Borussia Dortmund became the first team since 1996 to prevent Bayern Munich from winning two Bundesliga titles in a row, throttling back from a Champions League exit and an eight-point deficit to post a league-record 81 points.
Now comes the hard part.
After contesting the German Cup on May 12, Dortmund will begin the long summer slog of trying to hang onto its best players.
Some are already gone. Lucas Barrios will join China's Guangzhou Evergrande. The Paraguayan never managed to wrangle his spot back after a lingering injury from the Copa America ruled him out of the early bit of the season. Shinji Kagawa will move too. Last week's hoax of his deal to Manchester United worked so well precisely because it's extremely plausible the Japanese international joins the Red Devils. And backup defender Felipe Santana will join another team where he won't have to deal with the twin towers of Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic blocking his path to the team sheet.
How Dortmund manages to fend off interest in the rest of the squad will likely define this team.
Sports Illustrated's Rafael Honigstein pointed out that those leaving are all foreigners, perhaps not as ingrained in the goal of toppling Bayern Munich. Jurgen Klopp, at least, doesn't see this as the end of his project. The coach has a contract through 2016 and rejected suggestions earlier in the year that he would replace Andre Villas-Boas at Chelsea.
"I can turn them down straight away," he said. "I will not be moving there. But I do think it is cool that I am being named in the same breath as Mourinho and Guardiola."
"That is enough for me – that is already a personal triumph, but I am not available, sorry."
Next up for Klopp will be proving the team can compete in both the Champions League and the Bundesliga. BVB limped out of the CL in the group stages this season, unable to maintain its frenzied, ravenous intensity with the squad stretched.
A lot rests on Lewandowski's near future. The Pole made Barrios expendable with a season that included 22 goals, eight assists and the gummy holdup play which spared the lungs and limbs of his teammates when under pressure. The 23-year-old's contract expires in 2014 and his agent hasn't been subtle about shopping him around.
Part of the problem is finances. Kagawa could reportedly earn up to a million more than Dortmund's offered 3 million euros a year at another club. Barrios' decision to move to China at the age of 27 is only surprising until you learn he'll earn 6.5 million euros per season. Lewandowski could expect a similar pay bump.
Few clubs are as big as 102-year-old BVB, which frequently sells out the 80,000-capacity Westfalenstadion, but few are currently as gun-shy when it comes to finances. Dortmund tried to ride with Bayern before, and it ended in near bankruptcy twice in the past decade.
Like a smoker quitting after a near-death experience, Dortmund won't overextend itself financially no matter how talented the player. Still, sporting director Michael Zorc is bullish about re-signing Lewandowski, probably because Zorc knows how detrimental that loss would be.
The sale of Kagawa, talented as he is, will be mitigated by the signing of Marco Reus from Monchengladbach – despite the lust of Bayern Munich, which certainly indicates Dortmund can compete on this stage once again despite its stringency – and the return of Mario Gotze. The 19-year-old missed much of the season with a hip injury, but scored on the last matchday and, more importantly, signed a contract extension until 2016. Additionally, Ivan Perisic, tied for third on the team with seven goals, will want to turn many of his 20 substitute appearances this year into starts in the next.
Lewandowski, though? With Barrios already gone, there's very little backup, American Terrence Boyd aside. Zorc will be looking for a striker this summer even if the Pole stays. Also, the former Lech Poznan forward had a disappointing first year in the Bundesliga as he struggled to match Dortmund's pace and style. Another striker, no matter how talented, can expect a similarly rough transition.
|ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI | Borussia Dortmund, Forward, 23
This is a club where Sven Bender, freshly back from injury, asked to come off at halftime against Munich because, "It was a match at 120 kilometers [an hour] but I could only do 90."
Keeping the hunger and frenzy turned up to 11 is the concern for next season. Keeping the players is more immediate.
If Germany and Poland – which, aside from Lewandowski, also supplies assist-leader Jakub Blaszczykowski and fullback Lukasz Piszczek – do poorly in the upcoming Euros, muffling the hype surrounding Dortmund players, don't expect Zorc or Klopp to mind one bit.
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