Michael Zorc: the man who changed the fortunes of Borussia Dortmund
So fare thee well, then, Michael Zorc: a Borussia Dortmund legend both on and off the pitch who leaves Die Schwarzgelben after 44 years of immense success and captivating memories that will forever mark him out as one of German football's true pioneers.
Taking in 20 years as a player in Black and Yellow and a further 24 further as sporting director for one of the Bundesliga's leading lights, Zorc leaves a legacy unmatched in the modern game.
"Michael Zorc has helped to shape an era; nobody knows and understands the club better," current BVB coach Marco Rose said of the departing Dortmund great. "He was not only the sporting director, but also a very successful player," Rose continued. "No-one lives the club more. On top of that, he's a very calm and pleasant guy. You can see his experience. I think we will certainly miss him."
Leaving boyhood club TuS Eving-Lindenhorst for Dortmund as a 16-year-old in 1978, Zorc - the son of former Bochum player, Dieter Zorc - joined the club's youth ranks as a promising midfielder. In fact, signing for BVB was the realisation of a dream for the local kid who supported Borussia throughout his childhood. He quickly made an impression and after rising through the ranks, made his Bundesliga debut in late 1981, the year in which he was crowned a FIFA U20 World Cup and Under-18 European Championship winner.
By this time, Zorc had affectionately gained the moniker, 'Susi' - which he still holds today, on account of his long hair. Following an encouraging first nine appearances during that 1981/82 season, Zorc became an established member of the side which wouldn't have an easy time of things in the campaigns to come, Dortmund battling it out towards the bottom of the standings on a regular basis. In fact, it was when the Black-and-Yellows came perilously close to relegation in 1986 that Zorc went into club folklore.
Contesting the relegation play-off against Fortuna Cologne, Dortmund had lost the first leg 2-0 before the visitors took a 14th-minute lead in the second meeting to stretch their advantage further. But Zorc inspired an incredible comeback, scoring from the penalty spot on 54 minutes before BVB completed a 3-1 victory that, with the aggregate score tied at 3-3, sent the two sides into a third and final decider. Zorc was then on target twice in a comprehensive 8-0 Borussia win, which kept his side up and enabled them to soar into Europe the following season thanks, in no small part, to Zorc's 14 goals.
Speaking about the second-leg goal that clawed BVB back against Fortuna, Zorc told the club's website that the consequences of Die Schwarzgelben losing that tie may have been dire. "If that [second-leg goal] hadn't gone in, we most likely would have been relegated, and who knows how the history of Borussia Dortmund would have turned out," the 54-year-old said.
With his influence in the side growing with every passing season, it came as little surprise that the player from Evingen was made club captain in 1989. He would lead the team for nine years, making Zorc Borussia's longest ever serving skipper. His impact with the armband was immediate, the Dortmund native lifting the club's first trophy in over 23 years, the DFB Cup, in his first season as captain. Just three years later and BVB would agonisingly miss out on winning the Bundesliga, losing out to champions Stuttgart on goal difference.
Despite further disappointment in the 1993 UEFA Cup final - where BVB and Zorc lost out to Juventus over two legs - it was clear that the future Bundesliga giants and their on-field leader were on a promising path, but few could have predicted just how promising.
Two years later, he lifted the first of two league titles as a player and in 1997 Zorc helped his hometown club to UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup glory - scoring in the final of the latter in Tokyo. By the time Zorc hung up his boots, he had made a club record 572 appearances and scored 159 times - an incredible return for a holding midfielder by trade and a number only bettered by Adri Preißler in Dortmund's long history.
"I grew up in a suburb of Dortmund, in Eving. Every boy there dreamt of playing for BVB one day," Zorc reflected on the club's website in the build-up to his farewell. "I'm glad that I spent my whole career with BVB. Plus the titles came towards the end."
