He was not the only one. As well as Dembélé, a host of bright young things — the Turkish wing Emre Mor, 19; the Spanish midfielder Mikel Merino, 20; the versatile Portuguese Raphael Guerreiro, 22 — would arrive at Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, along with a contingent of more experienced faces like the German internationals André Schürrle and Mario Götze.
One by one, each arrival eased the sting of what should have been a dispiriting summer for Dortmund, Germany’s second superpower. Bayern Munich, as it seems to do every year, had plucked one of Dortmund’s crown jewels, the club captain Mats Hummels, and the core midfielders Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gundogan soon followed him out the door, bound for the Premier League.
“We gave long consideration on how to replace the players we lost,” said Dortmund’s technical director, Michael Zorc. “We decided to go with a two-column model: very young, highly skilled players, but also established, internationally experienced ones.”
The result is, arguably, the most gifted collection of young players anywhere in Europe, crafted into a team of rich spirit and endless adventure by Thomas Tuchel, Dortmund’s astute, imaginative manager. There have been bumps in the road, of course: Tuchel’s team arrives at Saturday’s Revierderby against Schalke — it is Germany’s fiercest local rivalry — sixth in the Bundesliga and prone to inconsistency, capable of going goal for goal with Real Madrid in the Champions League but also of losing to newly promoted RB Leipzig in the league.