On the face of it, Borussia Dortmund are among Europe’s elite clubs.
Almost always qualifying for the European Champions League, the German side enjoy one of the biggest followings, with their 81 000-seat Signal Iduna Park arena always packed to the rafters for their home matches.
However, Dortmund are a realistic club, and they do not consider equality with the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid something even worth whispering.
“We are a challenger,” says the club’s sales and marketing director Carsten Cramer.
“We are from a region that is not rich, and unlike the other clubs, we don’t have Qatari, Russian or American owners. So, it is important for us to accept that we will never compete with the likes of United or Real.”
In a time when many clubs are capitalising on the desire of filthy rich men around the world to own “toys” in the form of football clubs, surely Dortmund should be considering selling to the highest bidder?
“Not at all,” Cramer says, waving his hands for emphasis.
According to Cramer, the German way of club ownership works best in that it does not allow for individual ownership from outside the country.
“Here the influence is from the members, and that is why we are able to remain connected to our communities.
“We have to protect the emotional element of the club, and that is why we will not sell.
“People have to have the feeling that they own the club, and that is why we continue to attract the numbers that we do.”
But don’t they have the ambition to win the Champions League again? Don’t they wish to put Europe’s premier knockout trophy into their cabinet instead of watching on as the likes of Madrid, Barcelona and to some extent United dominate the continent?
“Like I said, we see ourselves as challengers. We are not a city that is as attractive as Madrid or Paris. We will never make the mistake of thinking we will beat Manchester or Madrid long-term, but maybe once in a while.”
Unlike those clubs where the pressure to achieve is so intense that coaches often don’t last, at Dortmund there is no such thing.
“We race our own race. We don’t have to win all the cup finals, but we have to challenge,” said Cramer.
“And so, the key for us is to be creative in developing and making the youngsters good enough to help us be competitive enough to challenge.”
While they enjoy competing in Europe, Dortmund’s main focus is doing well locally.
“We’ve asked ourselves whether we would like to reach the levels of the United or Real Madrid, but we believe the bread and butter is served here at home. The Bundesliga is most important for us.
“We are convinced that it is not necessary to do it the boring English Premiership way of selling to the highest bidder. As long as football is working in our own way, why should we be bothered?
“In any case, the stadiums are still full; the players are still being developed; the national teams are still doing well. We don’t have a problem.”
Dortmund, he says, have more relevance to the people than just winning.
“Actually, the loyalty of the people is deeper and more intense when the club is struggling,” he explained, a statement that became more evident later in the day when the off-form Dortmund gifted away a 4-0 lead to draw 4-4 in the Ruhr derby with Schalke 04.
“Our people love us as a club because of the values we represent.”
And what are those values? “We are different from Man United. We are a football club, and not a business or marketing tool that plays football.
“We try to be as much independent from individual (players or coaches) as possible, so we can’t focus on a Dembele or Aubameyang. We try to define our club through the yellow and black, and not through individuals or players that we put them on the pedestals.
You'll Never Walk Alone. Dortmund before kick off pic.twitter.com/ouOidr5Anp
“As Dortmund, we are able to bond many people. Whatever we do has to reach as many people as possible. Of course there is ambition to do well, but we believe it is important to be humble, authentic and touchable to the people.
“There’s a deep loyalty that exists between the club and the fans. There is passion and the people live it,” he explains, adding that “black and yellow is the most intensive colour co-ordination, not red and white because white is not a colour”.
Boasting 55 000 season ticket holders and fielding demands of up to 155 000, no doubt Dortmund are as big as Cramer makes them out to be.
Yet without the continental success of a Madrid, they will always remain the challengers. Which is actually what they want to be.
And not even the lure of the ruble, yen, dollar or riyal would make them go a different route.
* Matshelane Mamabolo was in Germany courtesy of StarSat.