Borussia Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp doesn't need to give that many English language interviews - at least not yet. But when he famously alluded to Robin Hood, he didn't know how right he was. Meet Dortmund's merry man.
Jürgen Klopp is Borussia Dortmund's top tactician, mischievous mentor and cheerleader-in-chief. In his mother tongue, he tends to marry quick wit, tactical insight and a refreshing level of self-deprecation. It's one of the reasons Germany was rather surprised to learn about his recent hair transplant this month. The modest, often rather unkempt figure roaming Bundesliga touchlines somehow didn't seem the type.
Though surely far better than Sir Alex Ferguson's German, Klopp's English skills still leave a little to be desired. Yet so popular was his interview after Dortmund's April 24 first leg win over Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals that it immediately found its way to Youtube.
Trying to describe the remarkable second-half turnaround, capped by three Robert Lewandowski goals in around 15 minutes of play, words began to fail Klopp.
"This is an unbelievable team. It's like - I cannot explain in English - somebody make this," Klopp said, gesturing a wave of a magic hand or wand, "in half time and … ching! It's like Robin Hood ... the arrow!"
Dortmund's merry man
What might have been lacking in syntax and vocab was more than compensated by Klopp's self-evident delight and passion. And the 46-year-old's own arrow was closer to the bull's-eye than he could possibly have known, as his comparative European paupers sought to steal away a spot in the final from the wealth and majesty of Real Madrid, a squad with a market value estimated at three times that of Dortmund.
Unlike wealthy Bavaria, the industrial region of Dortmund has seen better days; Klopp's club and regional rivals Schalke are an obvious source of local pride in an area once driven by mining and heavy industry.
Klopp's relish was surely amplified by a difficult domestic season, and a disastrous week. Less than 30 hours before the semifinal, he had spoken at length in German about the sale of Mario Götze to Bayern Munich. This half-hour question-and-answer session was a less cheerful affair, as Klopp sought to explain his disappointment, understanding, and optimism despite his young protegee's departure.
"He did not decide against his teammates or his club, but rather in favor of Pep Guardiola," Klopp said of Götze, who wanted to play for the young Spanish star coach at Bayern. "He wants to take the opportunity to work with this exceptional coach."
Mustering what level of joviality he could find, Klopp went on to lament that he couldn't "shrink 15 centimeters or start speaking Spanish," just to liken himself to Bayern's incoming coach. As an exercise in damage limitation, the bespactled southerner's performance was exceptional. He even managed to throw in a joke about how Polish midfield star Jakub Blaszczykowski, looking a little lost in front of the sea of cameras as the token player at the conference, "wants to stay here with me - so far as I know."
Heart on sleeve, thoughts on lips
Whether he's cracking jokes on the training ground, or singing and showing several signs of inebriation when celebrating Dortmund's Bundesliga triumphs with his squad these past two seasons, Klopp tends to marry a sense of fun with an overwhelmingly positive reputation in the German sporting press.
But sometimes Klopp's exuberance, which most certainly carries onto the touchline, can spill over. Early this season, in a tense 3-3 draw with Frankfurt, cameras caught Klopp berating referee Guido Kleve. This followed a similar incident with Stefan Trautmann in 2010, and prompted Germany's top referee, Lutz Michael Fröhlich, to criticize the Dortmund boss for setting a bad example to foootballers at lower levels.
"Even if Klopp always backs off after the event and says 'I'm sorry,' something's always left over," Fröhlich said on public radio. "The behavior, that's become almost a daily event, has such an aggressive potential that violent excesses can build up as a result." Fröhlich said he felt this was a particular danger in lower leagues and amateur football, without cameras and thousands of fans to effectively protect a match official.
Klopp apologized for his behavior with Kleve, and said in one subsequent interview that while "that face of mine is not a good one," he had shouted "that was a foul," and nothing more.
The irony of Klopp's famed potential to occasionally lose his cool is that his teams are invariably renowned for their fair play and picking up comparatively few cards. During his second division days at Mainz, he led the side to European competition by virtue of winning the wild card spot for being the "fairest" team in all the continent.
One-club player, two-club coach
Klopp made his name in Mainz as both a player and a coach, playing more than a decade in red and then coaching the side for seven seasons. Compared to the dizzying coaching heights of the Champions League semis, he slummed out his playing days in the rough and tumble of the German second division, competing in a club record 325 "Zweite Bundesliga" matches for Mainz.
The side's hierarchy noticed Klopp's tactical sense during his lengthy tenure, immediately offering the job of head coach when he hung up his boots. This swift graduation from pack member to pack leader, with the same bunch of lads, might help explain Klopp's rather hands-on, chummy coaching style.
It was this, Klopp famously told Bild a few years ago, that put Hamburg off when a scout was sent to analyze the second division coach of seven seasons who in 2008 finally said he would be seeking pastures new. Hamburg's unimpressed visitor reported back about an unshaven, slovenly dressed coach, sporting holes in his jeans, who surely would not suit the cultured northern city. Klopp, for his part, told Hamburg what he made of their offer and ultimately ended up with the more laid-back Dortmund outfit instead.
There, he has built a side that flirted with bankruptcy just a decade ago into the only serious German challenger to Bayern Munich's hegemony. With back-to-back Bundesliga titles and the club's first ever domestic double already under his belt, Dortmund's Robin Hood is seeking to lead his merry men to the Champions League final at Wembley next month. And there's something roguish and anti-establishment about coach and players alike as they take the battle to Bayern Munich on home turf and big spenders like Real Madrid on the continent.
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