A season of highs and lows that ended on a bitter note is behind us. We look back at the 2022/23 season and focus on a major comeback. Here is Part 1 of the Season Review.
We're sitting on the bus that is transporting us back to Bad Ragaz. Borussia Dortmund have just played the first friendly fixture of their 2022 pre-season training camp, which they lost 3-1 to Valencia. A text message comes through: "Please stand by for communication. It will be about Haller, neutral subject, no laughing." A sense of unease immediately sets in. What can have happened? Something must have happened.
When we arrive at the team hotel, we make our way for a very late dinner, still not knowing. A short while later, the next message arrives: "Please come to the team rooms." We get up, walk past the waiter who is just bringing our food and a matter of minutes later we are sitting on the hotel terrace. At 10:55 CET, the news is published with the headline "Haller departs from BVB training camp". Shock, silence, nobody talks, everyone stares into space. The professional athlete, who the day before was in good spirits for a media round, laughing and saying things like "The first days have been very nice, I've been warmly welcomed by everyone" and "Everything's fine, I can't complain", was diagnosed with a testicular tumour. The news sends a shockwave through Borussia Dortmund's training camp.
The silence after the shock.
And yet the season began on a euphoric note. Even before the official start to the season, Edin Terzic is unveiled as the new BVB coach in May 2022 and fuels euphoria with a video message. The key point: "Let's be louder than ever before. Then I'm sure that we'll have a big chance to celebrate like never before at some point." New signings Niklas Süle, Karim Adeyemi, Nico Schlotterbeck, Salih Özcan, Alexander Meyer and Sebastien Haller also boost the hopes for a successful season. Following the first training sessions in Brackel and friendly fixtures in the surrounding area, the BVB contingent head to their training camp in Bad Ragaz in mid-July. In Switzerland, the foundations for the new season are laid, the coach's philosophy is instilled and the new signings are integrated. Despite the hard work, the atmosphere is relaxed.
The mood changes
On the fourth day of the training camp, BVB play a friendly against Valencia. Sebastian Haller is absent from the squad. The striker previously complained of feeling unwell. Examinations, phone calls and ultimately the new signing's departure follow. Haller, the marquee transfer who is expected to score most of the goals in the new season, is ruled out long-term with cancer. The cautious prognosis: if everything goes well, he might be able to play some minutes by the end of the season. But that's the sporting side of things. Sebastien Haller the person, who is seriously ill and wants to become healthy again, is much more important.
The mood in Bad Ragaz changes in a heartbeat. The next morning, the players skulk into the fitness tent for a regeneration session with sad expressions on their faces. All the players and staff gather for a group photo in which they hold up three Haller shirts to the camera. To encourage him and wish him well. Several days later, BVB end the training camp and continue to prepare for the start of the season at home. In the background, the management work on replacing their No. 1 striker.
The first competitive match sees the Black & Yellows visit Munich, where they comfortably beat 1860 Munich 3-0 in the first round of the DFB-Pokal. The Bundesliga campaign also starts on a successful note – with a 1-0 win at home to Bayer Leverkusen. Freiburg are then beaten 3-1 in the first away game of the season. Three games, three wins – more of the same please. But in their next home game against Werder Bremen, the Black & Yellows lead 2-0 until the 88th minute – before ultimately losing 3-2 to the promoted outfit. There are faces of disbelief on the pitch and in the stands. "I have no idea what happened. If I knew that, we would've stopped it," said captain Marco Reus, trying to explain the unexplainable. The first loss of the season – and it is some loss. A week later, the team show the right reaction away to Hertha BSC and win 1-0 in Berlin. The sole goal is scored by Anthony Modeste, who was signed as the new striker three weeks earlier.
One of the emotional highlights of the season then takes place in another competition at the start of September: there is a very special guest among the 70,700 spectators at the opening Champions League match against FC Copenhagen. After stadium announcer Danny Fritz announces the BVB line-up, it briefly goes very quiet at SIGNAL IDUNA PARK. Fritz welcomes Sebastien Haller – who is displayed up on the scoreboard and celebrated with great applause by the BVB fans – to the stadium. It is his first appearance as a Borussia player in his new stadium. "When he ran out, we saw him up on the big screen. I got goosebumps. He is a strong person and will give us a lot," Reus added.
That emotional highlight is followed by a sporting setback. BVB suffer a clear and deserved 3-0 defeat in Leipzig. Then there is another reaction. The city is buzzing in the days before the hotly anticipated Ruhr Derby. It is the first "real" derby in 1,239 days, following corona and Schalke's relegation. A crowd of 81,100 spectators packs into SIGNAL IDUNA PARK to witness BVB dominate and run out 1-0 winners thanks to a goal by Youssoufa Moukoko. The stadium is on fire and the game also leaves its mark on the players. "The whole week has been about the derby. Amazing! Highly deserved! And then a youngster scores: Mouki! I'm unbelievably happy for him. The fans carry us. That was a lot of fun. And the celebration afterwards is the most fun of all," says Nico Schlotterbeck after his first derby.
And the scorer of the winning goal? "You dream of that as a kid. It was very nice to experience that. When I come on as substitute, it's also good for me. At some point I will play from the start, but I'm not putting any pressure on myself," says Moukoko, who is writing his own story this season: on Matchday 9, he will be in the starting XI for the first time and will be Dortmund's number one striker from that point onwards. Six goals and four assists in the Bundesliga by the end of the year means that Moukoko even goes to the World Cup with Germany as a debutant.
Marco Reus gets injured
However, the derby is overshadowed by an injury to Marco Reus, who up until that match was ever-present in the starting XI and made his mark on Dortmund's game as an absolute first-team regular. After about half an hour of play, he has to be substituted with a torn lateral collateral ligament in his ankle. Two comeback attempts in the following weeks fail and the captain remains largely out of action until the end of the year. "There is no-one I talk to on the phone more often than our team doctor at the moment," says Edin Terzic after his captain is sidelined. Reus is not the only player who sees the team doctor more often than the coach during the course of the first half of the season. "Before the injuries, before Sebastien Haller got ill, there was speculation about whether there would be a bumpy start. There has been," says Terzic.
That bumpy start continues: a defeat in Cologne is followed by a draw at home to Bayern Munich that the BVB supporters will not forget in a hurry. The visitors take a 2-0 lead and look like certain winners for most of an intense top match. But a Moukoko strike with a quarter of an hour remaining and a Modeste goal with the last kick of the game send SIGNAL IDUNA PARK into raptures. "Then the stadium exploded," says Schotterbeck as he reflects on this moment. These are moments of pure happiness that can be seen in the eyes of the players, the coaches and the fans.
A week later, BVB drop down to eight position in the table – their worst placement throughout the entire season – following a defeat away to Union Berlin. There are still five games to go until the winter break, which begins in mid-November due to the World Cup. After three victories, BVB believe they are on an upward trajectory once again, but the last two games of the year see the team visit Wolfsburg and Mönchengladbach. Both end in clear defeats. Sixth in the table. Two points away from fourth place. Nine points behind the league leaders. "Now we have a deficit that we must make up from January. We're not starting from zero, we're starting in the minus," says a disappointed Edin Terzic. On the 11th day of the 11th month, nobody at BVB feels like laughing. The effects of the defeats are still lingering and the team enters the two-month break in a subdued mood, with no way to influence the standings.
The internationals fly to the World Cup, while the rest of the squad heads to Asia and the coaching staff leaves no stone unturned. And Sebastien Haller? He fights back. Chemotherapy, operations, rehab. The striker wants to get back on the pitch.