Whether the board, or Florentino Perez, was being prescient is unknown, but with a national team playing gorgeous football, and two teams in the Champions League final, the Germans continue to look good long after Marca readers made their choice. One could even say Germany is in fashion. Jupp Heynckes could be available should he reconsider retirement, and Klopp is tripping the light fantastic with Dortmund.
Let’s have a closer look at the three the board would probably like, and the things that will probably prevent them from coming.
Everything about Jürgen Klopp’s success as Dortmund, his career as a player (a striker, for Mainz, between 1989 and 2001) and his earlier career as a coach has an uncomplicated wholesomeness to it. Upon retiring from Mainz he took over as manager directly and stayed for 7 years. His Mainz were a mixed bag, getting a European place one year but being relegated a couple seasons later. Rather than resign, he stuck with the club in the second division for a year.
Upon taking over Dortmund in 2008, Klopp improved their league standings for two years and then suddenly stormed the Bundesliga with two consecutive titles (2011 and 2012, the second of them a league record until this year). In addition to breaking the record, he led his club to a domestic double.
Champions League success has been spectacularly bad and spectacularly good for Klopp in his two years in the competition. Dortmund flopped last year, with their team of youngsters unable to sustain a record-breaking league season and a decent run in the Champions League at the same time. They finished bottom of their group. In 2012 they topped their group ("of death") and will now play in the final.
On Football Weekly yesterday: "I love Jürgen Klopp. He’s like that English teacher in school who makes you believe in yourself!"
If Ancelotti is empathetic and gentlemanly, and Benitez is somewhat distant, Klopp simply loves his players (who love him back) with an exuberance that seems to come with everything he does. He delights in their goals, he walks up and down the sidelines leaping into the air when a player scores. He is encouraging and supportive.
In general, life at Dortmund, the one club we can use to judge Klopp on in a serious manner, seems genuinely happy even when there are set-backs. The sheer joy the coach brings to his approach probably helps. There’s little drama. If anything, the team is rather milk-soppy in the almost excessive modesty that the coach and players approach opponents with.
It’s easy to oversimplify this, of course. Klopp’s younger players give him few problems (aside from constantly being snapped up by richer clubs). He has only a couple of experienced veterans and only one deeply unpleasant player on his squad – his goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller.
In a team of, frankly, such likable and hard-working players it is hard to tell to what extent Klopp influences the dressing-room mood or to what extent it influences him.
Klopp’s team has it. Something definable and unique to themselves - and this extends to their tactical play. They have a noticeable system of pressing, breaking, and build-up play. Players at Dortmund, under Klopp, are intelligent as well as exuberant. To some extent he’s been lucky with his particular crop (Dortmund have benefited from the Bundesliga’s policy of compulsory youth academies) but they are taught to think for themselves and for the group. Everyone works for everyone else, everyone runs for everyone else. They are a team that react well but cannot be classed as reactionary or set up solely to respond to another team’s strengths.
Klopp trusts his very young players. He plays the same formation for important games and is happy putting out teenagers, or players in their early twenties against big sides. He has, for two seasons, sold his team’s best players (Sahin, Kagawa) and his team have still produced beautiful and effective football.
He speaks good English.
Happiness and enthusiasm
A short term problem solver
A long term planner
A single brilliant European season.
No significant record at any club outside Dortmund.
Limited experience dealing with complicated transfers, difficult players, or a largely international group or of having to produce instant results.
Reasons the board want him: He’s in vogue. Madrid has always liked things that are in vogue.
Reasons he probably won’t come: He’s said he won’t leave Dortmund and one senses a genuine lack of desire to leave what seems like Europe’s happiest club. While that would normally be a naive assumption, there’s something about Klopp (the very thing that makes him so charismatic) that seems to make it true.
When one looks at Germany’s entertaining national team of the moment, it’s easy to forget just how drastically they overachieved in 2006 and 2008. With Jürgen Klinsmann exposing his tactical failings in a disastrous stint at Bayern it quickly became apparent why: the man in the back-room exhorting the players in an inimitable Swabian accent to Höchste Disziplin!
His playing career was indifferent. His earlier coaching stints (in Switzerland and Turkey) were fairly uninteresting. But when Loew took over, Germany were in the hands of one of the sport’s great technocrats and his natural talent has shown ever since.
This is not actually clear and could be a weakness. His Germany are a curiously harmonious and happy bunch, it’s true, but that’s because when their coach has a difficult player, he simply stops calling him up – and Loew has fallen out with a few. At a club he would not have that option, or not to that extent. The extended drama over Michael Ballack showed a definite weakness: in not wanting to tell Ballack his career with Germany was over, Loew made the situation worse.
So whether he would be able to adapt to a situation where a player cannot be made to disappear is unclear. There are two ways of looking at anything and Loew's simple solution to difficult players could be called extreme pragmatism.
