The signing of Henrikh Mkhitaryan signals Borussia Dortmund have joined the European elite - yet keeps them under the radar
Their louder and brasher rivals Bayern Munich continue to take the limelight - but that suits BVB
Only a few months ago, Borussia Dortmund was the most talked about club in European football. Jürgen Klopp had just completed the transition from an unknown mid-table manager to one of the game's most wanted coaches, and the world was singing the praises of the renowned BVB spirit.
One valiant Champions League Final defeat and two high profile transfer sagas later, though, and Dortmund have begun once again to slip beneath the radar. Normal service has been resumed, and the cameras have turned inevitably to Munich, where the arrivals of Pep Guardiola and Mario Gotze have sent FC Bayern's well worn PR machine into overdrive.
While Bayern may be hogging the headlines with their latest superstars, however, Dortmund have set about their own program of rehabilitation. The loss of Gotze and the seemingly endless furore around Robert Lewandowski have forced them to bolster a weakened attack. And in the familiar shadow of their Munich rivals, they are doing so with aplomb.
After the successful signing of St Etienne's Pierre Aubameyang last month, BVB's latest arrival is the man billed as a direct and suitable replacement for the departing Gotze. Armenian number ten Henrikh Mkhitaryan arrived from Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday, and with a goal and an assist in his first friendly appearance for Dortmund, has made an immediate impression.
With a price tag of £24m and 25 league goals last season, not much less is expected of such a signing. Despite his still unfamiliar name, the transfer fee is enough to indicate that Mkhitaryan's is not a low profile signing on behalf of BVB. But in acquiring a talent who has largely slipped under the radar of other major clubs, Dortmund are back to doing what they do best.
In the last three years, Dortmund and Jürgen Klopp have developed into reluctant favourites. While their competitive spirit has never waned, suggestions that they had overtaken the likes of Bayern have always been quickly shot down. In the days leading up to the Champions League Final, the club launched a relentless campaign to promote themselves as a different kind of club. They and Klopp have always preferred working as outsiders, underdogs.
Even during their superb European run last year, it was against the biggest powers that they hit the top of their game, and in the apparently easier ties that they looked in most danger. Klopp's Dortmund are a team that thrive on anonymity.
Were it not for Gotze and Guardiola, that anonymity would have been torn to shreds on the back of the last few years. As it is, Dortmund now have the luxurious knowledge that it is Bayern, as usual, who will be the centre of attention next season. Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu's remark that "I would only understand the transfer if it were to a club like Barcelona, Bayern or Real Madrid" rather misses the now apparent fact that Dortmund have all but joined that elite. They just don't have to admit it yet.
Mkhitaryan, who enjoyed much of his footballing education in Brazil alongside his friend Oscar, seems to be the perfect replacement for Gotze. While his individual talent may never reach the level of his predecessor, he will slot perfectly into the gap that has been left. As the most expensive signing in the club's history, he is a statement of serious intent, but in his as of yet untapped potential at the highest level, he is also a typically Kloppesque signing.
Due to his unpronounceable name, Mkhitaryan has already been shortened in Germany to "Mücke", meaning mosquito. It is a tenuous but suitable enough analogy for the manner in which he suits his new club. Often invisible, frequently considered insignificant in comparison to bigger threats, but capable of causing yellow hell if underestimated.
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