This season probably couldn’t get worse for Borussia Dortmund’s supporters.
The distraught was palpable in the wake of the early reports of Jurgen Klopp tendering his resignation at Signal Iduna Park. We’ve been around this block before; the phenomenal pace of social media compounding even the most fictitious reports in the past about Klopp’s future. But somehow this one felt serious.
"I feel this club needs a change," he admitted at a press conference this afternoon. "This club deserves a coach who is 100 percent right for this club. I definitely believe this to be the right decision."
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Appointed in 2008 after a stint at Mainz, Klopp and Dortmund have been inseparable — the 47-year-old has come to embody the rejuvenation of this football club, peaking with back-to-back league championships and a place in the UEFA Champions League final of 2013. His enthusiasm has gone hand-in-hand with Dortmund’s intense, attacking style of football that has propelled the club to the very top of the game.
Yet with six matches left this season, Dortmund is 10th in the table, six points above the drop-zone with a German Cup semifinal in Munich still on the calendar. Paderborn on Saturday, a side in the bottom-three, is simply a must-win encounter.
Dortmund’s decline this season has been well-documented; poor moves in the transfer market, out-of-form players, a lack of structure in their play, abject defending, some injuries at bad times, and so on. Klopp has been responsible for part of that downfall. A rebuilding job wasn’t necessarily on the agenda this summer but a recalibration to get on back on track was required. An obvious playing strategy has been lacking, as well as, any variation in tactics or ideas.
However, the need for a new coach and perhaps the ripple effect that could influence some of the leading players at the club — Mats Hummels, Marco Reus, Ilkay Gundogan — means that we’re now talking about a root-and-branch reconstruction of this side.
Hummels has been cagey about his future with Manchester United interested and Gundogan hasn’t been as forthcoming as Reus in extending his contract. Dortmund could probably manage one departure of three, but any more would leave a sizable vacuum in both football terms and leadership in the dressing room.
What has been apparent this season is that Dortmund can’t rely on some players to act as leaders in the camp. The new head coach will need to convince players to stay onside, while injecting some confidence into a meek bunch.
The new coach will want to assimilate his ideas on the training pitch and that might delay success returning immediately to the club. But titles aren’t everything. Dortmund’s expectations remain modest and realistic. Today would have been unlikely had the club finished in the top-four — that would have been enough to satisfy the locals.
So what about Klopp, then? He won’t be short of his potential suitors, but given the emotions of the past few days, it’s hard to imagine the German moving to England for next season. He hasn’t planned anything — no sabbatical, no potential next move.
But the Barclays Premier League looks to be his next move. He’s a good English speaker and has enjoyed the attention of the English media in the past. Many Germans of his generation have deep admiration for English football and especially the traditional football culture there. An under-achieving side like Manchester City looks like a stick-on match from the outside.
Dortmund has experienced coaching changes in the past, but this one is different. Klopp has become one of the most highly-coveted coaches on the continent, and just his aura alone will be difficult to replicate. With Leverkusen, Schalke, Wolfsburg and Gladbach in good shape, this will be one decision Hans-Joachim Watzke and Michael Zorc will need to get right.
Former Mainz coach Thomas Tuchel — who won’t be able to coach until next season due to his contractual obligations at Mainz — is in the picture. Talks with Hamburg apparently fell through at the beginning of the week.
Tuchel won’t quite step into the same shoes as Klopp. The pair are contrasting characters despite the similarities in their career trajectories. Tuchel doesn’t have the charisma as Klopp, or the same self-confidence in front of the media; he’s more studious, methodical and conscious about the limelight. The 41-year-old had profound success at Mainz, taking the club from a regional side into one competing in Europe. For a club like Dortmund, aware of its roots and its identity, Tuchel appears to be the outright outstanding candidate to take the team from next season.
An interesting transitional summer awaits for Dortmund, a club that is desperate to rekindle the days of league championships, yet one that also needs to be aware of its competition in the Bundesliga and the relative resources it has to use compared with Bayern Munich, and others.