Do Borussia Dortmund Need to Move on from Their Jurgen Klopp Obsession?

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportJune 6, 2020

Dortmund's fans celebrate Dortmund's head coach Juergen Klopp prior to German first division Bundesliga football match between Borussia Dortmund and SV Werder Bremen at the Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund, western Germany on May 23, 2015. The match is Klopp's last home league game as Borussia Dortmund coach. AFP PHOTO / PATRIK STOLLARZ

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As we head towards the end of another Bundesliga season, Borussia Dortmund find themselves in a familiar situation.

They are looking up at Bayern Munich, who are on course to win the German championship for the eighth season in a row. And as they consider what to do if they do indeed come up short again, there is an expectation that head coach Lucien Favre will lose his job.

The truth is, Dortmund still seem to be struggling to move on from the days of Jurgen Klopp. He left at the end of the 2014/15 season, but those exciting times, when they played heavy metal football and won league titles in 2011 and 2012, still hangs over everyone at Signal Iduna Park.

After a brief sabbatical, Klopp joined Liverpool in October 2015, and he has since led the Reds to a Champions League title in 2019 and has them on the brink of winning the Premier League.

Yet the outward image of Dortmund today still feels built around what Klopp did back then, with the club trying to reimagine the brand of football he brought. The memories seem a burden on those who have come afterwards.

Bosses Thomas Tuchel, Peter Bosz and Peter Stoger have all been and gone, while current head coach Favre could soon be out of a job, according to SportBild (h/t BVB Buzz). The club could be on to their fifth boss in as many years very soon.

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Abel Meszaros, a Bundesliga analyst for European sports channel Sport1 TV, tells Bleacher Report he believes in the theory that an obsession with Klopp is still lingering.

"I share the sentiment that Dortmund are in a state of Kloppophenia," Meszaros says. "After all, he was the ultimate embodiment of a Ruhrpott legend: charismatic enough to basically inspire a devout following from his players, yet understanding and caring enough on a human level to connect with them personally.

"In some ways, the perception of Klopp in Germany is both that of like a religious leader, a global brand and a down to earth guy, basically the total package.

"What made those years special is that he became champion as an outsider and changed the course of world football with his heavy metal football. 

"He developed young players into superstars in the middle like Nuri Sahin and Ilkay Gundogan, turned versatile attacking midfielders into briefly world-class players like Shinji Kagawa and Mario Gotze, and his strikers—Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang—kept supplying goals.

"In addition, his revolutionary ideas on pressing and counter-pressing—the idea that you don't have to get back into defensive shape, and it's much better to actively try to win the ball, because it's less energy and you create chances—changed the world of football tactics.

"You no longer needed to have the best players in the world to try to compete with the likes of Bayern or Real Madrid."

Dortmund's head coach Juergen Klopp lifts the trophy after the German first football division Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and SC Freiburg in Dortmund, western Germany, on May 5, 2012.    AFP PHOTO / PATRIK STOLLARZ

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When Klopp moved on, Tuchel seemed a good choice as his replacement. 

He had learned his trade in the Bundesliga and earned a reputation at Mainz—where Klopp had also made his mark as a young boss—as one of the game's most tactically astute coaches. 

But Tuchel lasted two seasons, and his replacement Bosz lasted just five months after a spell in which he failed to win any of the side's Champions League fixtures.

Stoger was next and managed to stabilize the club, before Favre was named in May 2018 as the next man to lead them forward.

Manuel Veth, a Bundesliga writer and Area Manager at Transfermarkt, says the club have had difficulties moving on from Klopp: "I think it has always been about finding the coach that can add to Klopp's tactical approach.

"In Thomas Tuchel, they perhaps thought they might even have found a similar character, but fundamentally, he is very different in his approach to Klopp.

"When it came to Peter Bosz, the attacking style of football was similar but defensively the two are not. Finally, Favre, he is a technocrat. Perhaps the best tactical coach on the planet—but he lacks Klopp's emotions.

