If there's one famous quote that sums up the way soccer is being seen in Germany, it's Sepp Herberger's wise observation that "nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel" -- "after the match is before the match." That is to say that there's no point dwelling on past achievements, for it is the next game, not the previous one, that counts. Sometimes, however, you can't help but look back. Jürgen Klopp opened his Thursday press conference by admitting that he had watched Borussia Dortmund's awe-inspiring 4-1 win over Real Madrid again at home the night before; "It got very late," he laughed.
Hardly anyone wanted to hear about Dortmund's next game, the rather meaningless trip to Fortuna Düsseldorf on Saturday night. But Klopp knew that the fantastic defeat of the Spanish champions was in itself also no longer the relevant talking point. The morning after the match, the agents of Polish striker Robert Lewandowski had gone on the record stating that the 24-year-old had an agreement with another club and was willing to move this summer. Everyone understood that they were talking about to a transfer to Bayern Munich. As a result, the joy of running Madrid out of town was tempered by worries about a breakup of this Borussia side. Rumors about Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gündogan leaving, too, started to circulate.
So in this instance, Klopp realized that "after the game" was actually "before next season," and that he needed to allay the fears of the supporters and cool speculation inside and outside the dressing room. He handled the difficult occasion masterfully, with a zen-like calm. "A lot of things can happen, but I'm totally relaxed," he insisted, cracking a blissful smile. "I know who wants to come to [play for] us. If I'm cool, people should be, too. Of course you want to keep what you have got in life, but there are no guarantees. Other mothers have handsome sons, too, and they can play as well! If there's time to get nervous, I'll tell you. So chill."
The message was simple -- We are in control. But its power lay in the delivery. When you see Klopp owning a whole room of journalists in a seemingly effortless fashion, you get a sense of his extraordinary ability to persuade his players, too. All of his tactical ideas only work because players listen to him and believe that he's right. Technical skill and individual class aside, much of Dortmund's game is built on good old effort, commitment and "greed," as Klopp calls it: the hunger to eat up that extra kilometer of grass. That sounds simple but it takes an tremendous amount of motivation. Few managers are able to instill that level of devotion in their teams. "You don't win a game without hurting," Klopp told FAZ last December. "I want us to go to the limit every time. There's a saying: a good horse only jumps as high as it needs to. I've put it differently for my team: a really good horse jumps as high as it can. To give everything on the pitch -- that's what we train for."
There used to be a young manager who was known for making his teams perform with unparalleled intensity. His name was José Mourinho. But on Wednesday night, Madrid looked meek, physically not at the same level of their opponents. While Klopp was constantly urging on his players and making subtle changes to the team's shape, Mourinho watched on motionless with his hands in his pockets. "He looked disinterested, with his thoughts perhaps already [at his next job] at Chelsea," speculated Süddeutsche Zeitung. "Klopp and Mourinho can handle players really well, that's why they would die for them -- I would die for both of them," BVB midfielder Nuri Sahin, on loan from Madrid, had said before the game. But only those wearing black and yellow jerseys looked truly prepared to sacrifice themselves for their leader.
Just like his players, Mourinho offered surprisingly little resistance when it came to another area of expertise: in previous roles, he used to relish manipulating the agenda and mood of a tie with choice statements in pre- and post-match conferences. This time, a half-hearted suggestion that Klopp might be over-confident ("He's spent more time looking at his team than at ours," he had ventured on the eve of the match) was as good as it got; Mourinho was either unwilling or wary of engaging Klopp in a verbal sparring match. That pattern was repeated after the final whistle. As Klopp entertained his fawning audience with a mixture of raw emotions and mad-cap allegories ("We were like Robin Hood"), his opposite number cut a solemn figure. "The Madrid coach seemed to sense that Klopp, with his combination of humor, let-them-talk-coolness and fiery ambition, was the better Mourinho in this moment of time," wrote Spiegel Online. Maybe three years of political in-fighting and tension in the Spanish capital have simply taken their toll. Mourinho looks ready for a change of scenery.
For Klopp, much of next season's change will come involuntarily, as Dortmund will have to find suitable replacements for the latest defectors in a few months' time. The club has managed to do just that extremely well over the last few years, and maybe the Borussia supremo is not even that unhappy about this constant fluctuation. He will find it easier to motivate new arrivals rather than those who've heard it all before for three years running.
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