x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Champions League: Klopp's giving Borussia Dortmund plenty to talk about

The coach has translated his astute knowledge of the game into good practice on pitch, writes Ian Hawkey.

Juergen Klopp is open to technological developments, and emphasises fitness and stamina at Borussia Dortmund. Paco Campos / EPA
Juergen Klopp is open to technological developments, and emphasises fitness and stamina at Borussia Dortmund. Paco Campos / EPA

When Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006, it gave a country sometimes viewed as a frowning place, serious to the point of dull, a positive image transformation.

On bright afternoons and warm evenings, Germans were seen as smiling and hospitable, generous. The public cheered their national team gratefully, even though they only finished third in the tournament, because they had played with dynamism and verve.

Stars were made on and off the field, including a young man employed by one of the German television channels who broadcast the action.

He was already known to dedicated followers of the sport because of his long, yet unglamorous playing career in the second division with Mainz, who he then guided as head coach into the top flight of German football.

But Jurgen Klopp became familiar to a far larger constituency with his lucid, articulate presentation on TV about how the game is played and planned.

Viewers who seldom tune in to football outside major national tournaments were drawn to the charismatic Klopp for his energy, his willingness to cut through the jargon.

They trusted his authority and liked his down-to-earth approachability. In the world of punditry, so hard for so many professionals to get right, here was a natural.

In his main line of work, Klopp's qualities as a communicator are regularly praised by players.

When Borussia Dortmund, who he has coached for nearly five years, are at their electric best, you can almost feel the livewire charge fed directly from technical area onto the pitch.

As Klopp prepares to supervise a Dortmund holding a 4-1 advantage going into the second leg of their Uefa Champions League semi-final at Real Madrid's Bernabeu stadium tonight, it is hard to avoid comparison between the 45 year old on the verge of taking his club to their first European Cup final in 16 years and some aspects of his opposite number.

Or at least with the younger, upstart version of Jose Mourinho - the Mourinho of Porto, who a decade ago was guiding that club to heights of European achievement they had not reached for more than a decade and a half.

Mourinho has scowled rather than charmed for much of what will probably be the last season of his three at Madrid, and though the setback suffered against Dortmund six days ago was taken by the Portuguese with a magnanimity that is not always part of his posture as the losing manager, he did preface the tie with a reference to Klopp "talking rather a lot".

Mourinho, in his early 40s, used to be just as effervescent in front of cameras and microphones.

Quick as a flash, Klopp responded to the observation he was a chatterbox: "That's what my teachers at school used to say about me."

He had much to talk about last week, handling the eve-of-first-leg revelation that Dortmund's prized young striker, Mario Goetze, had signed an agreement to join Bayern Munich in June with maturity, and putting out a strong message to Borussia fans that Goetze should be supported as long as he remained with Dortmund, who he had helped inspire to the 2011 and 2012 Bundesliga titles.

Klopp, who with those titles made himself a sought-after manager across Europe, resists comparison with Mourinho.

But he has benefited in his coaching career from a growing appreciation, partly prompted by Mourinho's successes, among owners, presidents and chairmen that you do not need to have been a superstar player to know how to coach.

What Klopp's steady playing days did give him was an unusual perspective. With Mainz, he divided his time between being a striker and a defender.

He entered coaching with a mind open to what technological developments could offer him and his players. Bespectacled, he looks studious, analytical.

Dortmund's two wins and one draw - they also met Madrid in the group phase of the Champions League - against Mourinho's team were recommendations of his tactical nous. Last Wednesday, Xabi Alonso was effectively muzzled, subduing Madrid's counter-attacking impetus. Klopp emphasises fitness and stamina.

It is fortunate that Dortmund fields a young team, given the level of energy their high-energy, pressing game demands. Younger players are also often the most responsive sorts to a coach with a touch of the guru about him.

Klopp has that quality.



10.45pm, Al Jazeera Sport +3