This weekend, Germans will be descending into London in huge numbers as Wembley hosts the first all-Bundesliga Champions League final. With German superpower Bayern Munich taking on the people’s favourites in Borussia Dortmund, Melosport starts its coverage with Europe’s most in-demand coach, Jurgen Klopp, enlightening his audience with a few tales.
From humble beginnings, Dortmund’s mastermind made a name for himself in Germany after leading Mainz’s promotion charge to the Bundesliga in 2004. In addition to his on the pitch achievements, Klopp quickly amassed a fan base as a TV pundit which combined his excellent match analysis skills to his refreshingly humorous attitude – apparent in his recent interview. His wife is a writer and her genre is summed up nicely by her husband – “She wrote a book for children. It’s like Harry Potter but it’s about football. There’s no Harry Potter flying on his fucking stick – just football.”
Another Klopp virtue is his infallible demand for a united footballing family at his clubs. Whilst at Mainz he rewarded his newly promoted players with a unique pre-season. “We took the team to a lake in Sweden where there was no electricity. We went for five days without food. They had to do this [using an invisible fishing rod, he whistles and casts off into the imaginary lake]. The other coaches said: ‘Don’t you think it’s better to train playing football?’ No. I wanted the team to feel that they can survive everything. My assistant coach thinks I’m an idiot. He asks if we can train there. No. Can we run there? No. But we can swim and fish!”
He continues: “When I meet one of those players now, from our ‘Special Forces’, they tell me what happened in the first and last minute and every story in between. Each night in a fucking tent, lying on the roots, you don’t forget that. We had to find the next island. The first one there had to make a fire and boil some water. The whole time it was raining. Only five hours it was not and then [Klopp slaps his cheek] … a mosquito! How can they live in Sweden? You see the sun and [another slap] you feel mosquitos! But it was brilliant. We were like Bravehearts. You can stick a knife in me here – no problem. We went to the Bundesliga and people could not believe how strong we were.”
Klopp, sharing an uncanny resemblance to the Honeymonster, joined Borussia Dortmund in 2008 following the club’s very close dabble with bankruptcy three years earlier. By 2012, with one Bundesliga title under their belt and another in progress, their annual turnover of €189m (£160m) meant, in financial terms, that they had become the 11th largest club in the world mainly thanks to the Westfalenstadion, the club’s fortress, regularly accommodating over 80,000 Schwarzgelben (black yellows).
He refers to Dortmund as a unique establishment, one where all of the employees love the establishment. The club’s future is bright and although Klopp has received considerable plaudits all over Europe, he has no intentions to leave in the short term because he is currently involved in “the most interesting football project in the world.” Despite the club’s new found riches the board exercise a prudent business model, resulting in a revered footballing blueprint, ensuring the club remains a going concern for the foreseeable future.
Klopp made the Bond analogy in response to Bayern Munich’s recruitment policy of cherry picking the best talent – namely his star playmaker Mario Gotze. Before the conclusion of Dortmund’s semi-final defeat of Real Madrid, Bayern activated the 20 year-old’s €37m escape clause. And having been at the club since the age of nine, the news was both unexpected and unwelcome. “It was like a heart attack. It was one day after Málaga [who Dortmund dramatically toppled following two late goals in the quarter-final]. I had one day to celebrate and then somebody thought: ‘Enough, go back down on the floor.’ At our training ground Michael Zorc [Dortmund’s general manager] walked in like somebody had died. Michael asked if I wanted to talk and I said: ‘No, I have to go.’ That evening my wife was waiting because there’s a very good German actor, and a good friend, Wotan Wilke Mohring, in a new film in Essen and we were invited to the premiere. But I walked in and told her: ‘No chance. I cannot speak. It’s not possible to take me out tonight.’ There were all these calls from the club – we should meet in a restaurant and speak. I said: ‘No, I have to be on my own.’ Tomorrow I’ll be back in the race – but not tonight.”
Klopp knew Gotze’s move would have ramifications on the rest of his squad so he contacted a handful of players who he considered would be “damaged” by the news. “They thought they were not good enough – and they wanted to win together. That’s the reason it hurt them so much. But Bayern told Mario: ‘It’s now or never.’ I told him they will come next year. They will come in two years, and then three years. But he’s 20 and he thought: ‘I must go.’ I know how difficult it will be to find a player to replace Götze but, next year, we will play differently. It just takes time.”
By comparing the two regimes, the larger than life German said, “Bayern want a decade of success like Barça. That’s OK if you have the money because it increases the possibility of success. But it’s not guaranteed. We are not a supermarket but they want our players because they know we cannot pay them the same money. It could not be our way to do things like Real and Bayern and not think about taxes – and let the next generation pick up our problems. We need to work seriously and sensibly. We have this amount of money so we can pay that amount. But we lose players. Last year it was Shinji Kagawa, one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United – on the left wing! My heart breaks. Really, I have tears in my eyes. Central midfield is Shinji’s best role. He’s an offensive midfielder with one of the best noses for goal I ever saw. But for most Japanese people it means more to play for Man United than Dortmund. We cried for 20 minutes, in each others’ arms when he left. One year before that Nuri Sahin went because Real Madrid is the biggest club in the world. [Sahin is back at Dortmund after limited appearances for Madrid and an unproductive loan spell at Liverpool].”
Despite Dortmund’s jewels being sold every summer, the club are remain a success as they aim to win another Champions League title as underdogs, as per their last success in 1997 when they beat a star studded Juventus side. Klopp is defiant as to how far his team can go, “if players are patient enough we can develop the team into one of the biggest in the world.”
Klopp was interviewed by the Guardian newspaper