The end of something: Farewell Klopp, and the noble fear of becoming too big for Borussia
"I don't know. It isn't fun anymore. Not any of it." (Ernest Hemingway – The End of Something)
It came as a surprise. Within a few minutes, my Facebook timeline exploded. "How can such a sunny day suddenly turn so bleak?," a long-time Dortmund supporter wrote. Almost pleadingly, she added: "I don't want this." Another fan posted: "I feel a bit like I did on the day Freddie Mercury died."
Even though the G7 Summit is held 30 minutes down the road from where I now live, the 12 o'clock news all but ignored global political affairs. Instead, they began with the words: "Dortmund. It seems there will be a spectacular managerial change in football's Bundesliga."
There are no two ways about it: the news that Jürgen Klopp would leave Dortmund in the summer hit football fans, particularly Dortmund fans, in much the same way that catholics were shaken to the core when Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation. One seemed as unthinkable as the other.
However, as shocked and stunned as most people reacted to the news, Klopp's move wasn't quite as surprising anymore as it would have been a few months ago.
On Saturday, his Dortmund team tied an age-old Bundesliga record by conceding a goal in the first minute for the third time this season. Add to this Yaya Sanogo's goal for Arsenal after 65 seconds, Carlos Tevez's strike for Juventus after 132 seconds or Davie Selke's goal for Bremen before 180 seconds had been played and it really made you wonder if this team was mentally drained rather than physically.
On Monday, Kicker magazine said that back in December, Klopp had convinced the club's board that the dismal showings during the first half of the season were down to a lack of fitness and too many injuries. But now it had become clear that "Dortmund's glorious generation is showing symptoms of wear and tear". The magazine added: "despite his fantastic achievements, the coach's position cannot be taboo anymore".
Yesterday morning, the regional newspaper Ruhr Nachrichten reported that a week ago, Borussia's director of football Michael Zorc had walked into the dressing room during the half-time break of Dortmund's cup game against Hoffenheim to "rant" at the team. There are clubs where this may be normal, but since 2008, when Klopp took over, Borussia wasn't one of them. So there had been signs.
As I wrote in FourFourTwo's current cover story: "The claim that Dortmund's fans can't imagine the club without Klopp was certainly true a few months ago, but it no longer is.
For most supporters, there was at least one point during the season – maybe the Berlin game, probably the Bremen game, certainly the Augsburg game – when they simply had to entertain the thought that the pressure could become so strong that the coach might have to step down."
In the end, that's not exactly what happened – Klopp says it wasn't the pressure that eventually got to him, he simply feels "that Borussia Dortmund needs change" – but it explains why many fans got over the initial shock quite quickly. Within a few more minutes, and hours before the club's press conference, my timeline was littered with postings such as "Thanks for everything, Jürgen, and all the best for the future!" or "Kloppo, you can walk away head held high at what you have achieved in seven years". The popular online fanzine Schwatzgelb simply posted: "Thanks!"
The greatest... perhaps
As unexpected as the timing was, many fans had been subconsciously aware that the end of something big might be near, or at the very least that this season couldn't simply be erased from the club's collective memory like a bad dream. There was little doubt that this campaign, one way or another, would mark the end of one of the greatest teams in Borussia's history, a team that probably played the best football in Borussia's history and was coached by one of the greatest managers in Borussia's history.
Was – sorry, is – he even the greatest? It's a close race between him and Ottmar Hitzfeld. At the moment, Hitzfeld probably still has a slight edge, partly because he won a trophy Klopp very narrowly missed out on, the Champions League. But as was the case with Hitzfeld, Klopp's stature will grow over the coming years. Especially if, unlike Hitzfeld, he refrains from joining Bayern Munich.
We may look back on the Klopp era five or 10 years from now and conclude that, yes, he was the club's greatest coach despite not winning the Champions League – because football's not just about winning.
Those of you who've read the cover story I mentioned earlier will remember that it opens with one of the three Dortmund fans who have just completed a film about the club's early years.
Watching the actual filming of the scene that depicts the club's foundation, he realises that the club is about more than just results and is bigger than any one person.
Amazingly, Klopp alluded to that very sentiment and precisely this documentary during today's press conference. "It's about the club," he said. "The club is bigger than any of us. It's always been bigger.
"It will always be bigger. It's got so much tradition and has just, thankfully, honoured its legends in a film. It's a club that never forgets. I'm grateful for having been a part of this."
It's not one of the statements you'll see quoted today very often. Most newspapers, magazines and websites will concentrate on Klopp's motivation ("I always said that when I believe I'm not the perfect coach anymore for this extraordinary club I will say so") and his plans for the future ("I've not had contact with another club, there are no plans for a sabbatical").
But if you read between the lines of this statement – and also consider some other things he said during the press conference, like that the club needs a breath of fresh air and that this would have been conceivable but a lot more complicated with him still at the helm – he seems to have come to the conclusion that he might have become a bit too popular and too big than is healthy for everyone involved.
Which also tells you why he is so popular and so big in the first place.
"Have a scene?" – "No, there wasn't any scene." – "How do you feel?" – "Oh, go away, Bill! Go away for a while." (Ernest Hemingway –The End of Something)