In yesterday's Life After Arsene, we discussed the highly-successful Frank de Boer and how his managerial philosophy would fit in well at Arsenal. Today we close out our Life After Arsene series with the managerial candidate we feel is the most likely to replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund's Jürgen Klopp.
Brief managerial background: Like a lot of managers profiled in our Life After Arsene series, Klopp immediately went into management upon retirement as a player, being appointed as the boss of FC Mainz 05 - the only club he ever played for as a professional - in 2001, when they were still in Bundesliga 2. He guided the club to top-flight soccer, gaining promotion to the Bundesliga starting in the 2003-04 season. However, Klopp couldn't prevent Mainz from relegation, steering the club back to Bundesliga 2 four years later.
Klopp stayed for one more season at Mainz following their relegation before Borussia Dortmund came calling for his services in 2008. Dortmund was slowly picking itself up following a period of turbulent financial issues prior to Klopp's arrival, nearly going bankrupt at one point and having to slash existing salaries of its players. They hadn't quite rebounded on the pitch like they'd hoped in the league, and the appointment of Klopp was more a way to elevate them back to the highs they experienced in the mid-90's.
It was with the help of Dortmund youth players such as Mario Gotze, Kevin Großkreutz, and Nuri Sahin, along with cheap, impactful signing during his first couple years, that Klopp established himself and the club back among Germany's, and Europe's strongest sides. His eye for affordable talent, forced upon him initially at Dortmund due to financial austerity stemming from their rise from financial ruins, doesn't reside within a couple of success stories. To illustrate, here's a selection of the moves he's made on his watch at Dortmund:
Neven Subotic (£4.5 million)
İlkay Gündoğan (£4.3 million)
Robert Lewandowski (£3.5 million)
Mats Hummels (£3.1 million)
Sven Bender (£1.1 million)
Shinji Kagawa (£275,000)
Lukasz Piszczek (free)
When he's signed players for relatively-substantial fees, he's rarely missed (Henrikh Mkhitaryan aside):
Marco Reus (£13.1 million)
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£10.2 million)
Sokratis (£7.7 million)
Moving on from viewing Klopp through a player evaluation lens, let's take a look at the collection of his successes at Dortmund: back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012, the DFB-Pokal in 2012, and DFL-Supercup winners in 2013 and 2014 (beating rivals Bayern Munich in each match). There was also his memorable run in the Champions League in 2012-13 that saw Dortmund matched up versus Munich in the final, falling to their German counterparts 2-1 thanks to a goal by Arjen Robben in the dying minutes of the match.
The past couple Bundesliga campaigns saw Munich steamroll Dortmund, and the rest of the league, due in part to Munich somehow becoming an even more unstoppable global force both on and off the pitch. Munich's successes, though, shouldn't necessarily be an indictment against Klopp.
Is there an Arsenal connection? No.
Does he have a connection to Arsene Wenger? No.
Pros: Like many other new-age, modern managers, he prefers his sides pacey, to play at a very high tempo, pressing the opposition as high as possible in order to quickly win back possession in threatening positions and attack as fast and efficiently as possible. Like quite a few of the other managers in this series that we've covered the past two weeks, if Klopp were to join Arsenal after Wenger's departure there doesn't appear to be too much player turnover required upon his arrival for him to implement his version of soccer. There'd just be far more pressing required of the players than what currently exists under Wenger.
There's also Jürgen Klopp: The Personality. His penchant for providing honest, often humorous quotes would provide endless entertainment to the Fleet Street regulars, not to mention bloggers and social media. He's unconventional in his dress, preferring hoodies to suits, appears to have a severe disinterest in regular shaving, and generally gives off the impression that he's a regular, affable guy in a profession that produces far too many stuffy, overly-serious megalomaniacs.
Cons: Up until this season's Bundesliga, Klopp's warts and wrinkles were more obscure than most other managers. However, excluding their Champions League group stage results, this has been about as disastrous of a season for a club with the kind of expectations Dortmund possess could have.
Currently, after Wednesday's defeating draw versus Wolfsburg, which saw the guests level twice after going down a goal, Dortmund sit 16th in the Bundesliga and in the last relegation spot. In the 18-team league, they've nearly played half the season, scored barely a goal per match on average, and have suffered through an injury crisis to key players that's all too common around our parts of the soccer world. The difference is that Arsene Wenger and Arsenal have managed through their injuries much more successfully than Klopp and Dortmund - in a far stronger league, nonetheless.
While the Dortmund faithful continue to support their club and manager as fervently as they did when they were reaching the heights of European soccer, concerns are lingering about Klopp's true value as a manager. After all, while at a club with far fewer resources than his current employer, Klopp's got experience in managing a club into relegation. Many don't truly believe Dortmund's lot is relegation fodder, especially considering the long-term injuries they've suffered are to their most key players - specifically Reus, Gündoğan, and Hummels - but with each woebegone result suffered the faith that Klopp can compensate for injuries to creatively, and with flexibility, find ways to earn points lessens.
Overall assessment: Ultimately, Jürgen Klopp should be judged by his overall body of work than what's currently going on at Dortmund this season. There are few that believe their struggles would be this great if Klopp had the majority of his squad to work with for the majority of their matches, and there's very recent evidence of the type of soccer he can produce when he has such talent at his disposal. Their first-place finish in their Champions League group, which included a thorough beat down of Arsenal, should hopefully lessen the concerns about Klopp's ability to those concerned.
Klopp's mentioned recently that he's only interested in the Premier League if he one day moves to a club outside Germany, and there's nothing short of a love affair that he has with Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. He calls Wenger "Sir" due to his belief that he should be knighted (which is impossible given the criteria, but) and stated he enjoys watching Wenger's Arsenal play more than Barcelona. His Champions League press conference at the Emirates Stadium last month was full of Klopp effusing his love of what Arsenal, and Arsene Wenger, stand for, and his enjoyment was easy to see - even for the casual observer.
His recent struggles at Dormund aside, he's not short of suitors. Other clubs, such as Liverpool, have been rumored for Klopp's services of late, and with each subtle hint Klopp drops about the Dortmund fans, how great they are and how much he'll miss them when he leaves, there's a growing sense that his future will one day reside away from the Westfalenstadion. When he leaves is the question.
Is he so enamored with Arsenal that he's possibly willing to wait another two seasons when Wenger's current, and most assuredly his last, contact expires? Will the Board be willing to part with Wenger before his contract expires if it feels that Klopp is the most suitable replacement and that his time at Dortmund will be done sooner than 2016? We won't know the answers to those questions until we're able to view them with the benefit of hindsight. But there are usually two moving parts to any managerial replacement puzzle, for nearly all the candidates we covered in our Life After Arsene series, and it comes down to a matter of how strong the desire is.
If the Board feels as strongly as we do about Jürgen Klopp and it senses that there's a small window to obtain his services before Wenger's contract expires, or before Klopp accepts another job, they could possibly force the issue before 2016, knowing the future of Arsenal post-Wenger and who's guiding the club is one of the most vital moments of the club's history. Much like we believe in the mantra "In Wenger We Trust", we believe the Board's ability to navigate this upcoming succession in a far more successful manner than Manchester United's, and that includes who they believe the best candidate is.
However, when we looked at all the realistic candidates, the manager most likely to replace our zany, witty Frenchman...is a zany, witty German.
The rest of the Life After Arsene series posts:
Life After Arsene: an introduction