The impossible job of managing Borussia Dortmund under the shadow of Jurgen Klopp
Manager Favre looks set for the exit after losing to Bayern on Tuesday but whoever is in charge will always have to deal with the success of their former boss
Within a few minutes of the result that all but decided the destiny of the Bundesliga title, the shape of Borussia Dortmund’s next, wearying bid to be No 1 appeared all wrapped up, too.
The lead pundit on the main German football broadcaster, Sky, delivered his forecast with clarity and stunning certainty.
“Favre will go,” said Lothar Matthaus, the former Germany captain and now professional opinion-former, referring to Lucien Favre, the Dortmund manager. “And Kovac will come in.”
This was the startling ‘revelation’: That Favre, who had overseen Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat at home to Bayern Munich – extending the gap between first and second in the table to seven points – will in the close-season be replaced by Niko Kovac, who until last November was in charge at Bayern.
Matthaus’s crystal ball-gazing was no more than informed guesswork, but the first part of his prediction – that Dortmund will be seeking a new manager after the club have completed their remaining six fixtures of the campaign – seemed a sound guess.
Favre himself, bitterly disappointed that Dortmund had not capitalised on a lively first half against Bayern, had even suggested a reassessment of his position was likely.
“I know how it works,” Favre said in reply to a frank post-match question about his future. “But we should talk about this in a few weeks.”
Much of the rest of the week has been spent with Favre, and his Dortmund bosses trying to take the sting out of those remarks. Both parties confirming the intention is for Favre to fulfill the third season of a contract that expires in 2021.
The 62-year-old Swiss is, after all, the most successful manager Dortmund have had since Jurgen Klopp left the club five-and-half-years ago.
He has been the most adept challenger to Bayern Munich’s seven-year grip on the league title, having taken Dortmund to within two points of the champions last season.
But Favre is not Klopp, and whenever Dortmund fall short, a wistfulness for the last golden era of the yellow-and-blacks spreads over the club.
Under Klopp, Dortmund won their most recent Bundesliga, in 2012; under Klopp, they had also been champions in 2011; under Klopp, they beat Bayern by a three-goal margin in a German Cup final.
The club “have still not got over Klopp,” wrote the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper on Thursday. “And every one of Klopp’s successors suffers for that.”
Favre says he does not pay attention to the German media. If he had done in the gloomy days after the narrow loss to Bayern, a 90 minutes peppered with what-might-have-beens, he would have seen himself put through the lens of comparison with Klopp time and time again.
A perceived lack of ‘killer instinct’ in Dortmund’s performance against Bayern put into question Favre’s motivational nous. “There remains a great longing at Dortmund for a coach as emotionally expressive as Klopp,” observed Die Welt.
Fact is, as Klopp would acknowledge, managing Borussia Dortmund is a very specific challenge.
The might and power of the institution is raucously apparent at every home game at the 80,000 arena – although, unfortunately for Favre, not at the behind-close-doors game against Bayern – but the economic reality is that Dortmund, while muscular by Bundesliga standards, are a club obliged to sell talent each close-season to balance the books.
They have become immensely skilled at the business of developing young players and, while they are still young, selling them at profit.
So much so that Dortmund have become a go-to club for ambitious teenagers.
Which means every Dortmund manager must be ready to field teams with, very often, a young average age.
That can be exciting, but can also condition the sort of manager Dortmund seek, and the sort of manager who is prepared to take on the job, sensing some of the squad see it as a stepping stone in their careers, and feeling all the Klopp nostalgia around the place.
Thomas Tuchel, now at Paris Saint-Germain, had two years at Dortmund without emulating either the successes or the emotional bond with fans of Klopp.
But he helped progress the careers of Ousmane Dembele and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, both sold for vast profits. The Dutchman Peter Bosz was chosen as Tuchel’s successor because he had proved his skill working with rising starlets at Ajax. He was not a good fit at Dortmund, as it turned out.
Favre, thoughtful and tactically brilliant at times, has since 2018 overseen the dazzling rise of Jadon Sancho, among others. He has reduced the gap on Bayern Munich, but not closed it.
His urgent task now is to remotivate Dortmund fast. They have probably lost any hope of a title, but they face a tight battle to maintain their position in a top four where a quartet of clubs jousting for second, third and fourth spot are locked within four points of each other. Favre has no time to dwell on setbacks.
Updated: May 29, 2020 10:14 AM