Most teams in the world do not have the luxury of unlimited funds to buy any player they want like Barcelona, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City or Real Madrid do. Because of the gargantuan gaps between the haves and have-nots, certain teams are forced to play a historically unattractive way to be able to still compete for trophies. Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund are changing the way pundits and fans look at pragmatic soccer and they’re each led by phenomenal managers.
Jurgen Klopp started his professional playing career as a striker but he eventually switched to become a defender and there may lie the beginning of his philosophy on the game. When Borussia Dortmund were facing Arsenal in the Champions League last year, Klopp at a press conference described the difference between how his team and the Gunners play using a brilliant analogy.
“It’s like an orchestra, but it’s a silent song, yeah? And I like heavy metal more. I always want it loud! I want to have this: ‘Booooom!’”
The 47-year-old then went into further detail to make sure everyone fully understood what he meant he enjoyed heavy metal more.
“If Barcelona’s team of the last four years were the first one that I saw play when I was four years of age — with their serenity, winning 5-0, 6-0 — I would have played tennis. Sorry, that is not enough for me. What I love is that there are some things you can do in football to allow each team to win most of the matches. It is not serenity football — it is fighting football. That is what I like. What we call in German ‘English [football]’: rainy day, heavy pitch, everybody is dirty in the face and they go home and can’t play football for the next four weeks. This is Borussia,” said Klopp.
The Stuttgart native’s ideas have worked well as he’s been a two-time Bundesliga champion, a DFB-Pokal cup winner, a runner-up in the 2013 Champions League final and a two-time recipient of German Football Manager of the Year. The former FSV Mainz 05 player and manager teaches a physical brand of soccer that relies on pressing, athleticism, teamwork and counterattacking to produce goals. Klopp claims to also enjoy attractive, attacking soccer as long as his team still runs six miles more than the other team. His players and club fans adore him and the 2013 DFL-Supercup winner is an eccentric character that enjoys what he does with the enthusiasm of a teenager that just got a PlayStation 4 and a new Ferrari for his birthday. How many gaffers around the world have multiple highlight reels of their own celebrations?
His squad’s biggest enemy for the Bundesliga crown, Bayern Munich, took his talisman, Robert Lewandowski, on a free transfer a year after acquiring Mario Gotze. It doesn’t deter Klopp’s process as he keeps signing players that he’ll make better and people will wonder where they came from and why other teams weren’t fighting to sign them. Bayern may be the heavy favorites to win the league again this upcoming season but Klopp will have his team ready to shock the world.
Diego Simeone seems like an imposing man due to his affinity for the color black and how he barks orders from the touchline during his team’s matches but it doesn’t seem to be the case. Simeone during his playing career was a defensive midfielder who helped win trophies for his clubs and country. On the Atleti part of Madrid he’s viewed as a deity due to his impact on the society not just as a manager and former player, but also the way he carries himself and represents the organization with a fiery passion. Just like Klopp, the 44-year-old has a magnetic relationship with the media in which they both know how to get their point across while entertaining journalists. Following Los Rojiblancos 3-1 victory over Chelsea in the Champions League semifinal in April, the two-time Copa America winner was extremely proud of how his team had the guile and to beat Jose Mourinho’s, a pragmatic genius in his own right, squad in London.
“Thank you to the mothers who gave birth to these Atleti players… their sons have massive balls.”
His philosophy his nearly the same to what they teach at Dortmund except the 2000 Serie A champion takes it a step further. Simeone teaches his side to clog passing lanes with fervor. Klopp’s preferred formation is a 4-2-3-1 and the two-time Argentine Primera Division winner relies on a 4-4-2. Both teams are flexible to switch to the 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 during matches to confuse opponents and dictate where they should apply pressure. Simeone is big on his team playing for each other and doing whatever it takes to get a result and he believes this idea started when he served two stints as a player for Atletico from 1995-97 and from 2003-05.
“I’m always optimistic. I always enthusiastic and when I came, I said I wanted to rediscover the essence of the club: An Atletico team that was always aggressive, intense, competitive, counterattacking and fast… I think that’s what we’ve been giving. That’s something that excites me and gives me the energy to keep improving and I keep seeing that the team is responding to all this. My players don’t need words to motivate them – they need security, decisiveness and ability to try and get the best out of them all. I admire these players. I admire their dedication and the way they work together as a team,” said the 1995-96 La Liga winner.
Simeone’s side won La Liga this season beating Barcelona the last day of the season and tried to finish the season with another title. Just like Dortmund, Atletico played a hated rival in the Champions League final and lost. Los Rojiblancos were so close stealing the title but Sergio Ramos’ goal in the 93rd minute forced extra time and by then Atletico were spent after intensely defending the whole match as they lost 4-1. The 2012 Europa League winner was infuriated with what he felt was disrespect as he felt Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane disrespected him by kicking a ball in his direction and the 2013 Copa del Rey champion stormed the pitch looking for a fight. This display highlighted how he would not tolerate insolence and it lead to UEFA suspending him and Xavi Alonso each for one match.
Mourinho signed away striker Diego Costa and left-back Filipe Luis while deciding to retain Thibaut Courtois who had been on loan with the 10-time La Liga champions for the past three years. This is nothing new to Simeone as he has to rebuild every year to keep his team competitive while trying to balance the books.
El Cholo and Klopp have proven their brand of soccer can win titles but the Champions League crown has evaded the both of them. Many would think the major clubs around Europe would’ve taken each of them already but they are happy at their respective teams and enjoy the challenge of being underdogs and beating the Goliaths of the game on a consistent basis. The Italians are well known for creating catenaccio and being tactical junkies but Klopp and Simeone have brought excitement to pragmatic soccer with their love for pressing, playing high back-lines, counterattacking, teamwork and athleticism. Both their teams will be threats in their league domestically and in the Champions League for this upcoming season. Klopp once said “If I had to choose between my team taking part in a spectacular 4-4 draw and winning ugly 1-0, I’d go for the latter. The 1-0 is a thousand times better.” I’m sure Simeone would agree and soccer is grateful to have two wonderful managers who flourish in the media and maximize their clubs to become winners.