A double-winning Coach, perhaps, but Jurgen Klopp is a cult sensation in Germany. The Dortmund tactician has been prized with selling shaving razors, cars and even had a hit-single “I wanna be like Jurgen Klopp” recorded by comedian Matze Knop.
Klopp’s enthusiasm, tactical nous and those sprightly, fist-pumping storms down the touchline have become so emblematic of a warming character in German football. His aura can be equally deceiving – sporting a teacher-student relationship with his young prodigies, but boasting an unquestioning respect and authority over the group. Actually, his relationship can be interpreted as Klopp as one of the leading ‘Football Teachers’ in the German game, a terminology that has become central to the development of academy players in the last decade.
Early success at FSV Mainz 05, and an endearing relationship with the nation during the 2006 FIFA World Cup on ZDF made Klopp the front-runner to rebuild Borussia Dortmund in the wake of financial oblivion. The club slipped towards bankruptcy in 2005 and the influence of Klopp, who was appointed by general manager Michael Zorc, brought a stable and steady-footing for the club to build from.
The Nemawashi of Borussia Dortmund was installed over Klopp’s first 12 months in charge, but it was from the following summer that the Coach was able to observe the roots of his philosophy making early sprouts. Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa arrived from Cerezo Osaka, whilst Mario Gotze was then promoted to the first-team by the end of the 2009-10 season.
All of a sudden, Klopp’s dreams came to life around the pressurising slopes of the 82,500-capacity Signal Iduna Park, and aside from an opening 2010-11 matchday defeat to Leverkusen, Dortmund’s vibrancy and belief gathered momentum, competing with a faltering FC Bayern under Louis van Gaal’s stewardship. The dynamic movement and combination play between Kagawa and Paraguayan Lucas Barrios was flourished in the Bundesliga, added to the midfield strength of Nuri Sahin, Sven Bender, among others.
Yet, when faced with a small burst of competition from Leverkusen, Dortmund’s youthful squad had the characteristics of an experienced title-winning side, eventually building a strong lead in the Bundesliga to collect their first championship in nine years. That led to a swelling interest in Dortmund’s prized assets, including, Sahin who agreed a £10m move to Real Madrid, but the new-found transfer model came to good effect with Ilkay Gundogan an obvious direct replacement for the midfielder.
A second championship came in quick succession and Dortmund began to have a firm stranglehold of the German domestic game, also embarking on a six-game domestic unbeaten run against Bayern. Although praised for their attacking football, Dortmund were able to readjust to press from the front with Gotze, Kagawa and Robert Lewandowski in advanced areas.
It is an advancement that has continued into the Champions League this season and has the Germans as the only undefeated team left going into the semi-finals this week.
Klopp has been assertive that Dortmund will not change their high-intensity style on Wednesday against Los Merengues, having already picked up four points from six against Jose Mourinho’s side in the UEFA Champions League this season. In the main, the Germans have preferred variations of the 4-2-3-1 formation, and they have an impressive overall record – unbeaten in the tournament with 19 goals scored and 70 per cent by the partnership of Lewandowski and Marco Reus.
“In my philosophy I like emotions,” Klopp told Spanish newspaper AS. “Discipline is also extremely important. Without those two things you can't play football to a high standard. That's what I tell my players, also that they have to put their heart into it to experience emotions like the ones last Tuesday.
“That's the way to feel that emotion without drugs – I've never taken them but I've felt huge emotions and I still feel them when I work with the best players in the Bundesliga and the best internationals.”
He continued after their 2-0 win against Mainz: “Real Madrid will not make us change our style of play – we shall be going out there to enjoy ourselves. It is true to say that they are much more than a side which plays to the counter-attack, but there is a lot of quality there.”
In their Lionel Messi-led bubble, Barcelona’s footballing ethos is one-of-a-kind, but whilst similar to Ajax, it is Borussia Dortmund that are seen to have moulded a hybrid, disciplined version of La Masia’s ball-retention strategy, with a common focus on advanced pressing to regain possession closer to the opponent’s defensive-third of the pitch.
In the UEFA Champions League cauldron, Dortmund have focused mainly on condensed spells of pressing, making the use of the athleticism of Marcel Schmelzer and Lukas Piszczek to counter-act the full-back attacks from the opposition.
Crucially, the return of Bender and Mats Hummels from the double-header with Malaga provides Dortmund this week with essentially a full-strength starting XI for the home leg against Real Madrid. Bender’s reading of the game, anticipation and tackling in midfield was sorely lacking in the Malaga second leg, showing the vulnerability on the counter-attack BVB can also have.
The ‘Underdog’ tag is still fitting to Dortmund, despite their prominent unbeaten record this season in European competitions. The Germans have little to prove, and neither does Jurgen Klopp.
Ross Dunbar is Senior Editor at bundesligafootball.co.uk.