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Borussia Dortmund’s Plan: Replacing Jude

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

With pre-season imminent and the summer transfer window in full swing, many teams are still shuffling around and regrouping ahead of an extensive 2023-24 campaign. Among the clubs with the most to do is Borussia Dortmund, and after a very tough end to the past campaign, there are daunting questions to answer and large gaps to fill.

The 2022/23 Bundesliga season was not kind to the Black and Yellow brigade and a group of vital outgoings leave the historic German outfit a little thin at the moment. In this three-part series of articles, we’ll attempt to soften the blow for Dortmund, starting with the most significant body shot so far this summer: Jude Bellingham’s departure.

How Important Was Jude Bellingham?


In all seriousness, it feels like the Englishman’s impact on the club and its culture is almost impossible to measure, which is bizarre for a teenager playing in one of the most storied clubs and cities in Germany. If you watched Borussia Dortmund, even occasionally, you can tell he was bigger than what was on paper. A towering, broad midfielder who yelled at whatever stood in the way of his and the team’s goals, almost like a 19-year-old swapped bodies with a gritty war general.

The way he dictated the game went beyond his experience and one would think he was in the club for nearly a decade with how rarely you can visibly sense uncertainty from him in his abilities. It’s almost dramatic to say this, but you only hear and feel these things about some of the best athletes in history.

“Jude Bellingham is the oldest 19-year-old I have ever seen,” Borussia Dortmund manager Edin Terzic said back in February. “It’s extraordinary to be able to play football so consistently at his age”.

Beyond the intangibles, Bellingham on the pitch was almost like an octopus, stretching out and being everywhere at once when needed. If the Dortmund backline struggled to start buildup, Jude scans what’s ahead and comes back to receive. If a forward is preoccupied off-ball, there’s Bellingham all the way up top pushing the opposing line back. Too much space and several gaps on a counter? The English wonderkid bolts into them and provides comfort for teammates bombing forward.

This is an oversimplification of his style but it epitomizes his skillset and mentality. He’ll do everything he knows he can do to help his team excel at what they do.

“I think you can be a 22,” former coach at Birmingham Mike Dodds told Bellingham. “You can be a No.4, No.8, No.10, someone who can do it all”.

Going Forward

Having sold Jude Bellingham for €103 million to Real Madrid, the biggest question thus far is how they will replace his profile, productivity, and personality.

Bellingham is truly irreplaceable in terms of personality and the intangible aspect of it all as mentioned before. A teenage captain of a Champions League side that also happens to be one of the biggest clubs in the world is not something you can find with just good scouting.

As trivial as it may seem on the surface, these things matter and especially for a side like Borussia Dortmund that suffered a title collapse that can easily be attributed to a lack of mental fortitude and experience. This is all to say that the replacement(s) must make up for what the Englishman did in production and then some.

Profile may be as tough to replace but with a tremendous all-around talent like Bellingham and the massive sum the German giants received in the deal, a haul of several players can add layers to Dortmund.

In terms of a player in a similar mold to Bellingham going forward as well as production, Daichi Kamada can be an excellent replacement and someone they can turn to long-term.

The Japanese international is currently a free agent following a great stint at Eintracht Frankfurt where he helped Die Adler lift their first European trophy in four decades. Kamada is currently heavily linked with AC Milan and at the time of writing looks to be heading there but it is never too late to tap in if there is interest from Dortmund.

The midfielder finished the Bundesliga campaign with 15 goal contributions (nine goals, six assists) in the Bundesliga, establishing even more assurance that he can function effectively in the league and also added three goals to his total tally via the Champions League in eight games. Beyond the numbers, however, Kamada’s style can add dynamism to Dortmund’s attack.

Very comfortable receiving the ball, Kamada was excellent for Frankfurt when helping link the first pass in the build-up from the defense to the forwards bombing on. Despite being such an attacking player as shown in his underwhelming defensive production, several counters had him positioned in their own half with his back to the opposing goal.

When in possession, Kamada more or less operates in the spaces where Bellingham found himself at Dortmund. Essentially level with the opposing backline when the ball is in the opposing half, tracking back and very willing to receive when in their own half. Willingness and comfort to receiving under pressure is critical in the Bundesliga where teams are more active out of possession, and Kamada operates amazingly in close spaces. Recovering loose balls and swiftly moving them forward is a major strength in his game that could be much more effective in a side with stronger ball carriers such as Julian Brandt.

