Emotional, entertaining and modern

Just like Mainz’s relegation didn’t besmirch his reputation, Dortmund’s current troubles won’t have a bearing on Jurgen Klopp’s future. His story is very much positive. And one can sense that the most glorious chapters are yet to be written, writes Priyansh.

2008 was an interesting year for Jurgen Klopp. The young German manager had impressed many by leading Mainz up the ladder to the Bundesliga in 2003-04 and despite the club’s subsequent relegation in 2006-07, his stock remained high. A stint as a television expert only embellished his credentials. He brought incisive analysis and characteristic wit to the job, something rarely seen during football coverage in Germany.

Klopp resigned in 2008 after failing to guide Mainz back to the top division.

Bayern Munich and Hamburg readily showed interest in his services. However, ultimately, he was passed over in favour of more established names — Jurgen Klinsmann and Martin Jol, respectively.

Klopp’s undoing, many claimed, was down to his emotional demeanour. Hamburg didn’t trust him, according to Klopp, because he gave the interview in a tracksuit. Bayern was averse to handing the job to a man who was prone to sentimental associations. Typical Germans!

But Klopp found his way to Borussia Dortmund, a club that was still finding its feet after courting bankruptcy. And something clicked; it must be emphasised the new manager didn’t overtly seek love, he found it. In an interview to The Guardian nearly two years ago, Klopp said, “I left Mainz after 18 years and thought: ‘Next time I will work with a little less of my heart.’ I said that because we all cried for a week. The city gave us a goodbye party and it lasted a week. For a normal person that emotion is too much. I thought it’s not healthy to work like this. But after one week at Dortmund it was the same situation. To find this twice, to be hit by good fortune, is very unusual.”

What is not unusual is that Klopp once again leaves a club on good terms. On the day, the manager announced his resignation to bring an end to his seven-year love affair with Dortmund, the club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke remarked, “The only thing that soothes me in a moment like this is the fact that we’ll remain good friends. And that is all I have to say.” It was a moment for few words and a hug.

Dortmund’s resurgence is aligned to Klopp’s emergence globally. They grew together and in their final season, fell together. It’s a measure of Dortmund’s dip this term that it won’t participate in any European competition next season. The current times seem miles away from those nights when the German club romped to the 2013 Champions League final.

While Dortmund retains strength in its foundations, Klopp’s future looks bright but uncertainly placed. If anything, his tendency to establish an emotional connection with the clubs he manages will reduce his options. Klopp has been clear that he wants to work in the Premier League. The League’s high-intensity and stimulating experience would sit well with him.

But currently, the ambition of working with a top English side involved in the Champions League looks unlikely. Manchester City is expected to sack Manuel Pellegrini in the summer but there’s little to suggest Klopp will be top of their list to replace the current manager; it would also not seem a natural fit for the 47-year-old German. Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea are likely to persist with their existing coaching setups.

Hence, even though Klopp has claimed he doesn’t seek a sabbatical, he might be forced to adopt it. Not that it would hurt him. Klopp’s profile would dictate that his stock will go only upwards even if he remains unemployed.

Moreover, time away from the game would allow the German to take a distanced view of the game. A set of fresher ideas may evolve. It’s well known that even Jose Mourinho used to call Klopp to discuss football and tactics. There’s no doubt that the Dortmund hero remains at the pinnacle of the game.

An article in The Blizzard by a German writer had described Klopp as “emotional, entertaining and modern.” The writer went on to claim that these traits were representative of German football in its current form. It’s tough to disagree with that.

Through ‘Gegenpressing’ (Counter-pressing), Klopp formed a different variation to the dominant style of play introduced by Pep Guardiola at Barcelona. In an attempt to “take the initiative”, his Dortmund side would press the opposition player in possession to regain the ball. While this placed strenuous demands on the players, they responded immaculately as the results suggest. While Barcelona and Spain’s dominance was built on a slower tempo and heavy ball possession, Dortmund — Bayern and Germany, too — added pace, aggression and physicality to their technical proficiency.

The results were spectacular. When Dortmund reached the Champions League final in 2013, the side’s thrashing of Real Madrid particularly stood out. Not only did it establish a successful way of nullifying Cristiano Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso, the side harangued Madrid’s defenders to concede possession and commit errors in their own half. Rarely does Mourinho get outdone tactically by a counterpart, but Klopp did it twice in the same season.

That’s the legacy Klopp will take forward. His ability to build a side that can defeat superior opposition consistently will hold him in good stead wherever he goes. While some would argue that he hasn’t spent money wisely over the past couple of seasons, historical evidence suggests it’s a temporary issue. It didn’t help Klopp that many of his key players were injured or performed much below their usual level in his final season.

Just like Mainz’s relegation didn’t besmirch his reputation, Dortmund’s current troubles won’t have a bearing on Klopp’s future. His story is very much positive. And one can sense that the most glorious chapters are yet to be written.