"I think Dortmund always had to find some sort of compromise in their appointments, copying Klopp is impossible, so it was always about playing style rather than personality."

German expert Meszaros agrees: "I am sympathetic to the argument that Dortmund should try to distance itself from the 'let us find the next Klopp' argument. It is a bit like 'let's find the new Messi.' Essentially you might be chasing a mirage."

DORTMUND, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 29: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) head coach Lucien Favre of Borussia Dortmund looks on prior to the Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and Sport-Club Freiburg at Signal Iduna Park on February 29, 2020 in Dortmund, Germany. (Phot
DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Favre is contracted to Dortmund until 2021, yet the managerial shortlist for a replacement seems to be shaping up behind the scenes, and B/R understands the options are pretty varied.

Former Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino is the dream appointment, although there will be concerns over his grasp of German and the sort of financial package he would be looking for.

An emerging option is American RB Salzburg coach Jesse Marsch, 46, who has already worked with Erling Haaland. He also has Bundesliga experience thanks to a brief spell as assistant manager at RB Leipzig, and he is considered one of the most courageous, exciting young bosses in the game.

Niko Kovac, who was sacked by Bayern Munich in November, is being linked but would be a hard sell to supporters. However, he was admired for his previous work at Frankfurt and did win silverware with both clubs.

Ajax's Erik Ten Hag has also caught attention with his brand of dominant football. 

Bundesliga commentator Phil Bonney has seen enough chopping and changing in recent years to convince him that ditching the head coach again is not necessarily a good idea: "I guess the question I would throw back here is, who would do better than Favre?"

"Clubs don't seem to have much patience these days. In a parallel universe, Bayern lose their next two games and the title fight is back on. Favre becomes a BVB legend as Bayern only draw with Wolfsburg on the last day and Dortmund swipe the title from under Bayern's nose!" 

For Dortmund fans, though, Favre's reign has been pretty frustrating. 

"There are a number of reasons he is having to fight for his job", says Tushar from fan blog BVB Buzz.

"Favre has got a lot wrong during his time at Borussia Dortmund. His man-management hasn't been the best. Some players keep getting chances despite playing poorly.

"His record in big games has also generally been really poor. Aside from the wins over Inter Milan and PSG, Dortmund seem to struggle in big games more often than not. His tactics have also been too passive in a lot of the games against teams of lower calibre. Far too often, Dortmund start defending deep after taking the lead, allowing the opposition to get back into the game. He can also be very stubborn at times and is often too slow to react with his in-game tweaks and substitutions. 

"But a case can also be made for him being unlucky. The Dortmund players have been very inconsistent, making easily avoidable errors. Players like Achraf Hakimi can go from world-class to error-prone in the space of a week.

"Injuries to key players before crucial games have also hurt Dortmund in each of the last two seasons. I can see why some fans are calling for Favre to go. He hasn't helped himself with some of the decisions he has made, but he has been unlucky, too.

"He has taken Dortmund from struggling to make top four to serious title contenders in a very short time, and deserves a lot of respect for that. 

"If Favre is sacked, Michael Zorc and Hans Joachim Watzke will be under massive pressure to get their next appointment right."

So what does the next coach need to have? 

"Dortmund need someone who is aggressive and takes a more proactive approach to matches," Tushar explains. "Favre gives the opposition too much space and time at times, and they need someone who can control the game better tactically. They also need someone who can get the best out of players, motivate them and get them to turn up for every game."

Bundesliga analyst Meszaros adds: "From the list of Favre replacements, I would very much be interested if they could pull the trigger on a guy like Jesse Marsch, who has a lot of the same attributes as Klopp.

"I think he would be a really good appointment—although I realise that it contradicts the 'getting over Kloppo' argument."

Yep. When all is said and done, it still sounds like Dortmund could do with finding the next Jurgen Klopp, doesn't it?