Klopp hoping to have the last laugh in bitter Bayern battle
If Muhammad Ali was once named the Louisville Lip, perhaps Juergen Klopp deserves to be known as the Stuttgart Smile. That famous grin regularly spreads across his face, goofy and infectious, whether provoked by one of his schoolgirl giggles or helping to deliver another memorable sound bite. Klopp’s mouth must be the most distinctive in the business.
But, thanks to Bayern Munich, the the perma-grinning, endearingly wacky Borussia Dortmund coach has had little to justify that smile of late. Deposed as Bundesliga champions and knocked out of the DFB Pokal by Jupp Heynckes’s all-conquering side, Dortmund were also confronted with the news that Mario Goetze will move to Bavaria in the summer after his 37 million euro release clause was met – news that left a glum Klopp feeling like “someone had died”.
Saturday’s Champions League final at Wembley either gives the Swabian coach the chance to reverse his series of recent personal defeats to Bayern or risks compounding them with the most devastating setback of all. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that Klopp has felt inspired to put his mouth to work in the build-up. In particular, he has been careful to portray Bayern in a specific way.
Klopp’s line of rhetoric, layered under that ever winning smile, has been consistent, presenting the Wembley final as something approaching a moral battle: a big, evil multinational versus a wholesome local boutique. Discussing Bayern’s purchase of Goetze and pursuit of Robert Lewandowski, he told the Guardian this week: “What can I say? If that’s what Bayern wants … It’s like James Bond – except they are the other guy [the villain].”
Picking up the theme, he continued: “We are a club, not a company. But it depends on which kind of story the neutral fan wants to hear. If he respects the story of Bayern, and how much they have won since the 1970s, he can support them. But if he wants the new story, the special story, it must be Dortmund. I think, in this moment in the football world, you have to be on our side.”
Dortmund, long the hipsters’ choice thanks to their thrilling performances while winning two league titles and a cup under Klopp, must also be the overwhelming neutrals’ choice, according to their coach. What is certainly without question is that Dortmund are the financial underdogs. Their turnover is 189m euros to Bayern’s 368m; their wage bill is 79m compared to 163m; they have 75,000 members to Bayern’s 196,000; 600 fan clubs to their rivals’ 3,250.
However, the one statistic that best illuminates the gulf between the two clubs’ balance sheets is the 37m euros Bayern have paid to release Goetze from his contract in the Ruhr – making the 20-year-old playmaker the most expensive German player in history. It was an audacious coup, leaked prior to the Champions League semi-finals, and underlined the financial reality in the Bundesliga: Bayern are the predators at the top of the food chain.
Bayern’s move to amalgamate Dortmund’s most talented and creative young player also brought to mind one of the more infamous quotes that have spilled from Klopp’s mouth this season. “Right now,” he said of Bayern in March, “it’s a bit like what the Chinese do in economics or industry. Watch the others and plagiarise what they do. Take the same path, only with more money and other players. And for the moment, you will be better again.”
Klopp’s incautious comments attracted a rebuke from opposite number Jupp Heynckes – “Bayern has existed for longer than Juergen Klopp has been a coach and have always had their own style of playing” – and opened up another front in what is a rather strained relationship between the two clubs seeking to dominate the German football landscape.
Successive Bundesliga titles gave Dortmund the upper hand heading into this season at least, but even then, Bayern president Uli Hoeness bullishly claimed last year it will always be the Bavarian side who are regarded as the bigger club. “Dortmund are a relatively regional thing – Bayern are global players,” Hoeness claimed. “If you walk down the street in Beijing and ask people to name a German club the answer will always be Bayern and not Dortmund.”
It is a power dynamic that Klopp and Dortmund have accepted, but the Ruhr club have not always been so passive in this regard. After listing on the stock market in October 2000, three years after winning the Champions League under Ottmar Hitzfeld, Dortmund raised 140m euros and embraced wild spending in an effort to become the supreme force in German football, signing players such as Marcio Amoroso for a German record fee of 29 million euros.
But by March 2005 they had been submerged by debts of 120m euros, and came within days of being declared bankrupt and dropping out of the Bundesliga altogether.
Dortmund had been forced to sell the Westfalenstadion, their reckless and unfettered transfer splurge bringing the club to its knees during a period that CEO Aki Watzke has described as “pure chaos and anarchy”. But what few people knew at the time was Bayern had authorised a 2m euro loan in 2004 to help keep the staggering club afloat and ensure they were able to pay their players’ wages.
The complex relationship between Germany’s two biggest clubs had briefly taken on a symbiotic flavour with a gesture that runs counter to the good/bad dichotomy hinted at by Klopp.
But even this benevolent act from Bayern has been a matter of some contention. Keen to counter claims that the Bavarians kept Dortmund afloat, Watzke recently said: “I would have rather gone begging than to borrow money from Bayern. In 2004 Bayern paid that money to my predecessors. And, regardless of that two million, BVB was nearly bust in 2005. If anyone maintains the standpoint that Bayern Munich helped the economical 2.0 version of Borussia Dortmund in any way, they are knowingly telling a falsehood.”
Either way, the episode merely served to underline Bayern’s economic dominance in German football; their financial muscle makes them a club apart, which breeds resentment. Unsurprisingly, polls indicate most Germans are backing Klopp’s side, with Die Welt explaining this week: “The new Germany takes on the old Germany … by tendency, Bayern is the ‘I’ and Dortmund is the ‘we’.”
It is the same theme Klopp has enthusiastically championed: Dortmund, having come back from the brink of ruin, are the feel-good story of the final. He emphasised how far his team have progressed again this week. “We had a budget of next to nothing when I came in 2008,” he said. “The boys started playing in the Bundesliga at 19; they are now 24 years old. They are all prepared to do what it takes to make victory in the final possible.”
And if Dortmund can overcome the financial disparity between the two warring Bundesliga tribes, and erase those recent displays of Bayern’s superior sporting and financial muscle, you won’t be able to wipe that smile off their coach’s face.