If Liverpool were to be drawn against any team in the quarter finals of the Europa League, football romantics were praying it would be Borussia Dortmund.
Both teams have plenty in common. Both are situated in industrial cities in the industrial heartlands of their respective countries. Both have lost major finals to Juventus. Both have been overshadowed by domestic rivals. And both have been managed by Jürgen Klopp.
As it happened, Basel legend and former Dortmund player Alexander Frei drew the pair together in the third quarter final. The football world reacted in nostalgic glee as the prospect of Klopp returning to the Westfalenstadion became a reality.
Klopp spent 7 years at the helm of Borussia Dortmund. During his tenure, the German ended a 10 year wait for the Bundesliga title, winning back to back in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. Klopp also took Dortmund to only their second European Cup final in 2013. During this time, Klopp dethroned Bayern Munich as the monopoly power of German football.
Media outlets and those broadcasting the game are sure to bill this Europa League quarter final as Klopp’s homecoming. The problem is; it isn’t at all.
Born in Stuttgart in 1967, Jürgen Klopp played for a number of non-league and third tier German clubs before moving to Rot-Weiss Frankfurt in his teens. During a promotion playoff for the 2nd Bundesliga between RW Frankfurt and FSV Mainz 05, he caught the eye of Mainz manager Robert Jung.
Jung awarded the then-23 year old his first professional contract and a chance to play in Germany’s second tier.
Mainz remained mid table in the 2nd Bundesliga, failing to gain promotion in a playoff in 1997, and Klopp remained with the club until his retirement in 2001. Mainz were to put their faith into Klopp as they had done 11 years earlier – upon his retirement, Klopp took over as manager of the club.
The Klopp effect was immediate.
Mainz had only managed one win and seven points in the previous four months. Having won his opening game against MSV Duisburg, Klopp collected 21 points from a possible 36. Two years later he brought Mainz agonisingly close to their first appearance in Germany’s top flight. A 93rd minute goal denied them a third place finish and a chance to gain promotion. In 2003, Klopp’s determination was rewarded as Mainz were promoted to the Bundesliga.
Mainz’s debut season saw them finish 11th and qualify for the UEFA Cup under UEFA’s fair play rule. They were knocked out by eventual winners Sevilla in the first round. Mainz spent 3 seasons in Germany’s top flight before being relegated. Klopp remained with the club after their relegation in 2007 but failure to be promoted in 2008 saw Klopp resign. He left Mainz having won 109 games, drawing 78 and losing 83.
2008 was a less than vintage year for Borussia Dortmund.
The West Germans had finished an underwhelming 13th leading manager Thomas Doll to resign his post. Dortmund turned their attention to Klopp, offering him a two year contract. Usually when a new manager signs for a club he begins his post immediately; not Klopp. Klopp made the 250km journey to Mainz to bid farewell to the club that had given him so much. As he gave his parting address a song played over the loudspeaker: “niehmals geht man so ganz”, no one ever leaves completely.
Fast forward through Klopp’s success with Dortmund to possibly his most notable result to date with Liverpool.
Having just dismantled Manchester City 3-0 at Anfield Klopp was in a jovial mood with a BBC reporter. “I heard Bayern lost” said Klopp followed by a hearty laugh.
Many interpreted this quip as an allusion to his Dortmund days. Seeing Dortmund’s closest rivals for the Bundesliga beaten would undoubtedly inspire a degree of schadenfreude in the Liverpool boss. Little attention was paid to the team that had become only the second team to beat Bayern this year. An 86th minute goal from Jhon Cordoba had given Mainz all 3 points against the German champions.
Klopp’s return to Dortmund will be special.
He enjoyed his most successful period of management with the side and there is clear affection for him still amongst the fans. Yet the myth that it is a homecoming for him is somewhat misinformed. The cult of Jürgen Klopp has propagated a myth that he is ultimately a Dortmund man. His emotion while managing Dortmund has been confused for the visceral passion one feels for their true love. Klopp is undoubtedly a Dortmund legend, yet his heart belongs to Mainz.