The New Gaffer: Introducing Klopp at Borussia Dortmund
Continuing our series introducing the Bundesliga’s newest gaffers is Jürgen Klopp now with Borussia Dortmund. For those of you at home wondering why Klopp was chosen to follow Klinsmann wonder no more. Was it to juxtapose the long-serving Klopp with the journeyman Klinsmann? Was it because both were football commentators for the German public television channel ZDF (Klinsmann at the ’02 WC and Klopp for the ’06 WC and ’08 Euro Championships)? Was it because they both share the name Jürgen? Yes, actually. So, without further ado, the second manager in our series, Borussia Dortmund’s Jürgen Klopp who arrived from 1. FSV Mainz 05.
He first appeared as a player with Mainz in 1990 and over the next decade plus he played in 325 games, becoming the club’s all-time leader in appearances by the end of his career. His (interim) managerial debut found Mainz languishing in the relegation zone of the 2nd Bundesliga in February 2001. With 19 points from his first 7 games he successfully guided the team to safety (finishing 14th) and shedded his interim tag in the process. The next two seasons found the squad just miss out on promotion in what can only be called a Schalke-esque aversion to success. Things turned out much better the next year as Mainz were promoted and, more impressively, managed to stay up for an additional two years before being relegated once more. He exercised a clause in his contract that allowed him to move on after Mainz remained in the 2. Bundesliga last year. There is no doubt that had the club been promoted he’d still be managing them now. No one doubts his ability to get teams to punch above their weight. The question is how much of an improvement will his new job will actually be. Dortmund are in dire need of rescuing before they too find themselves relegated.
It’s hard to imagine that little more than a decade ago, in 1996/97, that Dortmund were kings of Europe and the world after victories over Juventus and Cruzerio. It is difficult to find a suitable comparison to how fast they fell in Europe after victory, except for perhaps Red Star Belgrade (a result of the Yugoslav civil war, no doubt). Paradoxically, their decline is intimately intertwined with their success. Flush with optimism and the perceived need to strengthen their squad to continue challenging for honors, Dortmund spent enormous sums(by Bundesliga standards) on bringing in new players. In order to facilitate these transfers Dortmund became the first (and only) club to float itself on the stock market. The club prides itself on firsts: the first European trophy in 1966 and the first Champions League win in 1997, so the decision to be publicly listed is not out of character in a way. Yet the business model that emerged was contingent on continued European success (or at least qualification) and foundered badly when this sole condition was not met.
Dortmund’s failure in Europe would consequently affect the team’s domestic performance, beginning a cycle of failure from which it has yet to escape. Since winning the league in 2001/02, Dortmund has steadily fallen in final table every year since (3rd, 6th, 7th, 7th, 9th bottoming out at 13th last season). As success and money become scarcer wages are cut which in turn provides another incentive for those players dissatisfied with the team’s performances to leave. Most Dortmund fans are unwillingly to accept their team’s current predicament and hunger for a return to glory. Yet over their 37 seasons in the Bundesliga, Dortmund’s average final table position is only 7th. The success of the 90s that the club and its fans seek to return to is, historically, an aberration. But as Jürgen Klopp showed with Mainz he can get a team to play above themselves, which is exactly what Dortmund need right now to begin challenging Bayern for league hegemony once more.
What do you think? Will Jürgen Klopp’s managerial acumen be enough turn around Dortmund’s fortunes? Or will structural deficiencies be too much to overcome before either Klopp or club become dissatisfied with the other?
Next week: Fred Rutten at Schalke 04