Jürgen Klopp… For most fans, BVB or otherwise, the superstar amongst football coaches in the Bundesliga. His last season at Signal Iduna Park was turning into an unexpected disaster with BVB sitting at the bottom of the league at Christmas. The previous season they had won the DFL Super Cup and finished second in the Bundesliga. 14 lost matches, a negligible goal difference of +5 and 42 goals conceded, then the news from the press conference strikes like a hammer, our beloved coach is leaving! I don’t say this lightly as the son of divorced parents who have hardly spoken for 30 years, but hearing this news feels like that moment you discover your parents are going separate ways.
Klopp has led ‘die Schwarz-Gelben’ like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes. Joining BVB only two seasons after the club were so close to the financial end with debts of €115m. A heart stopping moment for all ‘Borussen’. The transformation has been greater than we could have dreamt of. Perhaps the Champions League win in Munich 1997 is the only parallel for the Borussia from Dortmund.
But who was Jürgen Klopp? The coach came from a, let’s face it, pretty mediocre club Mainz 05. As a player he had a good record being Mainz’s all-time top goal-scorer with 56 goals and then as an effective right-back from 1995 through to his retirement in 2001.
Klopp takes over as a young coach from Eckhart Krautzun when Mainz are in the 2 Liga (second tier) and achieves promotion to the Bundesliga in 2003/04. Mainz 05 have one of the smallest stadiums with only 34,000 seats. The team value is €113m compared to Bayern Munich’s €890m, but against all odds he keeps them up and in 2005/06 even takes the club to the UEFA Cup (Europa League).
Jürgen’s arrival at BVB is a complete contrast to the uninspiring Röber and Doll that had gone before. Dortmund immediately lights up. He feels like a ‘kind of dad’ in a Hollywood movie; A visionary, smart as a whip, inspired, a leader with ‘Cojones’ who can reprimand when necessary and a picture of dependability. ‘Echte Liebe’ (Love truly felt) to coin the BVB club slogan is what Klopp comes to embody, like no coach before him or since. On a personal level you feel like you know him, his zeal and charismatic manner is infectious, more than a coach, he becomes a friend to fan and staff alike at Westfalenstadion.
It was not the wins that made us ‘Borussen’, believe again. Jürgen Klopp was BVB and BVB was Jürgen Klopp! Perhaps unimaginable for outsiders, but true nonetheless. If we had to have a manager at least for the internet generation, Klopp and his massive personality was it, it couldn’t be anyone else. To describe the coach in one word – scruffy! An unkept beard, the baseball cap and hoodie with ‘Borusse’ emblazoned across the front, combined with the explosive at times almost overbearing personality. Those touchline antics all typical of the man and no less part of the BVB furniture than the surging runs of Sebastian Kehl or Lewandowski’s spectacular goals. Part of what we came to expect from the ‘Schwarz-Gelben’ on any given Saturday.
Klopp became part of our everyday lives in the BVB family. We just considered ourselves fortunate to have such a great ‘father-figure’ as a coach, especially in the knowledge that every fan in the Bundesliga was envious. We were successful and above all, one club, coach and fans. For an English fan like me, even one with a history of living in Dortmund this era was a mini football revelation.
The incredible success brought by Jürgen; the 2010/11 Championship, the 2011/12 Double with a 5-2 DFB Pokal final win over Bayern Munich, the run to the 2013 Wembley Champions League final including the ‘Malaga Miracle’ in the dying seconds of the quarterfinal, the astonishing 4-1 thrashing of Real Madrid in the semi-final will all go down in Dortmund football folklore. An inspiration that lifted the lives of BVB fans as only football can do. However, it went well beyond that, the wider football world fell in love with BVB. English football magazine Four Four Two magazine highlighted the ‘Dortmund Bulldog spirit’. It seems hard to fathom, but in 2012/13 BVB had a budget of €198m, equivalent to the size of a bottom three English Premier League side. The underdogs making it big had captured the heart of the football world. Borussia Dortmund became the global club of a generation and in no small thanks to the coach.
What made this BVB team so unique? This has been so widely commented on it needs no introduction; Klopp made maximum use of a young team with an average age of only 22.3 in their 2010/11 season; ‘Heavy metal football’ a brand of relentless youthful vigour and attacking energy combined in what became known as ‘Gegenpressing’. Maximum intensity and aggression in regaining possession, they would try to almost physically run the opposition ‘off the pitch’ and the fans loved it. It brought results. Great results. Gone were the insecure days of the early 2000s. Under the young coach from Mainz we qualified for Europe every season and suddenly BVB were launched into the Stratosphere of ‘Galacticos’. Weekly meetings with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea, Juventus, became the norm. Dortmund fans everywhere were in football seventh heaven and Klopp was the orchestrator.
