It sounds a bit like a really bad profile on a dating website: ’58-year-old executive with own hair and teeth seeks assertive-type whose favourite number is six and likes to boss the midfield’. Fortunately, it is not a dating profile, but the latest admission from Borussia Dortmund Chief Executive Hans-Joachim Watzke that the Schwarzgelben need to improve their midfield.
Speaking at the weekend to Sky Sports Wontorra programme, Watzke confessed the need for BVB to invest in the summer identifying a central midfield anchor as a key priority. “We need another player who has that evil look at times – someone who will go in a tackle to hurt,” Watzke said. “I’ve admired Xabi Alonso.”
When prompted that the club already had Julian Weigl he responded by saying: “”He’s not got the body yet. Maybe he also needs to be more evil.”
So what is the answer for Borussia Dortmund? Do they have the player(s) to deliver what boss Watzke seemingly desires? If not then who would be potential candidates to take on the Alonso role at the Signal Iduna Park?
Mourning Bender and Kehl
There was a time not so long ago that Dortmund had the very player that Watzke seeks in the very own ranks. The sale of Sven Bender to Bayer Leverkusen has been described as an error by the BVB boss. “We should never have given up Sven Bender. But Sven, a superb guy, had some great years with us. On the day after the Cup win I noticed that something was up with him. He didn’t appear for a single minute although he got us to the final. When such a guy comes to you and says he wants a new start, then you have to agree. But it hurt us.”
Before that Borussia had the services of Sebastian Kehl at their disposal to provide just the sort of bite and leadership that Watzke is now confessing BVB lack.
Julian Weigl seems the obvious candidate, but there are limits to his game compared to the likes of Xabi Alonso. Under Thomas Tuchel his ball possession and distribution worked really well, but since Tuchel’s second season in charge, it seemed his performances tailed off somewhat and he has struggled to take his game to the next level.
Other options to fill the number 6 position (Nuri Sahin, Sebastian Rode etc) also do not quite fit the bill in the ideal sense. So while the jury is out on Weigl’s long-term ability to fulfil his huge potential, it seems a summer signing is in the offing.
So Dortmund need to scour the market for a suitable ‘Alonso-esque’ midfielder. Someone who fits the bill ideally would be Arturo Vidal, whose future at Bayern seems under threat following the arrival of Leon Goretzka. The main obstacle to the Chilean making the switch to the Signal-Iduna Park is that Premier League clubs like Chelsea will be prepared to offer much more in terms of wages meaning a switch to England would seem the more likely next step for King Artur.
Before we move onto some genuine candidates, I’m going to throw in a curveball and play devil’s advocate in a big way. There is a player plying his trade not too far from Dortmund, who is out of contract in the summer, has been successfully converted to a number 6 recently and who has a very bright future ahead of him. I give you Max Meyer! A curveball for sure and as likely to happen as Kyriakos Papadopoulos going a whole season without a yellow card, or Franco Di Santo winning the Torjägerkanone.
If we’re looking for a Xabi Alonso clone, then where better to look that Spain and where better to look than at Alonso’s ex-club Real Sociedad? 27-year-old Asier Illarramendi is enjoying a good season in La Liga after returning to Sociedad following two seasons with Real Madrid. The midfielder does the donkey work superbly, but is also a threat going forward and has scored six goals already this season. His club will be in no hurry to sell, but it is believed he could be picked up for as little as €15 million.
Another player who would fit the bill and who is strongly being linked with a move in the summer is Liverpool’s Emre Can. The former Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen player knows the Bundesliga well and would cost nothing in terms of a transfer fee. However, it seems more likely that the German international would move to Serie A, where he has regularly been linked with Juventus.
The trail of talented footballers making the move to the Bundesliga from Ligue 1 has been a well-worn one recently (Ousmane Dembélé, Amine Harit, Jean-Kevin Augustin, Jean-Philippe Gbamin ) so perhaps another would seem understandable. Over at Monaco they have the Brazilian Fabinho, who could be just the ticket for BVB. If it is a hard-man Dortmund want, then look no further- the 24-year-old has picked up 50 yellow cards in his 221 matches. He faced Dortmund last year in the Champions League so they have first-hand experience of his qualities. The main stumbling block would be the estimated €70 million Monaco would demand for his sale.
The name of Belgian Leander Dendoncker has been linked with Dortmund in the past and will in all likelihood be linked again this summer. The 22-year-old is a real competitor in midfield and possesses the range of passing that would fit Dortmund’s style well. He is under contract with Anderlecht until 2021, but a move to the Bundesliga would surely be a huge pull to the international.
Finally, there is Granit Xhaka. He fits the profile perfectly, knows the Bundesliga and has a proven record in the German league. He’s not exactly been able to consistently make his mark at Arsenal and a return to the Bundesliga cannot be ruled out for the 25-year-old former Borussia Mönchengladbach man. He would however eat into the transfer kitty at Dortmund with a large transfer fee and wages required.
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