Jürgen Klopp last week announced his intention to leave Borussia Dortmund after seven ultimately successful years. His laid-back nature and offbeat charisma endeared him to thousands of football fans, while his Dortmund team won back to back Bundesliga titles, ending the dominance of Bayern Munich. A Champions League final appearance in 2013, after demolishing Real Madrid, secured his status as one of the great managers.
However, since that magical night in North London, when they were so cruelly defeated by Munich in the final minutes, Dortmund have never really got it back. They lost Mario Gotze, one of their brightest young stars, the following season. Mikhitaryan was widely heralded but failed to make the grade. Massive injury problems have blighted their squad. Robert Lewandowski left on a free transfer, again to Bayern Munich, the next season, and replacement Ciro Immobile, bought for 24 million euros, has not set the world on fire. Marco Reus is constantly injured. Ilkay Gundogan is unreliable, and seems set to move to Manchester United. There are constant question marks on how long Mats Hummels will stay at the club. Earlier in the season, Dortmund were propping up the table. Despite improving the club’s results, taking them to the last 16 of the Champions League and putting them in a more respectable mid-table position, that turmoil has probably contributed to Klopp’s hasty exit. So where will he go next?
Pros: Has a lot of money to spend, and a chance to build a legacy at an ambitious and growing club
Cons: Mancini was sacked the year after winning the title in 2012, and Pellegrini could soon follow.
Manchester City seemed to be fighting Chelsea tooth and nail for the title, but horrendous away form and a lack of belief left them fighting to stay in the top four. Pellegrini’s job looked unsafe a few weeks ago, but he seems to have steadied the ship with a couple of decent results, and will probably get another season to rebuild. Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure are all key players for the club, but the loss of Milner and possibly Nasri will hurt them more than they realise. However, the City owners will be looking to strengthen in Europe as well as the Premier League. Will they stick with Pellegrini, or go for the German with the proven track record?
Pros: Youth focus, no real owner pressure, fans will welcome him
Cons: Poor injury record, will need investment
The second half of Arsenal’s season looked to set them up for a very late title challenge, but results elsewhere for Chelsea, culminating in a 0-0 draw at the Emirates means they will be facing both Manchester clubs for the second spot. Klopp has been touted for years as a spiritual successor to Wenger, and his focus on bringing players up through the academy will suit Arsenal’s policy. However, Klopp isn’t as transfer savvy as Wenger, who has brought in Mesut Ozil and Alexis to add another level of class to Arsenal’s play. The issue with Wenger is that in recent years he has allowed mediocrity to flourish; consider Jack Wilshire, who had some signs of being a truly excellent midfielder but doesn’t ever seem to be trying to push himself. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another example. Two years ago, he was arguably at the same level as Raheem Sterling, though older. He has not improved in those two years, while Sterling became a key man for club and country. Theo Walcott has shown no development since he was 21. The team has somewhat stagnated under Wenger, though this is masked by gems in their squad such as Koscielny, Santi Cazorla and the much-improved Aaron Ramsey. Arsenal also have too many injury problems every year to be a coincidence, and Wenger has not addressed this issue either. Klopp will be at least a breath of fresh air, though Wenger virtually guarantees a Champions League place. If Arsenal do keep Wenger, he will need to build on the success of this season and carry it on.
Pros: Fan support, youth team
Cons: Injuries, investment, Balotelli
Liverpool’s over-achievement in 2014 is only surpassed by their underachievement this year. A lacklustre 0-0 draw at West Brom followed by defeat to resurgent Hull only underlines the lack of enthusiasm which has surrounded the club since their back-to-back defeats against Arsenal and Manchester United. Rodgers has had three years to rebuild his squad, and though he has bought for the future, he has also taken too many gambles. His attacking force have scored 8 goals between them all season. Borini does not belong at a Champions League club. Lambert plays with passion, but isn’t quick enough to keep up with Liverpool’s style of play (read: Andy Carroll). Sturridge has play less than a quarter of the season. Balotelli’s ability usually masked his off-the–pitch misdemeanours, but seems to be a ghost. If the players have lost faith in Rodgers and he won’t get another season, Klopp can take up the reins of a team which appears rudderless. He will need to address the loss of Steven Gerrard, bring in a couple of actual (not Glen Johnson) defenders, and make sure Raheem Sterling stays. Liverpool can’t afford to become a selling club. His main aim should be Champions League football over everything. Klopp likes a challenge, and Liverpool have now gone 25 years without the title. A perfect match?
Pros: Massive transfer budget, best players in the world (and Pepe)
Cons: Fan and owner expectations, pressure
Real Madrid are the current European champions, have the easiest draw in the Champions League, and won 22 games in a row earlier this season. But this is a club where the situation can change at the drop of a hat. Though I think it unlikely that Perez will let world record transfer Gareth Bale leave only two years into his contract, Real have the resources and the marketing to attract anyone they wanted. Should Ancelotti be released (if he fails either to overtake Barca or retain the Champions League), Klopp is a well-liked and respected manager. Real fans won’t forget the thrashing that Real were given by Dortmund in 2013. This is a club where the ghost of Jose Mourinho still haunts, and you can see it in the practicality of some of Madrid’s play. Klopp will allow more dynamism and freedom. But will that get them better results?