Dortmund aim to be the first-choice destination for German youth

Marco Reus opts for champions over Bayern Munich, as top three teams tied on 37 points as they return to action in the Bundesliga after mid-season break.

Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marco Reus, right, decided to join Borussia Dortmund rather than Bayern Munich this summer, for a fee of just under €18 million.
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The Bundesliga has several reasons to feel pleased about itself since it returned from the winter break.

First, because the length of that break leaves players and coaches feeling refreshed and galvanised. Those who are still competing in European competitions from next month will trust that shows when they come up against teams from leagues with shorter, or non-existent, new year holidays.

Second, a collective sense of self-satisfaction was felt when Uefa, European football's governing body, on Wednesday published their state-of-the-game benchmarking report, examining the relative health of the 40-odd leagues and national associations under their ambit. Germany scored well in important respects, notably for its clubs' relative financial stability and constraint, a key issue in the current economic climate and ahead of Uefas imposing its Financial Fair Play regime, intended to punish big borrowers and dangerous debtors.

Borussia Dortmund were once a shorthand for excessive spending and reckless ambition. That was in the years after their 1997 Champions League triumph.

Suffice to say the club have bounced back. The reigning Bundesliga champions came into the new year buoyant, not only because they are among the thicket of teams in what looks an unusually gripping race for the title, but because they have just flexed their marketplace muscles impressively.

The announcement that Borussia Monchengladbach's Marco Reus, the 22-year-old wunderkind, had decided to join Dortmund - for a fee of just under €18m (Dh86.9m) - this summer rather than Bayern Munich has emboldened the champions into believing they can become the logical first-choice destination of ambitious young German players.

Jurgen Klopp, the Dortmund coach, told Sport-Bild magazine: "This was a situation where the player said to himself: 'This is a happening club and I can be part of it.' We have shown we are a place where players grow and improve." Being a relatively young squad, Dortmund should be on the up for many years yet, Klopp said. "We're maybe 10 per cent of the way along this journey."

That statement might be taken one of two ways: that Klopp believes so strongly in the long-term at Dortmund that he, like Reus, would also turn down Bayern, with whom he often has been connected, in favour of the glimmering yellow brick road ahead of the Ruhr club; or that he can talk about being only a small percentage into his vision given that Dortmund had such a poor Champions League campaign, eliminated at the group stage.

Had Dortmund not also made a lousy start to the defence of their domestic crown - they lost three of their opening six Bundesliga fixtures - they would be peering down at Bayern and Schalke 04, the other pair of the trio tied on 37 points. Reus's Monchengladbach, who beat Bayern for the second time this season last weekend, are only a point behind.

The top three are all in action today, while Monchengladbach, conscious that four German clubs, rather than three, will go into next season's Champions League because of the country's improved Uefa co-efficient, are at Stuttgart tomorrow.

Bayern, who have a superior goal difference (+4) to Dortmund and a much larger one (+13) than Schalke, hope to welcome back Franck Ribery, although the French winger has a minor problem with his back, and trust that the midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger will report no further difficulties with a troublesome knee.

Meanwhile, the Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes has urged his team to "cut out the sloppy errors" he identified in the defeat against Monchengladbach.

Heynckes, experienced and canny, also wants to remind Dortmund that they should look over their shoulders in this race, as well as breathing down the neck of Bayern.

Asked if he sees Dortmund as the biggest threat to a Bayern coronation, Heynckes said: "You must respect Schalke, you know."

Schalke, at Cologne in the later kick-off, find their unhappy fame for blowing chances of winning titles still counts against them. But a slip-up by the leading pair could easily leave them clear at the top tonight.

Italy: Amauri’s no to Milan link

Amauri, Fiorentina’s new Brazil-born striker, denied delaying his move from Juventus in the hope of receiving a better offer from AC Milan.

“I was offered a two-and-a-half-year contract but I signed for six months as I wanted to first prove myself as a Fiorentina player,” he said. “What’s been said about waiting for Milan is just not true.”

