The bolt came from the softest of spring skies: Jürgen Klopp is stepping down at Borussia Dortmund.
The news was announced during a special press conference today in Dortmund. Klopp will remain coach until the season’s end. In technical terms, the club is allowing Klopp to end his contract early, which tied him to the club until 2018. No successor to Klopp has been announced yet.
I’m devastated and already in football mourning.
However, as indicated by the club’s press release and press conference, the parting between coach and club is the most amicable one I can conceive of, given the high stakes world of modern football. Both parties only expressed the deepest admiration, respect, and – dare I say – love for each other.
Hans-Joachim Watzke set the warm, yet saddened, tone when he acknowledged the club’s special relationship with Klopp: “we’ve built up an extraordinary relationship with one another – one which involves a great level of trust and friendship.” Then, turning to face Klopp, Watzke unloaded this tear-jerker: “You have the eternal gratitude of all Borussia fans. The only consolation I can take from this is that our friendship will continue.”
Sporting Director Michael Zorc expressed similar gratitude and highlighted the remarkable journey Klopp and BVB have traveled: “Over the course of the last seven years we’ve written a modern footballing fairytale together. The team will give you the send-off that you deserve and one that does justice to your seven years here.” Cue more tears.
In the club’s press release, Klopp’s quoted comments mostly reflect his focus on concluding the Pokal as strongly as possible – “another good reason to take the bus up to Borsigplatz come the end of the season” – and climbing the league table.
Klopp asserted that BVB’s poor form during what Raphael Honigstein has called the club’s “Black Swan season,” has nothing to do with his decision to step down. As for why he stepped down, Klopp kept it simple: “I was no longer sure I was the best coach for Dortmund.” He further explained his reasoning: “I believe that this decision is definitely the right one if you remove sentimentality from the picture …. And there isn’t and never has been friction between myself and the team. But the team deserves to be coached by the 100% right manager.” What Klopp means about not being the right coach is open to speculation – and you better believe the sporting commentariat is cranking out the speculation – but he ruled out his own stamina, explaining that “[i]t’s not that I’m tired.” However, the same certainly cannot be said about BVB’s squad, who work extraordinary hard to field Klopp’s signature intense running, gegen-pressing style.
But what a magical journey it’s been for Klopp and Dortmund. You already know the big achievements: back-to-back Bundesliga titles from 2010-2012, including a club-first domestic double when BVB won the Pokal in 2011-12. Perhaps Klopp’s most impressive achievement was taking his dazzling squad to the Champions League final in London during 2012-13 where they lost to German companions Bayern Munich 1-2.
I’m in mourning. This news is hard to stomach, especially given the surprising timing. I thought something like this press conference would be happening next Spring at the earliest. My limited imagination couldn’t conceive of Klopp stepping down this season after he survived BVB dwelling in the Bundesliga cellar.
I’m not naïve. Professional sporting projects – especially in the modern world – are transient works of fragility, exposed to the whims of markets, economics, cultures, and other social forces. I knew Klopp’s departure was coming someday, even somewhat soon, given the seven years of service he’s already committed to Dortmund. His tenure with BVB has already been long and incredibly successful. And yet I figured he’d take at least one more crack in seeing out his Dortmund project, especially after the strangeness of this wretched “Black Swan season.”
Dammit, I needed time to prepare myself for this news!
In my blubbering sentimentality, I’m reduced to conventionality: “O Captain, my Captain! our fearful trip is done.” Klopp is a captain in the sense of an old masculine archetype embodying leadership, virtue, large-heartedness, and charisma. He’s one of the men I respect the most in the world.
Klopp is so lovable in the details: those bear-hugs, the back spasm inducing celebrations, the victory fist pumps, the angry face celebrated in scores of memes, the glasses, the ball caps, the track suits, the full beard – heck – even the hair plugs, but most powerfully in the gut-rolling laughter and large smiles.
Damnit, I’m going to miss him.
It’s not like he’s dying, I know. Klopp is very much alive and already – ugh – the center of coaching speculation across Europe’s biggest leagues, especially the accursed Premier League. But Klopp stepping down is a type of death. He’s leaving my club. I won’t leave my club. When Klopp inevitably coaches another side, probably in England, I just won’t care. I can’t.
This imagined future contributes to my sadness today. I will stay far away from the likes of Twitter, Bleacher Report, or even ESPN FC as they diagnose what happened or as they speculate where Klopp will go next (West Ham?) and who will replace him (Thomas Tuchel?).
I can’t stomach it. Not today. I’m already jealous of the club who lands Klopp next. I’m already queasy with the thought of seeing him patrol another sideline.
Man, this sucks.
I’ll get over it in a couple days, so I’ll try to conclude with some more grounded insight: Borussia Dortmund and the Bundesliga owe an immense debt of love and gratitude to Jürgen Klopp. As do I.
Jürgen, I wish you Alles Gute.
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