German football was left almost in a state of mourning when Juergen Klopp announced his departure from Borussia Dortmund after seven seasons in charge last April.
The team hadn’t been doing well – it was bottom as late as February – but few gave the extrovert coach the blame, at least until mild criticism began to appear before he announced: ”I am no longer the perfect coach for this extraordinary club.”
While Juergen Klopp’s energy-sapping, high-pressure game had taken its toll on his small squad, other factors also played their part: A host of injuries, too many games, and the loss of star players in consecutive summers. Nuri Sahin left for Real Madrid in 2011, Shinji Kagawa for Manchester United in 2012, and Mario Goetze and Robert Lewandowski joined rival Bayern Munich in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Klopp had been given the benefit of the doubt on the back of all he achieved with the club. After taking over Dortmund in 2008, three years after the club was faced with insolvency, the former Mainz coach led his young side to sixth place in his first season, fifth in the next, and then Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012, when Dortmund claimed its first-ever double with a 5-2 demolition of Bayern in the German Cup final. A Champions League final appearance followed in 2013, when Bayern exacted revenge.
But the downward trend began after the double. Dortmund finished 25 points behind Bayern in the league in 2013, and 19 behind in 2014.
Dortmund made its worst ever start to the league for the 2014-15 season as Klopp maintained his intensive game despite injuries ruling out important players. The team conceded on counterattacks and the players were shorn of confidence as a spiral of bad results took hold. It looked like Klopp had no Plan B, no alternative to his gung-ho game.
”The way we play, it’s not very likely that they’ll reach 30,” Klopp had joked before about his young side.
After Klopp announced his end-of-season resignation, the club was in 10th place – 37 points behind Bayern. It recovered to knock Bayern out of the German Cup and finish seventh to clinch a Europa League qualification playoff place.
”If I’d known that, I would have announced (my resignation) a lot sooner,” Klopp said at the time.
His last game with Dortmund ended in disappointment when Wolfsburg won the German Cup final 3-1 to deny him a winning sendoff. Klopp would have become Dortmund’s most successful coach with six trophies including the two German Supercup titles. As it is, he has to share the honor with Ottmar Hitzfeld on five.
”Leaving hurts a lot,” Klopp said. ”I leave with a bag full of memories.”
The hashtag ”DankeKloppo” (Thanks Kloppo) was trending on Twitter as fans remembered his achievements and overall contribution to German football. There were few dull moments. Highlights include his sprint at full speed past a bemused Pep Guardiola to join celebrations after Dortmund knocked Bayern out of the cup 13 days after he announced his resignation, his joy at sealing back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2012, or the rapport he shared with club officials, players and fans.
Lowlights include his rage on the sidelines when things aren’t going his way.
”Sometimes I shock myself when I see the pictures on TV,” Klopp said.
His press conferences were usually populated by witty comments and shrewd observations on the game.
Liverpool fans can look forward to a coach who brings technical expertise as well as an infectious enthusiasm for playing the game. He can communicate well and coax the best from young players, earning their respect and a sense of loyalty, at least initially, until bigger clubs come calling.
”If you want to achieve something, you really have to do your best and reach out the window, to be ready to dream,” Klopp said before the 2013 Champions League final.
He’s already got Liverpool fans dreaming again.