This time five years ago, Borussia Dortmund were sitting in 13th place in the Bundesliga table. Only three years previously, they had sat on the edge of financial abyss, only to be pulled back from the brink by a generous loan from FC Bayern and the calm, brilliant leadership of Hans-Joachim Watzke. This time five years ago, Borussia Dortmund were on a painstakingly long road to recovery. The glory days of the nineties seemed but a distant memory, and their return little but a pipe dream.
Then came Jürgen Klopp. The jovial, dry genius of whom had only begun to blossom at FSV Mainz 05. It had blossomed sufficiently, though, for Watzke and Director of Sport Michael Zorc to know that they had found their man. The man who would lead the Dortmund Revolution, and accelerate their return to the German and European elite beyond anyone's imagination.
The rest, up to this point, is history. Under Klopp, Dortmund won their seventh Bundesliga title in 2011, and consolidated it with the domestic double in the following season. After the win in the cup final last year, Klopp found himself talking to Lars Ricken, the man who scored BVB's winner in the 1997 Champions League Final. On ZDF TV this weekend, Ricken recalled exactly how the conversation went.
“They'd just won the double, and I said to him, 'next year in the Champions League, you can give yourself a bit of time now.' You should have seen the look he gave me. I realised then that this was a man who wanted to achieve extraordinary things, a man who was not content with two league titles and a cup win. I realised that Dortmund could do it this season.”
It is little wonder that Klopp is already drawing comparisons with his adversary this evening, José Mourinho. At a similarly young age, the Dortmund manager is as ambitious, as emotionally engaged and arguably as talented as Mourinho was just a decade ago. He is as astute tactically, and, at least in his current environment, as accomplished a man manager.
And he is even more brilliant in his press relations. Where Mourinho will toy with the press, manipulating them this way and that to suit his whims, Klopp delights them with his blunt, often hilarious and ever intelligent remarks. Even on the rare occasion he is irritated by one of them, he will generally keep the rest of them onside, as one young WDR journalist found to his embarrassment last week when he asked Klopp to avoid using clichés in his answer.
“I've never seen you here before, it must be your first time,” Klopp replied acerbically, “Which section do you write for again? Nature documentaries? Oh sport?”
It is not just the press who love Klopp, however. His power over the fans is such that one appeal from him last week, and barely a whisper of discontent could be heard from the BVB faithful about Mario Götze's impending transfer to FC Bayern. The atmosphere was electric and Dortmund got their result. While Klopp will be as disappointed as any fan to see the team he has built and perfected almost single handedly over the last four years begin to break up at the end of this year, he is determined to get the best out of them before the likes of Götze, Lewandowski and maybe even Mats Hummels leave for sunnier shores.
As for Klopp himself, there are already rumours careering around Europe linking him to everyone from Chelsea to Real Madrid. But don't be too convinced. Bayern's display of financial bicep flexing last week does not spell the end of competition in the Bundesliga, particularly not with a man of Klopp's ambition to challenge them. Dortmund still have their excellent youth system, and have already been linked with the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Stefan Kießling and Christian Eriksen as potential squad replacements. If Klopp has proven one thing over his rise to fame, it is that he loves a challenge, and there will be no bigger challenge in European football next season than making sure Bayern don't go on another rampage through the Bundesliga. Klopp, moreover, is unlikely to be tempted by an enormous pay check if the job isn't right. In an interview last summer he declared “Not once has money been the reason for me to get out of bed.”
For now though, Klopp is focused on tonight, and as Lars Ricken says, he is after something extraordinary. In his press conference yesterday, he suggested that whatever happens, whether Dortmund go through or not, it will be a historical evening. There is, though, only one type of history that Jürgen Klopp wants to make tonight.