Back in 2002, when Borussia Dortmund last won the German championship, they were coached by then 34-year-old Matthias Sammer, a young, dynamic, and hugely passionate boss. Despite his frequent and public displays of emotion, and for all his arguably unconventional character traits, Sammer was a master tactician with one of the sharpest analytical brains in the German game.
Nine years later, BVB are coached by Jurgen Klopp, a sports science graduate born in the same year as current German FA (DFB) director of sport Sammer. The similarities do not end there. Sammer required just two seasons to guide Borussia to glory, and since taking the helm in summer 2008, Klopp has transformed a mid-table outfit into champions-elect who could yet claim the Bundesliga shield with four games to spare.
As his team close in on the title, Klopp spoke exclusively to FIFA.com. "It goes without saying that we want to win the league now," he said. "But regardless of where we finish this season, we’ve been exceptional throughout this campaign, and our young team can be thoroughly proud of themselves." Anything less than top spot now seems highly improbable for the coach and his charges, who could even clinch the shield away to bottom club Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday afternoon. Should they win and Leverkusen fail to do the same at home to Hoffenheim, the title goes to Dortmund.
The former Mainz boss is characterised by a deep knowledge of the game in all its facets, cast-iron determination, a nose for the smart call, and a tendency to give his emotions free rein. The latter proclivity is not a quality Klopp always likes about himself, as he freely admits. "When I see footage of myself, it certainly doesn’t please me every time. But I’m not the guy for controlled behaviour on the touchline, I’m emotional and spontaneous,” said the coach, who spent his solid but undistinguished playing career in the German second division, but is now contracted to Dortmund as head coach until 2014.
Surprised by success
Klopp’s powers as a man-motivator, and the stellar response he has generated from his players, has enabled Schwarz-Gelb (the black and yellows) to open an eight-point over sole remaining rivals Leverkusen in the final weeks of a season Dortmund have dominated from the off.
"None of the people in charge here could ever have predicted we’d be top of the table after 30 games, and with a huge lead over the team in second too. However, we always knew we had a hugely talented and exceptionally willing team.”
Dortmund achieved one of their goals last Sunday, when a 3-0 victory over Freiburg in front of another vast 80,720 full house at Signal-Iduna-Park secured the 1997 UEFA Champions League winners a return to Europe’s slite club competition after a seven-year absence.
"By reaching the Champions League, Borussia Dortmund has hit a target which we never honestly thought was realistic this season. I’m overjoyed for the club and obviously for my team, whose outstanding displays mean they’ve earned a place in Europe’s best competition,” declared Klopp, again passing all the credit to his exhilarating young side.
BVB have sent out sides with an average age of less than 25 in the Bundesliga this season, and a clutch of the young hopefuls have also made the breakthrough on the international stage. Left-back Marcel Schmelzer (23), inside forward Mario Gotze (18) and ball-winning midfielder Sven Bender (21) recently earned first full caps for Germany, while centre-back Mats Hummels and wing man Kevin Grosskreutz (both 22) achieved the same just under a year ago.
"The fact that five players have deservedly been called up to the Germany national team shows just what huge strides they’ve made at BVB,” Klopp enthused.
It is not just the German youngsters who have fuelled the passion in the football-crazy Ruhr valley. Twenty-two year-old Turkey international Nuri Sahin expertly pulls the strings for the German league leaders, dictating the pace of games, taking responsibility at dead-ball situations, and chipping in six goals and eight assist for good measure.
"Nuri has massive potential and extraordinary experience for a 22-year-old, which isn’t necessarily the case with most players his age. I assume he’s still a long way off exploiting the full extent of his ability,” said the coach, although Klopp will be without Sahin for the last four games of the campaign due to injury.
New golden era beckons
However, BVB director of sport Michael Zorc’s biggest transfer success to date is Japan international Shinji Kagawa. A snip at a mere €350,000, the striker was the revelation of the first half of the Bundesliga season, firing eight goals and powering Dortmund to a ten-point lead at the halfway mark, although he has not played since January after fracturing a metatarsal at the AFC Asian Cup.
"Michael Zorc has gathered a first-class team around him, who are superbly well-informed with connections to every important market in the world,” explained Klopp. Dortmund’s successful scouting section patently never rests on its laurels and has continued its search for the best young talent during the season. For example, 17-year-old Australian Mustafa Amini, on the books at Central Coast Mariners, spent a week on trial with the BVB senior squad back in March.
He is unlikely to be the last skilled youth to find his way to Borussia Dortmund, and especially not if the men in black and yellow pitch for European glory next season as German champions. Many factors point to the dawn of a new era of success at BVB, under the temperamentally brilliant leadership of Jurgen Klopp.