The Spanish newspaper El Pais took it upon themselves to find out the reasons behind Dortmund’s success by interviewing Jürgen Klopp. Here is our translation of their interview.
“I don’t want to spend the whole day thinking about things that could still be better than they are” says Jürgen Klopp (Stuttgart, 1967) to explain his compulsive optimism. The Dortmund coach, this year’s Champions League surprise package and German champion in the last two seasons, sports a smile with big teeth and starts to speak.
Question: Why did the philosophy of German football change?
The obligation of having performance centres was imposed on the clubs: football teachers, better prepared youth coaches and better conditions overall. And those that didn’t have this didn’t get a license for the Bundesliga or the Second Division. That was very useful and now we have an incredible amount of talented players. New promising players arise all the time. We have become braver by playing young kids of 17 years of age. Things have changed so much that now all that we need to change is the aerial game. In the national team, there isn’t a single header of the ball.
Q: And the Bundesliga?
A: It’s fantastic for the spectator. It’s not the best but it is the most attractive league in Europe. It’s going well economically and there’s strong competition. Well, Bayern wins a bit more than the rest but… We have new stadiums too. I’ve been to both stadiums in Seville: they are old and with no comfort.
Q: The tradition of having a sweeper was good for German football?
R: The great evolutionary impulse in the early 90s came with a change that started zonal marked focused on the ball. Man marking wasn’t used anymore. In Germany, up until 1994, if a player moved, you followed him all the way to the bathroom. Zonal marking meant that you didn’t have to limit your game to destroy the opposition’s but rather develop your own game. We took a while to implement 4-4-2.
Q: And the sweepers?
A: They were perfect for their time. We had Beckenbauer, Matthäus and Sammer in 1996. They were young players who played a very intelligent game. However, I insist on the fact that having no creator from the back has been detrimental.
Q: Who was your biggest source of inspiration as a coach?
A: The white ballet, the Real Madrid from a few years ago. Then I thought; “If we add a defensive plan to that footballing potential… I could make it into a perfect team”. And that’s what Barça did.
Things have changed so much that the national team does not have a single header of the ball
Q: Protestantism instills saving and austerity. Do you think that’s why German clubs sign less and the Mediterranean teams throw the money around?
A: The 2006 World Cup was the best possible advertising for Germany. We didn’t know that we could be so carefree, happy and joyful as a country. We had four weeks of Spanish climate and a blue sky. Everyone was happy and everyone loved life. But also, it was in us that we couldn’t spend more than we were earning: even if Dortmund forgot that a couple of years before I arrived. Saving is a typical German feature but it’s not as sad as it seems. We have a lot of fun.
Q: Dortmund was very close to bankruptcy in 2005. Is your team a result of the crisis?
A: When the club had almost been rescued they realised that they had to regain vitality. And then they looked for a coach that was full of life, that played a bright style of football, that had fun, that laughed despite Mainz 05’s relegation… If you don’t have money and, despite everything, you want quality, you have to be brave. We have grown together. Not having money doesn’t mean not being able to carry on working; it just means that you have to find other ways. The club has followed its path with a Second Division coach and a very young team. And we’ve been champions twice, which has surprised us.
Q: Dortmund’s image as a worker’s club is real or is it part of folklore to differentiate yourselves from Bayern?
A: No, the region is like that. This is a genuine football club: like one should imagine it should be. And we love to still be called a club and not a company where they say “today him, and tomorrow someone else”. We like to work as a team with people for a long time. I have been here for four years and my contract is up in 2016. That way, new things can be developed. I now see players of 10 or 13 years of age and I will be coaching them in four years.
Q: Is Bayern still the establishment?
A: Bayern has made incredibly good decisions since the 70s. It’s the richest club in Germany and the healthiest in Europe financially speaking. And it also signs good players and good managers.
Q: Has La Masia suggested a new idea to you?
A: No. We do things our way. Copying is never good. We are the only club in the world that has a Footbanaut [a mechanical device for passing coaching that acts with colour stimulus to handle reaction speed and technique].
Q: How does Dortmund differ from the national team?
A: In the mentality of the players. We are brighter. I am more temperamental than Jogi [Löw]. That’s also my problem, being too emotional. When I arrived in Dortmund I said “If 80,000 people come every other weekend to the stadium and boring football is played, one of the two parts, either the team or the fans, will have to find a new stadium”. Many of our fans travel 500 miles to come and see us and experience something special. You have to go full throttle. We have called it full-throttle football. We wanted to ooze vitality. We would rather hit the bar five times that not shoot on goal four times. It’s better to lose. That was the beginning. You have to link people to the club. The matches should have an effect that goes further than the result. The whole world knows that you won 3-1 but what they feel is the shot, the goal, the save: that’s what you have inside you all week-long. If you win 1-0 and the game was very lively, football is legitimated. I wouldn’t be interested in having Xavi, Messi and Cristiano in the same team… Being the very best is like if I start playing tennis against a three year-old girl and I’m smashing the ball at her and she’s just standing there with the racket… it’s no fun. However, if there’s a man on the other side and we play table tennis, if I win that’s great and if I lose I will probably have fun. For the fans it’s like a drug. I don’t just want to win, I also want to feel!