How good was Klopp’s BVB? Many in German football forever argue for the legendary status of Borussia Mönchengladbach’s wonder ‘Fohlenelf’ (foal eleven) of the 1970s. The team Manchester United’s great trainer Sir Matt Busby exclaimed ‘could be beaten by no other club in the world’. Mönchengladbach were the maxim of football and their achievements of 5 league titles, a cup win and 2 UEFA cup triumphs remains undisputed in German football. For Busby, ’Gladbach’ was simply ‘football perfection’. It could be argued that BVB of the early 2010s was the team that inherited at least in spirit that mantle. Take the 2010/11 championship winning season with one of the youngest teams ever or the 2011/12 side with a then record high 81 points. The club only lost 3 games all season, unbeaten in 28 consecutive matches and the double of Bundesliga title and cup. The following season, a glorious run to the all-German Champions League final at Wembley.
Like Borussia Mönchengladbach before them, Dortmund’s power was built on the vision of their coach. In the case of BVB, Jürgen Klopp’s almost uncanny eye for talent, leadership skills and ability to bring out the best in players was quite extraordinary. Jürgen’s ‘Busby Babes’ or ‘Klopp’s Kids’ were stars like Lukasz Piszczek, Kevin Großkreutz, Marcel Schmelzer, Neven Subotic, Nuri Sahin, Shinj Kagawa, Marco Reus, Ilkay Gündogan and of course Matts Hummels. All of them now stalwarts of Dortmund football history.
We BVB fans learnt to dream again and to celebrate. It couldn’t last forever; the final season 2014/15 was to try the patience of even the greatest Borussia fan. You just somehow know in life when the race has been run. With Klopp’s amazing skills also came what could only look from the outside like an astonishing lack of patience. 22 players left the club between seasons 2011/12-2012/13. Greats that had made the success such as Lucas Barrios, Mario Götze, Shinji Kagawa and Dede. Was the speed at which the changes came after the two legendary seasons of 2010/11 and 2011/12 really necessary? Was the 2013 Champions League Final really the pinnacle or the end of an era? Who will Bundesliga history judge to be responsible for what ultimately can only be seen as the flops of the 2014/15 season? Will it be the players like Kevin Kampl and Serie A’s top scorer Ciro Immobile who came for a combined €30.5m and famously only scored 3 goals in the whole of 2014/15 campaign between them? In plain German they were ‘Fehleinkäufe’ – Flops. A club with the budget of Borussia Dortmund could hardly afford such failure.
Two bad signings wouldn’t break the record of a coach like Klopp at BVB, even if in 2013/14 there had also been poor signings like Milos Joic or Dong Won-Ji, but an agonising streak of injuries including both centre-backs Neven Subotic and Sven Bender as well as talismanic leader Marco Reus resulted in an astonishing 18th and bottom of the league place by the mid-season December winter break. Soul destroying and another relegation like 1972 on the horizon? Unthinkable.
Klopp seemed to be losing his magic, too many bad decisions, no cohesion in the squad, injuries, lack of motivation and confidence non-existent. That summer’s German World Cup winning stars Weidenfeller, new signing Ginter and centre back Hummels were out of form. Subotic, Gundogan and the star of 2013 season Mr Reliable ‘Papa’ Sokratis not any better. New striker Ciro Immobile with his miserly 3 goals, hardly a replacement for the consistency of Robert Lewandowski. This was not BVB’s season! Even the home kit design with awful vertical stripes on one side that resembled a traffic separation road sign was unpopular with the fans. It only sold a record low of 200,000. Something was not right. Something was going to give. That something, to the fans surprise, was Jürgen Klopp.
A scene which will stick in all Dortmund fans minds forever was the hug between Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim ‘Aki’ Watzke and BVB Manager Jürgen Klopp at the end of the press conference on April 15 2015. The departure was announced days after a hapless looking side’s 3-1 loss away at Borussia Mönchengladbach. That moment when Watzke told the world Klopp is leaving at the end of the season, for me at least was a ‘Where were you when you heard John Lennon was shot?’ moment. In Klopp’s own words at the time, ‘Dortmund deserve to be trained by a coach who is 100% ready and the decision had to be made’. It hit every fan like a thunderbolt.
A new era, no Klopp, no Gundogan who would leave for Manchester City, no Hummels who made a big money transfer to Bayern and goodbye after 13 years of exemplary service to Captain Sebastian Kehl who retired. The players would be replaced, BVB would live on through the lows and into the highs as it has done for the last 116 years, but on that day with that hug, the end of a very special era.
When I was a boy in the 80s on the Südtribüne, the legendary stand, BVB had an average attendance of 25,000. I returned as a man after 25 years and that had grown to 79,000 despite the poor final season. This era will always hold a very special place in the hearts of the fans, not just for the achievements, but for the unity at BVB.
Come May of 2015, the season is done. A 7th place finish and a lost DFB Pokal final against VFL Wolfsburg. A happy end worthy of the man, and the foundations laid for success under the new gaffer, Thomas Tuchel. Bottom of the league at Christmas to European qualification at the end. One heck of an achievement, that only one coach could have pulled off. A ‘one in a million’ coach, who remains for BVB fans - a true Borusse and a true friend - ‘Kloppo’.