The Pencil: Booking Borussia Dortmund
I have been a long-time advocate of a realistic, athletic style of wrestling. The purpose of The Pencil is to demonstrate how the world of professional sport can act as an inspiration for effective booking of wrestling. In each case we’ll follow the contours of the original story, rather than trying to use artistic licence. This is not fantasy booking: this is an exploration of an entire concept of wrestling.
BVB09 Borussia Dortmund is the second biggest team in the German Bundesliga, or the highest level of association football in the country. But to be honest, I think American sports will operate so differently from the German league that a bit more explanation is going to be required. The way the franchise system works, keeping a small number of teams in a massive country, combined with the draft system that levels the playing field in some sports, means that although there are gradations in the level that clubs achieve, no one can leave all the other sides behind. The Yankees are a phenomenally huge team, but so are the Boston Red Sox, despite the curse of the bambino. The Lakers and the Celtics have won more NBA titles than anyone else, but there’s only one between them. There are bigger franchises in the NFL, but success tends to be cyclical, and fleeting, rather than sustained and persistent.
These things do not operate in the German football league, and you cannot begin to understand how Borussia Dortmund works without understanding the biggest side in German football: FC Bayern Munich.
It is hard to sum up the way that Munich dominates German football, but here are a few facts to give you some ideas. The German side who won the 2014 World Cup in Brazil was made up of roughly 1/3 FC Bayern players; as many played for Munich as played in every league outside Germany in the world combined. On three occasions FC Bayern have spent more than £30m on a single player – 13 of the 20 most expensive transfers in the league have all been players moving to Munich. Of those 20, Borussia Dortmund has three – only one more than players they’ve seen move to Munich. They have hundreds of thousands of official club members.
The huge fanbase and financial might translates into success on the field, too. Munich have won the German league 26 times, but the picture is more stark than that – 25 of those titles have come in the last 48 years, which means that Munich win the title more than half the time. No one else has won the title more than nine times. Dortmund is the only other side to win the title in the 21st century more than once – Munich have kicked-off the millennium by taking 11 titles already. Since the late 1960s they have either been the dominant team, or have been second as someone else supplants them for a spell of a few years. They are currently on a run of four successive titles, and don’t really look like losing next season. To put this in perspective, the New York Yankees have been the most successful team in Major League Baseball by a huge margin, and have only won two more world series despite their dominant period stretching back into the 1920s. If you were to judge them only from the start of the German Bundesliga, rather than earlier football leagues in the country, the Yankees would be beaten by 25 titles to 7. That’s not a jab at the Yankees, and I’m sure their fans would criticize the way I’m mangling these figures: but it does stress Munich’s dominance in a way that I can’t put into words otherwise. Munich are also the most successful German side in Europe, winning 5 Champions League (and being runner up on a further five occasions) and also adding two of the smaller European competitions to their tally. Again, the closest Germany side in terms of Champions League performance is BVB09, who won the title once, in 1997, and were recently runners-up in a second final – so FC Bayern are five times more successful than their nearest domestic rivals.
All of this has translated into quite an interesting phenomenon, which is that although Munich are hugely popular with some fans, they’ve also turned into quite the dominant heel with some sections of the audience. FC Bayern are derisively known as FC Hollywood by some sections of the fans, something that they try to spin into a positive but carries the initial criticism with which it was conveyed. And it is this reputation that makes the relationship between Munich and Dortmund a fascinating basis for a wrestling angle.
This isn’t especially about results, and following a pattern as closely as we attempted in the Leicester column, though I am going to attempt the same sort of thing. This is much more about characterisation and mood. Borussia Dortmund emerged as the alternative to Dortmund in the 21st century and became hugely popular. There’s an element of ‘anyone but Munich’ about it all, but that doesn’t explain it in full. Dortmund had a charismatic coach, who championed an expressive, free-flowing and technically proficient brand of football, as well as a group of young players – good football and young, home-grown players attempting to match up against the multi-million dollar superstars. It is not difficult to see how you’d convert this into a wrestling angle; some people might say it’s already been done!