He’s a kindly and empathetic coach, often irritated and prone to cursing and screaming with rage on the sidelines (or, alternatively, taking huge running leaps of joy) but once the game is over, the anger is gone and he rarely berates his players, instead focusing on lessons learned and moving on. He takes a huge a interest in sports psychology and keeps a psychologist on staff.
The players in his regular squad admire and like him.
Germany plays gorgeous football, with quick transitions and a stylish and direct passing game reminiscent of a top-level club. But to look that spontaneous takes more than great players, it takes (paradoxically) planning – and Loew loves planning.
He times everything. The amount of time players hang on to the ball, for example. Germany’s footballers kept the ball for 3 seconds in 2006. He notes proudly that in high-intensity knock-out matches his team now keep it for precisely 0.9 seconds.
That’s only one example, but it’s instructive. Loew also tinkers, constantly, with his line-ups and formations. He drills his players to teach them to press and to make their passing sequences – all that apparent effortlessness is planned down to last double-pass inside the area. He’s tried striker-less formations and three at the back. Germany’s record in friendlies has been relatively poor because he also uses them to try out the ever-younger new players he has been calling up.
His obsession with instant passing, short-passing, touch and speed means he is a technical as well as a tactical enthusiast. He has an interesting approach to practice, with players sometimes playing rugby or forced to play with tennis balls rather than footballs or doing yoga.
One shouldn't overstate what he has done; events forced Loew to rely on Germany’s young talent with surprising results, and in very important games he has been, regrettably, cautious. But he has adapted to circumstances, and in difficult times (following suicide or injury to their captain) he has managed to get his players to focus and to work together.
Technical AND tactical acumen
Conflict avoidance (it can be a plus).
Conflict avoidance (it can be a negative).
Big cup experience, but not with a club.
Limited experience with cup ties rather than one-off games.
Why the board will want him: His team plays a beautiful game, he has an affable personality (he is arguably Germany's most famous personality and more popular than any of his players), and the fans would be thrilled.
Why he won’t come: There’s a World Cup in 2014, and the only really obvious replacement for his job...
...Has yet to signal he’s willing to take it. There are other complications.
Madrid fans will remember Heynckes with extreme fondness - he is the man who delivered La Septima. A wonderful achievement marred by the fact he was sacked after delivering up the big-eared cup. In general, Heynckes has been unlucky with ungrateful clubs. He will be out of a job in June but could yet deliver Bayern’s first treble.
Nevertheless, memories of La Septima, and the fact his current team Bayern is now in the final (their second consecutive final) is what makes him attractive from Madrid's point of view.
Like Ancelotti, Heynckes was a truly great player, a member of the Borussia Monchengladbach team with the famous rivalry in the ‘70s with Bayern. Only Gerd Mueller and Klaus Fischer have scored more Bundesliga goals. He is a World Cup and European Champion with Germany.
As a manager, after first coaching Borussia Monchengladbach for 8 years, he’s been a journeyman –in Spain, back to Germany, off to Portugal. His greatest success has come with Bayern and three league titles over two stints as manager. At Madrid he won the Champions League for the first time in 32 years but an indifferent league season saw his contract terminated by the club.
Not to be flippant, but anyone who copes at FC Hollywood and their perpetual crises has a talent for diplomacy. It’s true that at Frankfurt he had difficulties managing players, but that was earlier in his career. At his age, and with 50 years in football under his belt, Heynckes has seen it all.
It’s hard to sum up 30 years of coaching over nearly a dozen clubs of varying wealth and success. Heynckes approach to the Champions League semifinal of this month was widely covered because of the fact his successor once coached Barcelona. It was instructive. For Heynckes (who was offended at the suggestion he needed help) it was simple: he watched Barcelona obsessively – first as a group, and then watching each player, individually, for hours on end. His team’s incredibly disciplined and stylish performance shows that hard-work pays off. Every player knew every single detail about their opposite number.
His recent success at Bayern also has another factor: that he (or the club – it’s often hard to tell which) noticed deficiencies in the squad and fixed them after the CL loss and Liga disappointments of the 2011-12 season. Javi Martinez was an inspired purchase this summer. Toni Kroos (brought back from loan the season before) and David Alaba are youth players who have benefited under his time at Bayern.
Fluent in Spanish.
History at Madrid.
A good record in the CL.
A history of taking his teams on incredibly long unbeaten runs in league-play.
A record breaking Bundesliga under his belt.
It’s hard to think of one, and there’s no point inventing any.
Why the board want him: He’s just beaten Barcelona. He could win another Champions League with a second club. Enough said.
Why he probably won’t come: Because yesterday he stated that he will probably want to retire. Also, being sacked after winning La Septima would irritate anyone.
A final note
The transfer market complicates these transactions. Loew isn’t free, for example, because the DFB have no one to replace him with. If he were to leave, Heynckes would be the obvious replacement. Klopp seems genuinely happy where he is.
While all are undoubtedly on a short-list, somewhere, it would require something special and serendipitous to get them to Madrid.