Borussia Dortmund have been here before. They've had to fill Robert Lewandowski-, Jadon Sancho- and Erling Haaland-shaped holes in the past — now they must find a way to replace the inspirational midfielder Jude Bellingham.
Whatever can be said about the club's long-held strategy of selling almost every rising star that passes through the Westfalenstadion, BVB have always moved on quickly from every key player they've lost.
Their secret? Possibly that they've never attempted to find like-for-like replacements, which would be financially unviable for Dortmund anyway. Instead, they sign the most suitable player on the market and adjust their system to accommodate a new approach.
"It's about making the right decisions, not the quick decisions," head coach Edin Terzic told German broadcaster Sport1 last week after a preseason friendly victory over Rot-Weiss Erfurt.
For BVB's latest rebuild, which comes after a season in which they should have won the Bundesliga but threw it away on the final day, Marcel Sabitzer has been signed from Bayern Munich as the new fulcrum of a Dortmund midfield, which has also seen Mahmoud Dahoud leave for Brighton.
"The discussions with Borussia Dortmund's managers were excellent and showed me how ambitious the club wants to be in the coming years," Sabitzer said. "I would like to do my part to ensure that BVB achieves its goals and that it has every reason to celebrate something special with its fans again as soon as possible."
Sabitzer 'fits the profile exactly'
Dortmund had some work to do to convince Sabitzer to join, with the player rumored to be more keen on remaining in England, where he's been on loan at Manchester United, or playing in Italy.
The Austrian was also on a reported salary of €10 million ($11 million) a year at Bayern but has been convinced to accept a €2.5 million pay cut to join the Black and Yellows.
With Felix Nmecha having also been brought in from Wolfsburg and left-back Ramy Bensebaini signed from Borussia Mönchengladbach on a free transfer to replace Raphael Guerreiro, Dortmund's sporting director Sebastian Kehl has now made Sabitzer the third part of the club's midfield rebuild.
"Marcel is an experienced player who has been playing at the top international level for years," Kehl said. "He fits the profile that we were looking for exactly: a central midfielder who will strengthen us both defensively and offensively as a box-to-box player.
"Marcel is physically strong and also carries an immense goal threat."
Back in the Bundesliga
With Sabitzer's years of Bundesliga experience at RB Leipzig and then Bayern, Dortmund know that they're getting a player who won't need long to adapt.
Sabitzer has 71 international caps and was part of the RB Leipzig team that won promotion to the Bundesliga in 2016. A vital member of Leipzig's team for five straight seasons, he then followed coach Julian Nagelsmann to Munich in 2021, but that's where things started to go off the rails.
Sabitzer was never able to establish himself in a Bayern midfield where he also had Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Jamal Musiala for competition. The 29-year-old's struggles in Munich gave credence to the theory that players weaned on the Red Bull system tend to struggle outside of it, with Timo Werner and Naby Keita other examples.
He was loaned to Manchester United for the second half of last season, where he featured 11 times and helped Erik ten Hag's side end their six-year trophy drought by winning the League Cup.
Having initially been signed as cover for the injured Christian Eriksen, and with England international Mason Mount having since arrived from Chesea, Sabitzer was clearly not part of Ten Hag's long-term plans at United.
But he is part of Dortmund's. A direct Bellingham replacement he is not, but Sabitzer may be the next-best thing.
Edited by: Matt Ford