For most people, those achievements in the game would be plenty enough. They would be walking off into the sunset, with legendary status already well and truly secured. But Zorc's job was far from done in Dortmund. He immediately moved upstairs into a sporting director role, from which he took the club from the brink of extinction right back to the very top.
With former teammate Matthias Sammer at the helm, Zorc helped mastermind Dortmund's 2001/02 league title - one secured on the final day of the campaign. That same season saw them contest the UEFA Cup final but they would come up short against Dutch outfit Feyenoord. It looked like Dortmund were building something special but, just one year later, the club found themselves in financial ruin and were saved from going out of business thanks to a loan from the team they would soon call fierce rivals, Bayern Munich.
They staved off bankruptcy and appointed Hans-Joachim Watzke as CEO two years later, but it wouldn't be until 2008 that Dortmund emerged out of the red. It is a period of the club's history that Zorc reflects on as his most challenging.
"As soon as the club's financial crisis became noticeable, I had the task of halving the budget within a season and a half. Despite that, people still expected the same of us as any other Champions League club," he explained to bvb.com. "The stadium was still full. A lot of things were glossed over so that we could stay sexy. We no longer had a good enough team to compete at the top level... For me, 2004 to 2008 was the most difficult time at the club. I'm very grateful that Aki Watzke always had my back.''
It was only through astute management that Dortmund emerged out the other side and they did so stronger than ever before. Zorc hired budding Mainz coach Jürgen Klopp, telling him: "Jürgen, you're my last shot." The rest, as they say, is history, with Dortmund going on to establish themselves as domestic and continental giants once again.
Under Klopp, there were back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012 - the latter seeing them clinch a league and cup double for the first time in their history - as well as a return to the Champions League final in 2013. Bayern eventually beat them to the trophy that year, but Dortmund were well and truly the record German champions' equal by this stage and have been their biggest threat ever since.
Under Zorc's tenure as sporting director, Dortmund also won the DFB Cup in 2017 and 2021, while they have finished as runners-up to Bayern in six of the past 10 seasons of the Bavarians' remarkable record reign. "We have consistently put the focus on youth," Zorc reflected in the same, aforementioned final club interview. "And Jürgen breathed new life into our club. It's hard to get to the top; but staying up there is even harder."
Zorc's quite remarkable performance in the transfer market is a major reason for Dortmund being able to keep pace with Bayern during that period, with near-impeccable recruitment not only delivering results on the pitch but also on the financial sheets - ensuring that the club stays at the top of the league and away from the near catastrophe of the mid 2000s.
Brazilian Dede was Zorc's first signing, while he also unearthed the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Jadon Sancho. He twice signed Mats Hummels from Bayern, snared Ilkay Gündogan from Nuremberg and saw the club make huge profits on the likes of Sancho, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ousmane Dembele, Christian Pulisic, Mario Götze and, most recently, Erling Haaland.
His best signing? "Getting hold of Robert Lewandowski, because it wasn't so obvious at the time," said Zorc. "It took him a while to establish himself with us, too. You could easily see the special skills he had back then, and he went on to become probably the best striker in the world."
So many players have done the same during Zorc's spell as sporting director and his track record is unrivalled. Take Zorc's final signings for the club - those of Nico Schlotterbeck and Niklas Süle - for example. They address Marco Rose's current defensive issues and lay the platform for a title tilt next year. It is another example of Zorc's future proofing that sees him depart the club with the perfect platform for fellow former captain and club legend, Sebastian Kehl, to build upon.
"It's a very difficult day, but a very beautiful day at the same time," Zorc told the Signal Iduna Park faithful after it paid tribute to their outgoing hero. "It feels like a journey back in time today. Forty-seven years ago, I stood where you stand today for the first time. I thank you for your support and can only take a bow before you. Always BVB!"
Indeed, Zorc will forever be linked with the club and he'll be back next season. Instead of wearing the shirt or prowling the corridors of power at the Westfalenstadion, however, he'll be stationed in the Yellow Wall - back where it all began, supporting the team he always dreamt of representing.
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