Tonight’s match between Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund will see a manager proudly lead his league champions into the last-16 of Europe’s premier competition for the first time under his stewardship.
When the draw was made back in September, many assumed that man would be Roberto Mancini.
But it is in fact Jürgen Klopp, the mastermind behind Dortmund’s outstanding (and continuing) climb back to the top of Europe’s elite.
Since taking over in 2008, Klopp has steered the club from mid-table also-rans to the best team in Germany. If that title wasn’t already cemented by back-to-back league titles, last year’s 5-2 demolition of Bayern Munich in the German Cup final wiped away any lingering doubt.
Bayern’s name suggests reverence and history. But Dortmund were the team of the moment. And in Europe at least, it is a moment yet to end, because in what was rightly if lazily called the group of death, they sit top, undefeated, having taken four points from two games against Real Madrid. And these weren’t lucky points.
They were points won with flair and confidence and yes, more than a little German efficiency.
Klopp’s team plays football, which is no surprise when you look at their team sheet. It is full of players who have been, and will continue to be, linked with some of the best clubs in Europe.
Which would be a concern for Klopp were Dortmund not now in that bracket themselves.
When Shinji Kagawa left Signal Iduna Park for Old Trafford this summer, fans may have feared it was the first departure of many. And if reports are to be believed in yesterday’s press, Lewandowski will soon be joining him to reform what was a devastating partnership in the Bundesliga.
But for now the Polish striker continues to score goals for fun, supplied by the sublimely talented Mario Götze behind a defence that is both a rock and a tidal wave, the solidity coming from Mats Hummels and Neven Subotić and the stealth from Lukasz Piszczek and Lars Bender.
Klopp has built a team of players who are the envy of many. And he has been given the time to do so.
When he first took charge, Dortmund had finished the previous season in 13th position. A year later, they were sixth and had won the Super Cup, defeating Bayern in the final.
The following year they finished fifth. Goals change games but patience changes history. Because then came those consecutive league titles, the second of which was achieved with the highest ever points tally in the Bundesliga after a 28-game unbeaten run – the longest ever in the German top flight.
At a time when managers are under the spotlight more than ever, when names are tossed almost daily into hats for the biggest jobs in English football. It is surprising that Klopp’s name has not been mentioned as much as others.
Unlike those managers prematurely championed, he has built something incredible. And even before his time with Dortmund, his only other managerial job shows us the man behind the occasional touchline temper tantrum.
After retiring from the game, Klopp took charge of Mainz 05, guiding them to their first ever appearance in the Bundesliga and a place in the UEFA Cup. But before he managed them, he played for them, for his entire career.
He is a man of loyalty. A man who stays until a job is done. And a man who may not be suited to the impatience of the English game.
In October, he stated as much when he told newspaper Bild that he had once dreamed of managing in England and yet, “I think the paradise of football is actually the German Bundesliga”.
Wherever the paradise of football is, and however many of his exceptional team remain in the years to come, we should keep a close eye on Klopp’s career.
For now he has a new challenge to overcome, as his team are currently 11 points behind a resurgent Bayern Munich. But even if this particular moment is over, you sense another is not too far away.
image: © wuestenigel