But let’s try and it put it together in the current WWE context. To be honest, the way wrestling does overkill you could put pretty much any multi-time WWE champion into the Munich role, but I’m going to swing for the fences and plump for John Cena. This shouldn’t be taken as any kind of statement in the ongoing debate about Cena and a potential heel run – but John has been the franchise player for a decade now, and as someone who divides the audience between devoted fans of his success and those who think what he does isn’t really ‘wrestling’ he’d make the perfect parallel for the divisive FC Hollywood.
But finding someone to stand in for Dortmund is the more difficult factor. If this were the latter quarter of 1998 this would be simple. The choice would be Billy Kidman. There has rarely been such a talented wrestler, one who can leave the majority of his colleagues behind in terms of in-ring performance, so desperately in need of a manager. The technical capability, youth and popularity would all point to young Billy.
Now, it’s a more difficult sell, not least of all because technical ability is not something we associate with youth, but with the guys who have honed their craft in the Indy’s for years. In truth, I’m not sure there is a perfect fit to solve this, but there are plenty of people who could step into the role. I’m going to work with the new NXT star, Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas as my base, but if you wanted to sub in a Chad Gable or a Johnny Gargano it would probably all work just as well.
So, with our principal players set, how does this play out?
The good thing about this idea is that it doesn’t require any special build-up with Cena. Munich come out of trading titles with VFL Wolfsburg in a way that replicates a lot of WWE feuds, so the only necessary factor is that Cena would need to come out of his previous feud the clear winner, and with the title. While this is going on, Almas needs to stumble and acquire some kind of coach/mentor figure to get his career back on track. It’s absolutely vital that this person has the right kind of image: you need to associate them with smooth, flowing technical wrestling, and they need to be charismatic. There are plenty of options out there, but as Jürgen Klopp was also a young man I’m going to suggest using Daniel Bryan as a possibility here. This way the story not only comes together, but Almas gets an additional rub from his proximity to Bryan. Following this, Almas needs to win more and more matches while Cena finishes off his own personal Wolfsburg.
After a couple of months of winning matches, Almas suddenly looks like a good bet for number one contender, though not exactly like someone who is going to beat John Cena. When the two finally meet in the ring, Cena doesn’t actually have to do an awful lot to capture the slightly patronising essence of FC Bayern as he has it in spades already. There’s a certain amount of respect in the way Cena talks to stars lower down the ladder, but you’re also never too far away from a ‘do you know who I am?’ – and that side of things has to be slightly more pronounced than it usually would.
Then, when they finally have the title match, Almas wins – and not only wins, he wins clean.
This obviously throws Cena into doubt, and you have to run weeks’ worth of vignettes of Cena changing up his own training, trying to freshen things up, ahead of the rematch – with Almas needs to win again.
Now, at this point you could just cut it there, say you’ve followed the real life story and leave Almas on top of the company. But I’m more interested in play this out. In reality, Klopp’s star faded after this, and Cena would doubtless capture the title at the next attempt to mimic Bayern’s return to the top of the tree. My own thinking is that having lost the title, and maybe having lost another couple of high profile matches, Bryan would mimic Klopp’s decision to take a sabbatical and leave the company for a while. This would leave Almas on the cusp of a new story: how do you go about capturing that magic again, and about putting in a challenge to the Hollywood glamour at the top of the card?
But I’m less concerned about what happens then, because as always in these stories it’s the journey that is more interesting than the destination….
I won't pretend my eyes didn't glaze over a bit when reading the football section, but the idea itself is a very sound one. In fact it doesn't sound all that different from the run up to Bryan's win over Cena a few years ago, though obviously they didn't give Cena that heelish edge and the follow up was very different. Still, it's a very good idea and I like the way you present it here, as you said yourself it's not so much fantasy booking, almost more of a thought experiment about how wrestling can truly be more "realistic", as opposed to the so called "reality" era which frankly is (was?) anything but.
Hi Mizfan. You're right, it's not all that different to stuff they actually already do, which is why I thought it'd be interesting to try and map an extra 'sport' layer over the top. I've got another one of these planned but don't worry, I'm done with football scenarios for the time being... planning on moving into other areas! Thanks for stopping by, mate, and sorry for the delay in F2F.