These are experiences "that they will take with them, that will help them to grow," commented youth coordinator Lars Ricken. Suffering defeat for the first time all season in the final match of the campaign, the Final of the German B-Junior Championship, having previously won 23 matches and drawn the other five, is pretty much one of the most painful experiences that you can endure as a sportsperson.
For the Borussia Dortmund U17s, what has been an outstanding season ended in bitter disappointment as they suffered a 3-2 final defeat to 1. FC Cologne, against whom they had already won and drawn earlier in the campaign. Luck might not have been on their side – they missed a penalty, hit the woodwork and had considerably more chances – but Ricken felt that the opponents deserved the victory. "Cologne produced a top performance in an outstanding final," he said.
The Black & Yellows struggled with the favourites tag, and perhaps their home advantage too. "For the lads, it's a weight on their shoulders to play here in front of a sell-out crowd, in front of their family and friends," said the 42-year-old, who was however quick to praise the youngsters. "They've had a fantastic season, produced a great display in the semi-final against Wolfsburg and developed as a team. And yet they ultimately left the pitch on the losing side. But that's also an experience that they'll take with them. The lads will have another shot at it next season in the U19s."
This summer saw the Borussia Dortmund youth teams reach German Championship finals for the 22nd and 23rd times – a record surpassed only by VfB Stuttgart, whose youngsters have reached 29 finals. The U17s' defeat means that no club has yet claimed a clean sweep of the A-Junior and B-Junior titles in the same season.
Youth coordinator Lars Ricken paid "a huge compliment to everyone involved" and summarised what has been a season brimming with highlights as follows: "Both the U19s and the U17s kicked off their season last July. Now, almost 12 months later, they have rewarded themselves with first and second place finishes respectively. It's the result of hard work, not only within those age categories but below them too, where the long-term philosophy of the staff ensures that we have strong teams at U17 and U19 levels."
In each of the six seasons since 2014, Borussia Dortmund have claimed one Bundesliga title at youth level, with this year's coming when the U19s beat VfB Stuttgart 5-3 a fortnight ago to secure the A-Junior title. Despite missing out on a clean sweep at youth level, Ricken spoke of an "excellent record with six German titles in the last six years," but subsequently sought to play down expectations. "This will never happen in youth football in this form again; it will remain an achievement without parallel because the pool of talent across all youth academies has become extremely rich. This is illustrated by the fact that the other participants in the final round in both age categories consisted of almost completely different clubs." Wolfsburg were the only other club to reach the semi-finals at U17 and U19 levels.
A lengthy interview with Lars Ricken on this subject will appear in the members' magazine "Borussia" at the weekend and will later be published here on bvb.de