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So the brilliant reign of Jürgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund is at a close as the 47 year old will bow out at the end of this season following seven years at the club. In a press conference that was held on Wednesday Klopp announced that he had not received contact from another club but he would rule out taking a year’s sabbatical, putting clubs from around Europe on red alert as to the manager’s availability.
Klopp will enter the summer in severe demand which is ironic given his team have spent the vast majority of this campaign fighting relegation, finding themselves bottom of the Bundesliga as recently as February before a small resurgence has seen them clamber to tenth place. However his two league titles with Dortmund, one of which accompanied a domestic cup to make him the first coach in the club’s history to land a double, are far more prevalent sections of a C.V that also includes a thrilling run to the Champions League final of 2013.
What made the Klopp era so special is the platform from which he built it, inheriting a side that had come close to relegation in both 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons as they shuffled between 3 managers in four years. It was a club that teetered on the edge of financial ruin twice in the early 2000s, having to rely on a €2 million loan from Bayern Munich to service their payroll the first time round. In their last couple final in life before Klopp, they would lose out 2-1 to Munich in the DFB Pokal.
Two years later, with a squad renovated with a mixture of youth-team starlets and well-scouted signings in adherence to a strict budget, Klopp would deliver a first Bundesliga in nine years before winning it again the following season with a league record points haul of 81. The spectre of their Bavarian rivals would then re-emerge to haunt Klopp with the rampant Munich machine of Jupp Heynckes surpassing that total to deliver a Bundesliga on 91 points, as well as the DFB Pokal and the Champions League, with victory over Dortmund at Wembley, in a treble.
Perhaps the writing was on the wall back then, with Dortmund ending that campaign 25 points behind Munich and losing Mario Gotze, the attacking midfielder who had been with Dortmund since he was 8, to the newly crowned champions.
The club were €37 million richer, with Bayern meeting a release clause inserted into a contract Gotze signed in 2012, though it was a priceless loss of status, conceding an admission to Bayern that their financial clout, together with the pull of the newly-appointed Pep Guardiola, was too strong for them to withhold.
Furthermore, unlike the sales of Nuri Sahin and Shinji Kagawa in the two preceding years, Dortmund found themselves unable to replace Gotze despite smashing their own club record transfer fee on the €27 million Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Two underwhelming seasons later and it is evident the Armenian is not a viable replacement of the same class.
Robert Lewandowski, the striker who managed 103 goals in 4 years after signing for €4.5 million from Lech Poznan, would follow Gotze to the Allianz Arena on a free deal a year later and in similar fashion, Dortmund after found it difficult to replace the Pole. Aware that the striker would depart in 2014 after refusing to let him move in the final summer of his contract in 2013, Klopp and his team had a year to scout his replacement, yet the likes of Ciro Immobile and Adrian Ramos, signed for a combined £25 million, have failed to step up, managing just 5 goals between them.
Gone is the intense pressing from the front that Lewandowski led and so too the direct option that the Polish striker provided for sharp transitions of play. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been a relative success, scoring 34 times over his 2 seasons to date after moving from St Etienne, but his searing pace offers different qualities to the focal point Lewandowski offered in attack, permitting the likes of Marco Reus and Gotze to shine in areas of space the big striker had created.
Possessing players adept at playing in space, on the shoulders of defenders, has often seen them struggle against teams who defend in numbers, hence the series of defeats to perceived weaker teams. Handing the ball to Dortmund and asking them to do something with it rather than utilise the quick counter attack has been the fashionable domestic tactic and Klopp, who has cited a difficult pre-season, has failed to come up with a solution.
The sensational Reus, with whom Gotze formed a formidable partnership to symbolise the bright, young element of Klopp’s success, remains in place having penned a new deal until 2019 in February, though his past 2 seasons have been disrupted with injuries. The same fate has effected nearly every member of the squad, with Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Sahin all enduring long spells out. It is perhaps not a coincidence that these players, integral to Klopp’s title-winning squads, have suffered fitness issues in a squad that is constantly urged to play at full throttle.
Dortmund also retain the likes of Kevin Grosskreutz, Neven Subotic, Sebastian Kehl, Sven Bender, Lukasz Piszczek and Shinji Kagawa, who has returned after two years at Manchester United, from the early days of Klopp and they have aged together with the manager’s devotion to gegenpressing, the energy-sapping high-octane closing down of opponents, which Guardiola says makes Dortmund “attack space like beasts, like animals”.
Maybe those players have lost the energy levels required to do it on a regular basis, causing the struggles of this campaign. A huge setback has been the loss of Oliver Bartlett, Dortmund’s former fitness coach, now orchestrating Bayer Leverkusen’s surge to the upper echelons of the league as assistant to Roger Schmidt. Klopp, wherever he heads next, will be without Bartlett which makes the potential links to England and the Premier League, where his brand of relentless pressing will be strained to the maximum with a packed fixture list, very intriguing.
He will also be without the majority of the loyal servants he knows so well in the Dortmund squad and speculation will grow as to who will follow Klopp out of the Signal Iduna Park, especially with Dortmund certain to miss out on Champions League football for next season. But a huge rebuilding mission will undoubtedly await his successor as they look for a swift return to the recent glory days.
Klopp, in his press conference, acknowledged he was no longer the man to deliver them and it seems like all parties are due for a fresh start. Though Klopp’s story in Dortmund has been one of modern football’s most unforgettable.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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