Borussia Dortmund has made a fine habit out of getting there first -- whether the "there" in question is the ball or a particularly useful player. But for once, the new and old German champions will have to wait. Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa has told the club he will not decide on extending his contract (beyond summer 2013) until after the DFB Cup final against Bayern Munich on May 12.
The 23-year-old midfielder, who played an important role in Dortmund's successful title defense with 13 goals and 11 assists, has already ignored one ultimatum by the club. Sporting director Michael Zorc wanted him to accept or reject the Black and Yellow's contract offer by last Monday. In an interview with German tabloid Bild, Kagawa insisted he had not made up his mind yet and added that he felt "moved" by the way supporters and teammates have tried to talk him into staying. But the club fears he is Premier League-bound. Manchester United, in particular, is said to be interested.
"We are continuing the dialogue but are making plans for both scenarios," sporting director Michael Zorc said.
Midfielder Ivan Perisic, who lives in the same apartment block as Kagawa, told WAZ: "We are talking about his future all the time. Sadly it's not my decision but his."
It very much sounds like sayonara.
Kagawa, who will command an asking fee of about ?15 million and wages of around ?4m per year -- Dortmund has offered ?3 million -- would be the second prominent departure in the summer. Striker Lucas Barrios, 27, agreed to a deal with Guangzhou Evergrande in China for about ?10 million. He will reportedly earn ?6.5 million per year there, more than three times his current salary. For the attacker, an international with Paraguay, the move was a no-brainer, especially in the light of his reduced playing time this season. The automatic starter in 2010-11 fell behind Polish teammate Robert Lewandowski.
"I can't get used to a space on the bench," Barrios said recently.
In truth, Dortmund was also happy to take the money -- as an unsettled player in the dressing room, Barrios was starting to rock the boat a little.
The champions have seen this coming, however. Barrios was already talking about moving to Spain last summer, and Kagawa would have attracted serious attention, too, before, if he hadn't broken a metatarsal in the Asia Cup in January 2011. Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp knew that these two players were always vulnerable to offers from abroad. Unlike the squad's German contingent, they didn't really buy into "the project," the idea of ushering a new era and dominating the Bundesliga for years to come. At least not to the same extent.
Felipe Santana falls into the same category. The Brazilian center back will be allowed to leave for about ?3 million and is likely to end up at either Leverkusen or Mönchengladbach. Dortmund knows that he's far too good to spend his days as deputy to Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic and has agreed to let him go at a cut price in recognition of his professionalism.
The trio was bought for a combined ?6.6 million and will be sold for close to ?30 million. That kind of profit makes the send-off a lot sweeter. Dortmund could easily add another ?20 million if it was to put Lewandowski on the market as well, but Zorc is adamant that the most improved player of the season (22 goals in the league) won't be sold. The 23-year-old has, like Kagawa, so far refused to sign a contract extension on improved terms -- his current deal lapses in 2014 -- with his agent Cezary Kucharski saying, "it's still unclear if Robert will play for Dortmund in the coming season." Kucharski makes no bones about his attempts to drum up more interest for his client during the Euros, when Lewandowski will lead the line for the hosts.
"The tournament could play a big role in determining Robert's future," Kucharski told Westfälische Nachrichten.
For his part, Zorc has insisted Lewandowski will certainly play at the Westfalenstadion, come what may. Losing another prize asset would be one too many: Dortmund would have to completely rebuild its attack and inadvertently send out a signal that it's a selling club. Other stars could then be tempted to jump ship, too.
Lewandowski's ambivalence notwithstanding, there seems little risk that the record-breaking team -- no one had ever amassed 81 points in a Bundesliga season before -- will break up completely. Dortmund has already shown its ambition by signing highly rated attacking midfielder Marco Reus for ?17.5 million and snatched the 18-year-old forward Leonardo Bittencourt (Cottbus), another very promising German youngster, from under the noses of Bayern (?3.5 million). That would leave approximately ?10 million for a Barrios replacement. In that respect, Nicklas Helenius (Aalborg BK), John Guidetti (ManCity/Feyenoord), Bas Dost (Heerenveen) and Luuk de Jong (Twente) have been scouted extensively. Local paper Ruhr Nachrichten revealed Dortmund is also interested in Angelo Henríquez (Universidad de Chile). The fact that Manchester United secured first option on the 18-year-old a year ago makes him an intriguing candidate: Dortmunsd could ask for a part-exchange if and when Alex Ferguson does come calling for Kagawa.
A third of the ?30 million or so that the Black and Yellows can expect from next year's Champions League is likely to be used toward the acquisition of another defender or two, but the bulk of that income will once again be used "invisibly," i.e. for inward investment. Mario Götze, the most wanted player in the squad, has already extended his contract until 2016 for nearly ?5 million per season, and other stalwarts like Hummels and Subotic will soon demand similar compensation.
It remains to be seen whether Klopp's Dortmund will have enough depth to contend in Europe, where success has so far eluded the club. It will either have to go for another Reus-type signing of real international class or adapt its high-energy style, maybe even both. As in the season before, the real run started after the winter break when the club was no longer involved in European competition -- surely no coincidence. At the end of this season, there were signs that Dortmund's football was becoming more varied, with the players able to change tempo and to rest when necessary. Dortmund will have to mature tactically without forsaking the incredible intensity and hunger that have been this team's hallmarks. It will be a difficult balancing act. But if anyone can pull it off, it's surely Klopp and the equally brilliant Zorc, a double-act who look primed to take things to the next level.