When the full-time whistle sounded after a pulsating 94 minutes at Signal Iduna Park, Borussia Dortmund confirmed, with a masterful 4-1 home win over Real Madrid, that it’s time for Germany to take top spot in the latest reshuffling of power in European football.
Dortmund’s impressive victory, of course, came on the back of another fine German result, after FC Bayern Munich ruthlessly dispatched of recent powerhouses Barcelona in a 4-0 win at the Allianz Arena, making it a fine week for all those involved in German football.
A vindication, too, for the hard work that Germany has put into revamping its footballing structure, emphasizing youth development and keeping a firm eye on fiscal prudence.
And while Bayern are naturally the top dogs of German football—their Tuesday announcement of Mario Goetze’s end-of-season move from Dortmund for a reported €48 million (ESPNFC) only served to highlight the differences even between the Bundesliga’s two best standout teams—it is BVB’s remarkable rise under Juergen Klopp that has attracted the dreamers.
A dream based on youth development, attractive attacking football helmed by an exciting young coach with a well-defined footballing philosophy.
A dream that seems remarkably similar to that of Liverpool Football Club over in the English Premier League.
The first sign of similarity and parallel between these two fine historical institutions and their respective approaches to football can be summed up in a Daily Mail report that linked Juergen Klopp and Brendan Rodgers with a move to Liverpool in the wake of Kenny Dalglish’s departure at the end of last season.
Whether the report itself should be taken seriously or not is irrelevant; in hindsight, it is a rumor that perfectly encapsulates what the current Liverpool ownership wants to see at Anfield. Ultimately, they went for Rodgers, who made his name at Swansea City growing a similarly philosophy-backed football club into an established Premier League club.
It has to be said that in appointing Juergen Klopp in 2008, Dortmund were taking a risk. Klopp had presided over relegation with his only previous club, Mainz 05, and had failed to bring them back up to the Bundesliga at the first time of asking, so he resigned.
More often than not, such stories don’t end in too successfully, much less a possible fairytale Champions League final appearance. But such was Klopp’s impact—promoting young players such as Goetze and Nuri Sahin; making astute signings such as Robert Lewandowski and Shinji Kagawa (now at Manchester United); instilling a fluid attacking style based on high-tempo pressing and a high defensive line—that not only was his contract renewed just nine months into his new job, but he delivered two successive Bundesliga titles in his third and fourth seasons at the club.
The similarities between Juergen Klopp and Brendan Rodgers, besides that Klopp seems much more emotive, are uncanny at first glance: Both are indisputable football philosophers, with their ideas of attacking football very much at the forefront of their managerial approaches; both are astute man managers, able to get the best out of their players; both are young and ambitious with designs on building dynasties for their clubs.
And this season, with Rodgers giving his own Academy graduates a fair chance in the senior team—Andre Wisdom and Raheem Sterling were the main beneficiaries of this, establishing themselves as first-choice players for a few months—and with a semblance of attacking, high-tempo and pressing football taking shape at Anfield, one can forgive Liverpool fans for looking at Dortmund as a blueprint and an inspiration.
The clubs themselves do not enjoy nearly the financial muscle of a Bayern Munich or a Chelsea. They do not enjoy the pure money-making machinery of the club(s) above them. But Dortmund’s sustained success over the past few seasons offers a valuable path for Liverpool, which, if they manage to take it successfully, might offer them a tantalizing route back to the top.
No doubt John Henry and FSG have identified this exact same approach as a way for the Reds to move forward.
Make no mistake; Liverpool aren’t nearly the finished article that Dortmund are or that Rodgers has at times said they’re close to becoming. (B/R’s Clark Whitney has written up an excellent analysis of Dortmund’s tactics and player roles here.)
To consistently hold a productive high defensive line, like BVB have so successfully, the Liverpool backline has a glaring hole: the off-form Martin Skrtel and the retiring Jamie Carragher (who has pulled the entire line deeper due to his lack of pace).
To provide their defenders with a good outlet for possession retention, defensive cover and playmaking, the Reds midfield do not possess quality and technique like Dortmund do in Ilkay Gundogan and Sven Bender. Lucas’ form since returning from injury has been alarmingly poor, while Joe Allen requires a significant hike in both confidence and impact if he is to become a mainstay of this Liverpool side.
Where Dortmund and Liverpool are the most excitingly similar is in attack.
The current BVB attacking machine is mature, well-drilled and threatening, with creativity, work rate, physicality and goalscoring abundant across the forward line. As Sterling matures and Daniel Sturridge grows into his role as lone striker, with Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho in menacing support, and the prospect of further strengthening still, the hope is that Anfield’s version can become a similarly fearsome combination.
That Brendan Rodgers can find the right formula to take Liverpool forward and back into the Premier League elite.
And that, as Borussia Dortmund has proved so emphatically, such an impressive rise is doable given the right factors and decisions.
Football will only benefit from a return to success from an erstwhile European powerhouse. Dortmund has more or less succeeded. With such an inspiring blueprint being turned into reality right in front of our eyes, Liverpool’s only task now is to march on and keep believing.