Champions League success has become the top priority for Juergen Klopp’s ‘anti-Chelsea’
Roman Abramovich has suffered another setback. Yet another of Europe’s finest managers has sent a rebuffal into the heart of West London this week, as Juergen Klopp told the British press directly that he has absolutely no plans to leave Dortmund before his contract expires in 2016.
For most sensible people, this did not come as much of a surprise. Over the last five years, Klopp has built himself a legacy at a club which is about as close as you can get to the anti-Chelsea. A strong relationship with his employers, a glittering team of superstars built almost exclusively from Dortmund’s very own youth system, and Klopp’s addiction to exciting, attacking football have led BVB to two consecutive titles and a double win in the last two years of his reign. So fast has the rise of Klopp’s Dortmund been, indeed, that they now only have one more test to pass. Success in Europe.
On Wednesday night, most eyes will be fixed on the Bernabéu, where the fallen giants of last season will be battling it out for a place in the quarter finals. Cristiano Ronaldo will strut out against his old team mates, and, if the most vigorous speculators are to be believed, José Mourinho will be laying the foundations for future employment at Old Trafford.
Four and a half thousand kilometres east of Madrid, however, will be an equally mouth watering prospect. In the cold Ukrainian night, two of the Champions League’s most interesting dark horses will play out their first leg encounter. For Dortmund, the game against Shakhtar Donetsk is the next step in establishing themselves as a power not only capable of dominating the likes of Bayern domestically, but also of asserting themselves on the international stage.
Last year’s early exit in the group stage was disappointing, and by no means a proper reflection of BVB’s potential or actual class. This season has been different. Dortmund cruised through the group of death, putting Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax to their insatiable sword, to set up their second round date with Shakhtar. Now they are keen to prove themselves on the biggest stage that club football can offer, and progress right through to the latter stages of the tournament.
And boy, do they need a lift. The weekend saw Klopp’s side capitulate 4-1 at home to Hamburg in a fixture which underlined just why they now find themselves a full fifteen points behind league leaders Bayern. Their domestic performances since August have only sporadically recreated the glistening, unstoppable BVB of the last two years, and with the league now all but conceded, the Champions League must be priority number one.
Add to this that arguably their most crucial – and certainly their most unsung – rising star, Ilkay Gündoğan, is a doubt for Wednesday night, and, ladies and gentlemen, we have a scrap on our hands. Dortmund may have one of the most formidable midfield line-ups in Europe. But Gündoğan’s absence will be sorely felt. BVB have lost all six Bundesliga games in which he has been absent this season, and there is talk now of him already beginning to take over Bastian Schweinsteiger’s mantle in the national side. With the returning hero Nuri Šahin still seaching for form, moreover, Klopp has little in the way of a truly adequate replacement.
Even if it is in his absence, however, the show must go on. For Klopp, it is arguably the most important show yet. His managerial record, both with Mainz and his current employers, is almost spotless thus far. It is for that reason that he is so heralded, and that certain people have been so quick to link him with the Chelsea job. It is yet to be seen whether he will continue with the Dortmund project past 2016, but in the meantime, Klopp has enough on his plate. A smart new haircut and his usual change to formal attire for European nights will not be enough to guarantee him European success this season. But his squad of shining stars, hungry to right the wrongs of their domestic campaign, just might well be.Tagged in: Champions League, chelsea
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