Shockwaves reverberated around the football world on Wednesday when Jürgen Klopp announced he would step down as head coach of Borussia Dortmund in the summer, with three years left on his contract.
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Sharing the stage with Klopp at the press conference, a tearful chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke said: “Together we’ve made the decision to bring the incredibly successful journey we’ve taken together over the course of the last seven years to an end.”
In those seven years, Klopp turned Dortmund from a middling Bundesliga side to a team that gained worldwide recognition – securing two consecutive league titles, a domestic cup, and a Champions League final appearance – while introducing his particular brand of football: Gegenpress (or ‘counter-pressing’). That infinitely high-tempo style, in the end, would turn out to be a part of his undoing for a number of reasons.
The 2011-12 versions of BvB were imperious and devastatingly quick, as they left nearly every German squad in their dust. Then a funny thing happened – the Bundesliga started to adapt to Dortmund’s style, and Klopp did not adjust. What was so engaging for the world to watch in European competition was getting easier to dismantle in the league.
Not only was he largely tactically inflexible, he also lost a number of key players that made the counter-press work. Nuri Şahin joined Real Madrid in 2011, while Shinji Kagawa left for Manchester United the next year. The real kicks to the heart of Klopp’s system, however, would be the loss of Mario Götze to Bayern Munich for the 2013-14 season, with Robert Lewandowski joining the same club this campaign.
Though Şahin and Kagawa have since been recalled by Borussia, their current form isn’t as delightful as it was during BvB’s ‘fairytale’ years. The real problem lies with the front office, and Klopp not being able to find suitable replacements for Götze and Lewandowski.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was supposed to be the answer to Götze; despite having a good initial season, he has shown himself to be anything but. In Lewandowski’s case, Dortmund had over a year to plan and plot his replacement – all they came up with was Adrián Ramos and Ciro Immobile. Neither have been able to replicate the sort of dynamism that the Polish striker gave the club.
With the wrong personnel playing the same old system this season, Dortmund saw themselves in freefall. Individual errors leading to goals are commonplace. The rotating injury list seems to point to the conclusion that the team can’t keep up the furious pace. They have spent half of this season flirting with relegation, though have now settled themselves into a mid-table position.
Klopp came to the realisation that he “was no longer sure that [he] was the coach for Dortmund”, though he reiterated that it wasn’t because of the team’s present misery. Instead, he is bowing out early to give the board ample time to replace him, adding, “At times in the last few years we’ve suffered from the fact that certain player decisions were taken too late. That must not be repeated.”
The frontrunner to replace Klopp is Thomas Tuchel, as the former Mainz coach conveniently turned down Hamburg this week. It is yet to be seen if he wants to follow in Klopp’s steps yet again, as the BvB coach was his predecessor at 05 as well.
Klopp is not taking a sabbatical, which will be a boon to pretty much every club looking to replace their manager. The charismatic coach has spoken fondly of England . . . Could Manchester City be his next stop?
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