On Friday 23rd May 2008, Borussia Dortmund announced the arrival of their new head coach (trainer for German readers) Jürgen Klopp. Die Schwarzgelben (The Black Yellows) had just suffered their lowest league position in twenty years, thirteenth. The task on hand for the incoming manager was huge and he knew it. In his first press conference the mastermind announced “I am delighted to be here. I am honoured. Now I want to help bring the club back on track.” Five years, two Bundesliga’s, a German Cup and a DFB-Supercup later his Dortmund team stand just 90 minutes away from completing that mission. In fact, for many loyal fans that famous road to Wembley to watch the man they call Kloppo lead their team out in the Champions League Final has already begun.
Klopp was a one club man as a player, making over three hundred appearances and scoring fifty-two goals as a striker in the early days and latterly a defender for FSV Mainz 05. Upon retirement he was installed as the manager and during his seven year reign led the club o their first appearance in the Bundesliga and UEFA Cup in the 2005/06 season. Unfortunately Mainz were then relegated in the following season and after Klopp failed to restore them back to the Bundesliga in the 2007/08 campaign he resigned.
At a time when most manager’s careers would decline on these shores (think Ady Boothroyd) Klopp’s skills as a coach and status after a period as a pundit on German television, were admired so much that Bayern Munich were reportedly considering him for the managerial post that Jurgen Klinsmann later filled. The Bavarian giants weren’t the only major German club interested either, Hamburg also approached him formally. Klopp has since spoken of those events, “I don’t know why I didn’t get the job. They came to my house but two out of the three guys wanted me. One of them was not sure. I looked like this…” The short of it is that because Klopp is famed for wearing casual clothes such as hoodies, jeans, baseball caps, the hierarchy of Hamburg opposed this image and opted for the smart approach of Martin Jol. Enter Borussia Dortmund…
His debut season at BVB saw the team finish sixth and land his first piece of silverware, the DFB-Supercup by defeating rivals and German champions Bayern Munich. The following season saw no trophies but an improved finish of fifth place. In the 2010/11 season however Klopp’s ethos and tactical approach of enforcing a high press on opposing teams coupled with rapid and fluid interchanges when possession was won began to work wonders as Dortmund went on to claim the Bundesliga title. The 2011/12 season brought an improved version of those standards as a league and cup double was won while all-time records fell too. They amassed the greatest total points tally in Bundesliga history (81) while the 47 points gained after the winter break was also a new record. The final of the German Cup was again a victory over closest rivals Bayern, this time though a convincing 5-2 romp to stamp home their domestic dominance.
In contrast to the upward trend of positions and trophies, so far this season has not been too kind to BVB or Klopp in Germany. Bayern answered their critics and marched to such an early lead in the Bundesliga that the race to be crowned champions was effectively over after the winter break. The merciless efficiency of Juup Heynckes’ Bayern has led to both teams informally accepting the results of the league as given and turning their focuses onto the Champions League. This has been shown with Klopp’s management of Mario Götze before his injury in the second leg of the semi-final. As early as 2nd March with 9 Bundesliga matches left to play, Götze was being substituted ahead of Champions League ties.
This season’s domestic form could well turn out to be Klopp’s finest tactical move yet. Great team’s in recent history are showing a trend for having 3 year cycles. Barcelona under Pep Guardiola dominated domestically winning three straight La Liga titles and the European Cup twice between 2008/09 and 2010/11. Indeed it was Guardiola’s debut season as Barcelona that prevented Sir Alex Ferguson’s Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Manchester United equaling that record in their most recent three year cycle of dominance from 2006/07 to 2008/09. They ended that cycle with 3 Premier League titles and only one European Cup.
For Dortmund, this marks their third year also. Klopp learnt from the previous season’s short comings in the Champions League after BVB exited in the group stage. The insufficient depth in their squad could not manage them to push for victory on all three fronts. While finances may of course play a part, it is to the head coach’s credit that his team have matched his ambitions in Europe. In the group stage matched against the champions of England, Holland and Spain, two victories over Ajax with draws and wins each against Real Madrid and Man City saw them progress in the coveted top spot. Triumphs followed in the knockout stages with a routine 3-0 home win over Shakhtar Donetsk, the ultimate Hollywood football story against Malaga and that euphoric crushing of Real Madrid to see BVB progress to the final.
On Saturday 25th May (yesterday), Jürgen Klopp lost his biggest game of his life to an all conquering Bayern Municn side. But the defeat will not change the fact that it was him who put Dortmund back on track. He may have lost the final but he won millions of footballing hearts around the globe.