Jürgen Klopp has not been skipping into press conferences, grinning from ear to ear, lately. Picking up seven points from nine games for Borussia Dortmund and being 14 points behind Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich tends to have that effect.
Instead he has been arriving later, looking paler and appearing increasingly perplexed at his team’s terrible start to the season. But after Tuesday’s away win over St Pauli in the cup there was something to smile about.
A female fan, who just happened to be working in St Pauli’s catering, managed to sneak into his post-match press conference and basically read out a love letter to him.
Klopp must be the only coach in football whose popularity rises the worse he does. Bad results increase other clubs’ belief that he might be gettable and that makes Dortmund fans, who don’t want to lose him, hang on even tighter.
They sang “six great years is not ruined by six bad games” after the latest defeat, and the love-letter reader on Tuesday was speaking for all the club’s fanbase when she said: “You have given us so much success, now we support you through the crisis.”
It rounded off a good night with Ciro Immobile, Marco Reus and Shinji Kagawa all in the goals in a comfortable DFB-Pokal Cup win. “We must really be in the shit, if people are moved to such public shows of support,” Klopp joked. “When is the wedding?” quipped St Pauli’s head of communications.
It can’t be easy being the Dortmund coach, ridiculous levels of popularity aside. Bayern’s chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is forever looking down at Klopp’s plate and asking him: “Are you going to eat that? Because if not, I will.” Klopp is helpless to stop his players running their contracts down and moving on to Bayern.
Bayern’s ability to simultaneously strengthen themselves and weaken Dortmund, first with Mario Götze, then Robert Lewandowski, and sooner or later Marco Reus, makes the Bundesliga ever harder for Klopp to win. Perhaps that’s why Champions League form has not dipped in the current crisis.
Dortmund have more points from three games in Europe than from their nine matches in the domestic competition. It’s a competition they will still feel they can win.
It is true that a little disunity has reared its head recently with defender Mats Hummels and keeper Roman Weidenfeller arguing publicly over goals conceded. But Klopp would want nothing less after four straight league defeats.
And despite the 14-point gap, the idea of him running into the arms of a Premier League suitor is, according to those who know him best, still premature. The theory that his ideas are no longer reaching his players also fails to ring true.
If it were now so easy to work out Dortmund then why has it been beyond Arsène Wenger, Cesare Prandelli and Besnik Hasi in the Champions League group Klopp’s team is winning at a canter?
The crisis is not weakening him, and neither is it dulling his appetite to take on Pep Guardiola, whose Bayern team he visits on Saturday. Would it be so surprising if he got the better of Guardiola again to get Dortmund’s season back on track?
He did it at the start of last season in the German Super Cup. He managed it at the start of this season in the same fixture; and he also did it at Bayern’s Allianz Arena last April in the league.
Each time, it could be argued, there was first and foremost pride to play for – especially in Munich in April when Bayern had already won the league.
As omens go, that might not be a bad thing as with the title seemingly gone already, pride is once again what is primarily at stake. Dortmund – the club and their manager – have that particular resource in seemingly endless supply.Reuse content