Sometimes an end of an era comes with an exit of a competition, an absolute collapse in fortunes, or in the best case scenario, one last success. Sometimes, however, it ends with a press conference, an admission of defeat and a glimpse of hope of a new start.
Jürgen Klopp and Dortmund have now found out what that feels like; having taken over the reins at the Ruhr club in 2008, Klopp had been (and will be, until the end of the season) the longest serving manager in the Bundesliga, and under his reign Dortmund transformed from a club in the doldrums to perennial title challengers. Few men have created such a top class team from such humble beginnings, at least in recent history, and few men have also taken their personal philosophy to the heights that Klopp’s counter-pressing has reached in the past few years, with a similar style to Dortmund’s pressing practised by clubs and international teams across the globe.
His record has been soured somewhat by this season; a torrid first half of the season saw Dortmund briefly in a relegation scrap, while the team have struggled at times since the winter break too, crashing out of the Champions League quite hopelessly to Juventus, being picked apart by better teams, and struggling against run of the mill opponents. For fans of Dortmund and the man himself, it’s painful to see a figure almost impossible to dislike leaving a club with whom he seemed such a perfect fit, but as fans begin to look to a future without Klopp, it’s perhaps becoming clear that such a drastic change may help the longer term prospects of the club. Who, though, should – indeed, who can – replace Jürgen Klopp?
Perhaps the most obvious choice to replace Jürgen Klopp is the man who carried on his legacy at Mainz. While Norwegian manager Jörn Andersen took over the reins at Mainz back in 2008, after Klopp joined Dortmund from die Nullfünfer, Tuchel replaced him just a year later in 2009, enjoying a very successful spell in charge until going on sabbatical in 2014, stating that he believed he’d taken the club as far as he could.
Not exactly like Klopp in terms of charisma, pundits have nonetheless been undeterred from calling Tuchel the “Mini Klopp” because of the club with whom he made his breakthrough and the style with which his teams usually play. Tuchel’s Mainz often played in a similar counter-pressing style to that of Klopp’s Dortmund, obviously without the star power of a Marco Reus, a Shinji Kagawa, a Mario Götze or a Robert Lewandowski, but with the similar ethos of a young, exciting team. Klopp blooded a number of younger players in his spell at Dortmund, and in a similar sense, faith from Tuchel gave the likes of Lewis Holtby, Andre Schürrle, Loris Karius and Johannes Geis their first meaningful taste of top level football, while despite the limited budget of Mainz, Tuchel managed to deliver European qualification to his fans twice in five years – when beforehand the club had been a so-called “elevator club”, with even Klopp himself getting relegated in 2006-2007.
On a final note, it’s quite clear that Dortmund’s squad will undergo a great deal of change in the coming months, with a lot of deadwood sitting in the ranks of the squad, former captain Sebastian Kehl retiring, a few players (such as current skipper Mats Hummels and recovering midfielder Ilkay Gündogan) considering their futures, and of course some of the other bigger names – including Ciro Immobile and Henrikh Mkhitaryan – allegedly being told they may leave the club in the summer. Next season’s team is likely to be almost unrecognisable from the team which took Klopp to the height of a Champions League final, but Thomas Tuchel has had the experience of rebuilding his team throughout his previous spell at Mainz, with key players (including Schürrle, Holtby and former star striker Adam Szalai) eventually not being missed too much.
All in all, Dortmund could do a lot worse than hand a contract to Tuchel.
It’s hardly a surprise that Basel are running away with the league title in Switzerland; it’s a sight we’ve come to expect in the past few years – in fact, the last time that Basel didn’t win the Swiss title was in Klopp’s first season in Dortmund. However, success can be judged by performances in European competition, and Paulo Sousa’s first season in charge of Basel has in that sense been very successful, negotiating a Champions League group containing Real Madrid, Liverpool and Bulgarian outfit Ludogorets.
Sousa had originally failed to impress in the English second tier with QPR, Swansea and Leicester, but has since journeyed around Europe with spells in Hungary and Israel leading up to his current gig in Switzerland. As a former Dortmund player, too – playing in midfield in their Champions League winning team of 1997 – he’d probably be a popular choice with fans. A slight risk in that he’s yet to manage a team in a top league, Sousa has nonetheless shown all the skills to play football in a fashion the Dortmund faithful expect, while in his short spell at Basel thus far, he’s already replaced a stalwart of the team he inherited well– having lost Yann Sommer in the summer.
An interesting choice, if not the most striking, Sousa wouldn’t necessarily be a bad choice for the job; however, it’d perhaps be better if he gained some experience in a top European league before taking over a club at which he’ll be judged very, very quickly – at least in replacing Klopp.
What?! Paul Lambert’s been linked with Dortmund?! The guy who did terribly at Aston Villa for quite a while?
Well, yes. He’s out of a job and has, in previous jobs, done a relatively good job – although I’m sure Michael Zorc and Hans-Joachim Watzke may opt to disregard his record at Colchester United if they’re actually considering Lambert for the hotseat. However, like Sousa, he’s a former Dortmund player who understands the club, has remained involved in the club since leaving – visiting games since and also revelling with fans at the Champions League final in 2013 – and could potentially do a good job in the right circumstances. Many people forget the role Lambert had in getting Norwich two consecutive promotions, and while his sides have been marked by dogged, defensive football at the top level thus far, there’s every chance that with better quality footballers at his disposal, he could command a better playing style.
It is, admittedly, probably more a rumour which has arisen because of his status as an out-of-contract manager. If Dortmund were to go down that route, why not appoint out-of-work, ex-Bundesliga champion, silver fox Armin Veh?
Verdict: Thomas Tuchel. No… Armin Veh. (on a serious note, definitely Thomas Tuchel).