrusted pair of Nike Mercurials worth €2.9k, purchasing a €1.4m mansion or celebrating goals clad in a Spider-Man mask, you never know what ‘P.E.A’ has up his sleeve. Starting off his career at Milan, Aubameyang only made two appearances during three years under contract at the San Siro. What did he spend that time doing? Playing in France, on loan, for the likes of Dijon, Lille, Monaco and Saint-Étienne. In fact, it was the latter club where the Gabonese attacker made his name. Aubameyang’s breakout season was 2011/12, a campaign that coincided with the 2012 African Cup of Nations; a tournament where the 24 year old put his name on the map, hitting the back of the net sixteen times, making six assists. ‘Second Season Syndrome’ free, Aubameyang sustained the promise shown in the season previous and managed to score a further nineteen goals, making another nine assists, domestically. It’s no wonder why Die Borussen were interested in Aubameyang.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is unlike most attackers in the Bundesliga and very different in comparison with Marco Reus, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Kevin Großkreutz, three players who he’s expected to challenge for a starting place. Why? Because Aubameyang is so unorthodox. Blessed with an array of skills, blistering pace, the ability to cut inside and finishing of a higher standard than Julian Schieber, which is at least something to note. Jürgen Klopp’s favoured formation is a 4-2-3-1 and where we’ll see Dortmund’s new €13m signing will be on either wing, in the hole or as the striker himself. This flexibility and extra dimension to last season’s Champions League runners up will prove vital when faced against the more rigid, defensive and somewhat negative teams in both Germany and Europe. There is one player will have an big part to play in where BVB rely on Aubameyang. In the Ligue 1 last season, P.E.A made eighteen appearances leading the line and if Robert Lewandowski gets his reported wish, the same responsibility he had at the Geoffroy-Guichard stadium may be given to him at the Signal Iduna Park.

JamesBufton

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