The frustration from Jurgen Klopp was clear, storming out of an interview on German channel ZDF after being asked if Dortmund’s hopes in the Champions League were over following the 3-0 first leg loss against Real Madrid.
The Borussia Dortmund manager isn’t the only one to feel frustrated with life in German football. Receiving confirmation that he and the club were about to lose Mario Goetze only hours after beating Malaga in the quarter-finals of the European Cup last season was heartbreaking; the fury at losing another star player in Robert Lewandowski a year on to the same domestic rival, Bayern Munich, would have been more than understandable.
Bayern’s dominance can be seen as another celebration of the game, an extension of the fantastic dynasty of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. From a different perspective, Bayern’s hoovering up of domestic and international silverware, as well as the collating of Germany’s finest talents, means the Bundesliga has taken an incredible hit to its reputation as a growing product to rival the Premier League. It’s a concern because the wealth of Bayern and their marketing reach means Germany’s top division is starting to look a little more like the product of Scotland than England.
Jurgen Klopp would have understood what was required of him when he signed his contract extension at the start of the season, an extension that would, in theory, take him to 2018 with Dortmund. He would have understood because regardless of what was happening at Bayern, the modern game has shown itself to work in cycles. It’s not just that managers stay at clubs for a period of two to three seasons before moving on, it’s that their teams – Dortmund, Barcelona etc – work in similar cycles of two, three or four seasons at the top before needing to start again.
It means that with Dortmund’s loss of Goetze, Lewandowski and possibly, though not yet with certainty, Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus, Klopp has to rebuild and get the team back to the summit of German football.
It was around this time last year that Klopp’s popularity really began to soar. He had an endearing quality about him: he listens heavy metal, he doesn’t mind a beer; can anyone recall a time when Klopp was seen in a suit? He plays the game like he wants to defy the conventions. Throwing together a group of youths, both secured via the market and nurtured through the club’s academy, he brought gegenpressing to the attention of the world and won back-to-back Bundesliga titles – one of which was coupled with the German cup – and reached the Champions League final. In hindsight, irony was certainly prevalent when his Dortmund were paired with Bayern in the final in London.
But even Klopp, the energetic yet fiery hot property of Dortmund, must be having enough. Such is the admiration for Klopp that there would have been little cynicism when he said he’d remain at his current club for the duration of his new contract. After the events of this season and what yet may be in store for Dortmund in the battle to retain its top stars, it would be understandable if Klopp were thinking about life elsewhere.
The past week has been a positive one for Dortmund and Klopp – and least in terms of games taken in isolation. A severely weakened Dortmund tore through Real Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final last Tuesday and should have gone through to the next round had it not been for some wayward but generally unfortunate shooting from Henrikh Mkhitaryan. And Saturday saw a small dose of revenge dished out against Bayern with a 3-0 win at the Allianz Arena.
Those two results, taken in isolation, may give a hint as to what could be in store for Dortmund in the near future under Klopp. He’s helped to take the club to incredible heights in the past, why should a second stint with glory be out of the question?
But it’s the manner of Klopp’s attitude of late: the storming out of television studios and the verbal attack on the fourth official during a game against Borussia Monchengladbach in March which led to Klopp’s dismissal from the dugout and a subsequent fine. The Dortmund manager has a fiery edge, but are these incidents telling of a frustration that goes deeper?
Just as was the case with Guardiola – further irony in that Klopp can’t seem to escape Bayern – Klopp will be hugely in demand if he ever decides his cycle at Signal Iduna Park has come to an end. Manchester United, Arsenal and, now reportedly Tottenham, will be among those jostling for a position at the front of the queue; based on further reports this week, so too may Barcelona, who now look certain to part ways with Tata Martino at the end of the season.
If Dortmund – and the rest of the Bundesliga’s top sides, for that matter – are to challenge Bayern over a sustained period, the league and its members will need to grow and thrive in a way that the Premier League has. Germany may hold the talent, but it has nothing on the marketing machine of English football.
The question is whether Klopp will want to stick around long enough to help Dortmund not only challenge Bayern again, but remain within touching distance and not require the use of a telescope.