When Omar and Brother Mouzone gunned down Stringer Bell on a building site in series 3 of The Wire it could have been the end for the show. After all, Stringer was one of the most popular characters and many wanted to see if McNulty would get his man. However, despite taking out Stringer, both show and actor prospered. Season 4 was arguably the best since the first, and Idris Elba became Nelson Mandela.
Just as both Baltimore and Stringer survived, so too will Dortmund and Jürgen Klopp, who announced on Wednesday morning that they will be heading separate ways at the end of the current season. And arguably, just like with Stringer, the time is right for both to move on.
By announcing his departure now, Klopp has taken the opportunity to leave on his own terms, and with his relationship to the club fully in-tact. Since joining from Mainz 05 seven seasons ago he has arguably been the manager most consistently loved amongst his own fans. He arrived at a club still dining out on domestic and European glories of yesteryear, and suffering from a financial and sporting malaise, supported by disillusioned fans. The BVB he joined were a very different animal to the one he leaves behind.
The current season aside, the same fans can look back on an extraordinary time. Primarily, the two Bundesliga titles. Taking the title of Bayern is one thing – after all, three other teams have managed in the last decade or so – but to win it back-to-back is something else. The title wins of Bremen (2004), Stuttgart (2007), and Wolfsburg (2009) were all preceded and followed by Bayern being crowned champions. Put simply, the men from Munich do not like sharing. So in managing to hold them off for two seasons, Klopp achieved something very special.
Not only did Klopp’s side win and defend the title, they did so playing some of the most attractive football outside of Catalonia His side’s fluid style brought the team fans and accolades from around the world. As advocates of the Gegenpressing style, his technically-gifted teams, clad in yellow and black looked like wasps, buzzing around their opponents hunting in packs to win the ball. Their nuisance factor and positioning off the ball coupled with their sharp, incisive play in possession saw them translate domestic success to the European stage. Despite struggling in Klopp’s first season in Europe, BVB improved in following seasons, ripping through difficult groups and taking on the continent’s elite with a sense of élan and fearlessness. By the time Dortmund had reached the 2013 final against Bayern at Wembley, Klopp had most of England waxing lyrical about his team.
It also needs to be pointed out that seven seasons is a long time at any club, in any division. Since he joined Dortmund, every other current Bundesliga team has changed their manager at least once, and many have seen multiple comings and goings. Klopp has given Dortmund loyal service and deserves to leave on his own terms. Although his resignation will have hit the club’s decision-makers hard, the manner in which it has happened has also done them a favor. By asking to leave, Klopp has spared the club the difficult task of wielding the axe and risking alienating a section of fans had things further declined.
What started as passion has evolved into love, and no observer of the German game would question the genuineness of the tears in Klopp’s eyes during the press conference. Although a Schwabe from the south of Germany, Klopp embodies the genuine, down-to-earth everyman qualities associated with the people of the Ruhr Valley where Dortmund is situated.
In general, Bundesliga managers are for more animated than their Premier League counterparts, but even by their standards Klopp is a one-man-show on the touchline. His running, fist-pump celebrations have become folklore and he often looks like one of the fans in his baseball cap and hoodie, only dusting off the three-piece-suit and beard trimmer for Champion’s League nights. He sometimes appears to act as lightning rod, channeling the crowd’s energies onto the pitch. Wouldn’t it be great to see him tearing down touchlines in the Premier League, chest bumping anybody that got too close, and pumping his fists at a confused and slightly worried Arsène Wegner?
The favorite to succeed Klopp is Thomas Tuchel, currently on a sabbatical after leaving Mainz 05 last May. Tuchel is very highly thought of in Germany and comparisons between the two men are easy to make. Not just their shared history at Mainz, but also the casual nature of their appearance and manner which belies their meticulous and pain-staking detailed methods.
As proved to be the case in Mainz, Tuchel would be a logical choice to follow Klopp. Not only would his tactical principles find a home in what Klopp will leave behind, but he will also offer a sense of long-termism and progression for others to buy into – essential if BVB want to keep hold of players such as Hummels, Reus and Gündogan, and tempt others to the club in the summer and beyond.
Although he may well prove to be a hard man to emulate, Jürgen Klopp has created an identity at the club which the new man can take on and tweak as he sees fit. Despite their poor season, the BVB Klopp will pass on is not in disarray and does not need a major overhaul to be challenging again.
So what now for Jürgen Klopp? Manchester City’s recent slide may spell the end of Manuel Pellegrini’s time in England, but will Klopp be heading to the Etihad? On the one hand. Klopp’s enthusiasm, charisma and brand of football seem tailor-made to the Premier League. Plus, the City job would allow him to enter in the top echelons of the league and – granting they still qualify – would give him another crack at the Champion’s League. On the other hand, the City job – should it come up – would not be an easy one, with owners and fans hungry for instant sporting success to match their financial muscle. On top of that, Klopp would be greeted with a squad with a lot of players nearing the sharp end of their careers, and many sitting (too) comfortably on fat contracts. Thanks to FFP, the consensus is that in order to bring new bodies in, some deadwood has to be shipped – and although it may not be difficult finding takers for the players who are still very talented, not many of these takers will be able to match their wages or persuade them to take pay cuts to leave.
This reasoning may all be irrelevant as, despite Klopp’s availability, City are said to be more keen on Pep Guardiola and are prepared to wait for his contract at Bayern Munich to expire in 2016, possibly turning to Rafa Benitez as a stop-gap in the meantime, or indeed sticking with Pellegrini. Aside from the potential vacancy at City, there doesn’t appear to be any other viable option in England, baring a surprise resignation from Arsène Wegner or Brendan Rodgers. Had Klopp made the same announcement one year previous he would probably be sitting in the dugout at Old Trafford in place of Louis van Gaal.
But even if he doesn’t end up at Manchester City, the club could still be influential in where he does go. Should they lose faith in Pellegrini, they may look to Madrid where Carlo Ancelotti could become available. The Real Madrid job is rarely a long-term position and Ancelotti is only the third of the last eleven managers to last more than one year. And despite bringing home La Decima last year, the feeling is that, with Barcelona favorites for La Liga, only defending the Champion’s League will save him. If City do make a move for Ancelotti, the vacancy at the Bernabéu could set the wheels in motion for a busy summer of managerial movements – and who’s to say that Klopp wouldn’t back himself at Madrid?
Whatever Jürgen Klopp and Borussia Dortmund decide in the coming months, the separation of the two will be painful yet amicable. Their relationship has been symbiotic and leaves both parties in a position to progress. And although he delivered titles and attractive football, perhaps Klopp’s greatest gift to Dortmund was what he will leave behind, and – by the same token – perhaps his greatest achievement is still to come.