Amauri could team up with the Montenegrin Stevan Jovetic in attack for tomorrow's Tuscan derby against Siena.
Meanwhile, Udinese face a crisis in midfield ahead of the Juventus game. The Chilean winger Mauricio Isla is struggling and

Giampiero Pinzi has been ruled out with a calf strain, the Ghanaian Kwadwo Asamoah and the Nigerian Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu are at the African Cup of Nations, which means that 19-year-old Cristian Battocchio could get a rare start.

France: Alex set to join PSG

Chelsea’s Brazilian defender Alex was to be unveiled Last night as Paris Saint-Germain’s latest signing, according to Carlo Ancelotti, the team’s coach.

”He will be a PSG player. It was a good opportunity given his price and his desire to join PSG,” Ancelotti told a news conference.

Rudi Garcia, the Lille coach, insists there is no pressure on new signing Nolan Roux as the defending Ligue 1 champions look to get back to winning ways against St Etienne tomorrow. Roux, 23, was unveiled this week after signing from Brest and is likely to step into the shoes of Moussa Sow, who has completed a move to Fenerbahce after returning from the African Nations Cup.

Lille are third but defeat by Marseille last weekend ended a club record run of 17 games unbeaten and saw them drop four points behind Montpellier and seven adrift of leaders PSG.

Spain: Fabregas to improve

Cesc Fabregas, the Barcelona midfielder, said he must improve his own performances as the Spanish champions look to overhaul the Primera Liga leaders Real Madrid.

Pep Guardiola’s side travel to Castellon to face Villarreal today, trailing Madrid by five points but boosted by their aggregate

Copa del Rey quarter-final win this week over their great rivals.

"I'm not happy with my own performance," Fabregas said of his own showing in the cup tie. "I have to improve a lot.
Xabi Alonso, the Real Madrid midfielder, believes his side can find positives in their Copa del Rey fightback; they were down 2-0 at Barca but the game ended 2-2. "The team showcased psychological strength," he said. "We never gave up and continued to fight." Madrid play host to Real Zaragoza tonight.

Scotland: Ibrahim is confident

The new Celtic signing Rabiu Ibrahim aims to make an immediate breakthrough into the Hoops’ first team.

The 20-year-old Nigerian midfielder signed a three-and-a-half-year deal last week and has since had his work permit processed.
With Celtic at the top of the Scottish Premier League and still in both cups – with the Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final against Falkirk at Hampden coming up tomorrow – the former PSV Eindhoven and Sporting Lisbon player may have to wait to see some action.

However, Ibrahim did not betray any concern when asked about finding a place in Neil Lennon's side.
"My immediate goal is to play for Celtic and work hard for the team and try to win trophies, starting with the league this season," Ibrahim said.

Meanwhile, the SPL has dismissed a charge against Hearts for an alleged breach of their rules.
The Edinburgh club were charged with "failing to behave with the utmost good faith" over the delayed payment of player wages earlier this month.

Responding to the news, a Hearts representative said: “We are satisfied at today’s outcome.”

Holland:Johansson joins AZ

AZ Alkmaar completed the signing of Mattias Johansson, the Sweden Under 21 international, yesterday.

The right-back joined the title-contending side on a four-year deal with immediate effect from Kalmar FF.

Johansson, 19, made his senior debut for the Swedish team in 2009 and has been on the radar of AZ for quite a while. The two clubs failed to reach an agreement in the summer.

Also, Sander Boschker, FC Twente’s 41-year-old goalkeeper, has no plans to retire and is hopeful of extending his deal in Enschede. Although contract negotiations for the player, currently sidelined with a calf injury, have yet to begin Boschker is keen to play on.

“From the club I have not heard anything, but it is only January. If I am fit again there will undoubtedly be a conversation with the coach [Steve McClaren] and the chairman [Joop Munsterman],” he told Voetbal International.