Q: Dortmund’s wage bill is less than half than Bayern’s and less than a third than Barça’s or Madrid’s. How do you keep the players?
A: We are talking of 60 or 65 million here. Even Tottenham pays a lot more. However, we are one of the six teams in Europe who can win titles. In Spain, just Barça and Madrid; in England, United, Chelsea and City; in Italy, just Juve. Our young players know that they could earn more money somewhere else but here they can be a part of history. If you go to Barça now you’ll win title after title after title, but they were already champions the 10 years before that.
I’m not interested in who is the best… Who I really enjoy watching is Michu.
Q: Is your style more like Barça or Madrid?
A: Like Barça’s for the pressure. For the high-up defence. Everyone wants to play like Barça but that’s not possible. Barça also couldn’t play like that without Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. However, their defensive plan is perfect. Perhaps that’s also Mourinho’s problem: that even that he’s thought about improving defensively, it has been years since he’s signed a defender because nobody is interested in who plays at the back. We want to be very, very quick with our heads and legs. Everything at full speed. There’s no defence for something that you do fast and precisely.
Q: Why did you give up possession of the ball against Madrid?
A: That day we had the better idea because we knew that they had problems when they had possession of the ball. We knew where they would send the passes, how they would look for Cristiano. Our plan was to leave Xabi Alonso out of the game (sorry Xabi, but that was Plan A), because if Alonso can play like the wants, it’s impossible to defend yourself from Madrid. And Götze covered him up. We knew that if our fullbacks, Piszczek and Schmelzer, moved around a lot; the advantage was on our side regarding Cristiano. If you block Alonso, you make Pepe have the ball all the time. And there is a huge difference there.
Q: Are the players your friends?
A: No. They are my friends but I’m not their friend. That doesn’t work.
Q: Are they afraid of you?
A: I would change that if I could. I’d like to me more relaxed. Well, this thing of the face… I don’t know why it happens. I always clench my teeth. When I see a little boy, a baby, I clench my teeth. It’s horrible and the kid begins to cry and I have to leave. With the referees it’s the same. But when I’m jubilant, there’s a very similar aspect. Sometimes that face scares me but I’ve known it for 45 years. You just learn to live with it. When I play tennis, I hit a right-hander and it also happens.
Q: Are you superstitious?
A: Sometimes, although I don’t have a good memory for it. I forget what I’ve done. For example, tying up by shoelaces, right then left, but the following week I can’t remember how I did it.
Q: Do you feel that your team has got accustomed to the Champions League?
A: We had to offer results internationally so that all the English papers looked at us. Last year we celebrated a double and it didn’t interest anybody. We got 8 points on Bayern, we beat then 5-2 in the Cup final and the whole world said “So what?”. And now that Champions League comes around, we beat Madrid, we beat City and everyone is now looking at us.
Guardiola has to teach us how you do things with players who aren’t as good.
Q: And your favourite player in the whole world?
A: Messi is the best. But there has to be life somewhere out there, someone else on the planet. Because he is too good and we are simply too bad for him. I am not interested in who is the best but in who makes the most out of their own possibilities. Someone who I really enjoy watching is Swansea’s Michu. Nobody knew him and that’s where the thrill lies. Everyone knows the best and everyone knows who is best. But, how is that fascinating?
Q: And the best coach?
A: Del Bosque is a super coach but he has an extraordinary team. It would be interesting to see what he could do with Osasuna. I’m Manager of the Year in Germany but what Christian Streich is doing at Freiburg is incredible. Like I did before at Mainz: we did something really good but it interested no one. The best isn’t always the one with the best team. Anyone could coach my team. Perhaps the players won’t all become masters but to coach them, anyone can do that, they are super-players. If you have a team with little talent and yet you’re successful, then it’s exciting.
Q: What did Guardiola bring to football?
A: The most amazing thing about Barça is with how much will they play. Messi scores and shouts with joy like if it was the first time. Xavi receives every ball like if it was the first one of his life. And you have the feeling that he would like to pick it up, kiss it, look at it and carry on playing. The same with Iniesta. Busquets is the unfriendly one in the middle of the park, the one responsible for the hard work. Puyol is incredible with a terrible haircut, but a super-player nonetheless, a first-class human being with a very big heart. He breaks his elbow and he’s playing again after two weeks. It’s the motivation that they play with in order to win. In that aspect, they are role models. I read an interview with Xavi. They asked him if he wanted to be a coach and he said “Don’t go that fast, let me enjoy my playing career first”. And you think “You’ve been playing football every two days for 20 years and you still want to carry on?” That says everything about his game but also about Xavi. They are the best in the world. And that has been boosted by Pep, clearly. He has done an excellent job but he won’t always have players like that at every club, and he knows that. Now he has to show us how it’s done when the players aren’t as good.