Other option(s):

  • Celta Vigo’s Gabriel Veiga (CM, 21 y/o; Market Value: €30m*)

  • Crystal Palace’s Eberechi Eze (AM/RW, 25 y/o; Market Value: €40m*)

  • Stade Rennes’ Lovro Majer (AM/CM, 25 y/o; Market Value: €20m*)

The Other End

As for a more defensive player to cover, or perhaps surpass, Bellingham’s performance on that end, the market is somewhat dry for budget options but with the large sum of cash from the departure and assuming they sign Kamada for free, there is plenty of flexibility.

With that said, there are two players that Dortmund can bring to that position adding an abundance of depth in the defensive midfield department with Salih Özcan. The first of the pair is Stade de Reims’ Jens Cajuste who at 23 years of age has displayed the physicality, intelligence, and movement of a defensively active midfielder.

The thinking here is to find players who perhaps don’t totally identify with more natural or pure defensive talents in midfield, but ones who have the work rate to act out of possession. After all, Bellingham wasn’t entirely a 6 or an extremely deep-lying playmaker that absorbed opposing attacks and dished the ball forward.

Cajuste isn’t exactly a defense-first player either, often playing in a high midfield position but tracking back when possible. With about four tackles and blocks a game, positioning is what stands out in his play defensively, especially when facing a counterattack. Often he does go right at an opposing player but the instances of him getting ahead or predicting a dribbler’s direction is a valuable instinct for clubs that play quick football.

On the ball, he also displays great maturity in build-up, demonstrating phenomenal numbers in that respect. At about two successful take-ons per 90, Cajuste ranks in the 98th percentile of all midfielders, with nearly three progressive carries, which is almost unheard of for a midtable side like Reims. That ability coupled with his instinctive long passing can make him a deadly weapon in attack for Dortmund.

The tools are there for Cajuste to be a top box-to-box midfielder in Europe, already physically capable with a towering frame and the ability to protect the ball when moving forward. His value at the moment is €6 million* but Reims may ask in the range of €12m-€20m which is still very cheap for a player of his age profile and caliber.

For a more established product to bring alongside the Swede, however, PSV Eindhoven’s Ibrahim Sangaré is a great option. Highly sought after for a couple of years now by top clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal, and Bayern München, but interest has slightly dropped. The 25-year-old Ivorian is valued at around €35 million* with currently only Nottingham Forest publicly pursuing him, making a bidding war something Dortmund can indulge in if need be.

Sangaré is as close as you can get to Bellingham without absolutely breaking the bank. Excellent defensive mind and is among the best progressive passers in all of Europe. The one weakness when looking at his game is dribbling but as a more deep-lying operator than Bellingham or Cajuste, there’s no real concern. With players like Julian Brandt and Marco Reus among the solidified players in starting rotation, and now with Daichi Kamada coming to Dortmund in this fantasy land, more than enough cover is there on the ball.

Sangaré’s price is the main priority here. While Dortmund are a huge club and now has the freedom to conduct business within their Bellingham haul, they still operate in a very conservative matter. Yes, they are a Champions League club and Sangaré is of that level but historically they’ve been about cheap, young prospects that can develop and net the club triple what they paid (refer to the first section of the article). The Ivorian slightly falls out of that profile but this seems like a “can’t miss” buy.

He’s still quite young but Dortmund are more or less buying a player that will ride out their prime with them unless he blows up in two seasons and demands another step up. The lack of competition to buy him certainly helps, but PSV is looking to lose Xavi Simons this window and possibly for a low price. Letting Sangaré go would significantly weaken the squad at a time when Ajax is losing its grip and the Eredivisie is more open than in past years.

Assuming Nottingham is the only club in for him and the Bayern rumors are just gossip, €40m-€50m seems to be a comfortable price that keeps you within the Bellingham allowance while leaving nearly €40 million to operate with to fill in other non-Jude gaps, which are of high priority as well. This high price may also keep Nottingham out of the picture which as funny and overly cautious as that sounds, is crucial seeing how the smaller Premier League clubs have operated this summer. Better yet, Dortmund can add to the pile if they manage outgoings correctly.

Other Options:

  • Olympique Lyonnais’ Maxence Caqueret (DM/CM, 23 y/o; Market Value: €20m*)

  • SL Benfica’s Florentino Luis (DM/CM, 23 y/o; Market Value: €20m*)

  • 1. FC Köln’s Ellyes Skhiri (DM, 28 y/o; Market Value: €13m*)

  • Feyenoord’s Quinten Timber (CM, 22 y/o; Market Value: €10m*)

  • Olympique Lyonnais’ Johann Lepenant (CM/DM, 20 y/o; Market Value: €10m*)

* All market values according to transfermarkt

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