Such is the legacy of Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund reign, even a below-par final season at Signal Iduna Park failed to detract from his popularity at the club.
Klopp’s seven-year stint came to an end with defeat to Wolfsburg in the DFB-Pokal final following a rocky campaign that promised plenty but quickly turned sour.
Some shrewd signings threatened to offer Dortmund a greater chance of challenging Bayern Munich’s dominance but Klopp quickly found himself in a battle to avoid the Bundesliga drop.
A Ruckrunde revival ensured Dortmund a respectable seventh-place finish and UEFA Europa League football but the season’s difficulties perhaps signalled it was the end of the road for Klopp’s era at Dortmund.
Transfers and the return of Kagawa
Another close-season, another star name departed for Bayern Munich.
Robert Lewandowski’s move to the Allianz Arena had long been known and Klopp wasted little time in bringing the likes of Ciro Immobile and Ji Dong-won in to help cover the loss of goals.
Nuri Sahin was made a permanent fixture in April 2014 while Shinji Kagawa returned from the wilderness at Manchester United.
“BVB is like a family. I am proud that she never forgot me and I again belong to them,” Kagawa commented on his return.
At rock bottom
A 2-0 defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt in November left Dortmund’s players physically and mentally at their lowest ebb.
While Sven Bender stated after the defeat that “the mood is at rock bottom”, Klopp’s frustrations began to show as two poor goals added to his side’s “cabinet of curiosities”.
Dortmund remained in the bottom two at the close of the first half of the season but eventually found form when it mattered to avoid an unthinkable relegation.
Hummels, Weidenfeller confront crowd
After failing to win their final three Bundesliga games of 2014, the new year began with a draw at Bayer Leverkusen and a home defeat to Augsburg – the latter seeing home fans finally lose patience.
A dismal showing against the 10 men of Augsburg necessitated captain Mats Hummels and vice-captain Roman Weidenfeller speaking with supporters in a bid to calm passions.
Following an 11th league defeat of the campaign, Hummels stated: “If one is in this position after 19 games then it would be unacceptable not to have understanding for the fans’ reactions.”
While Dortmund’s league struggles showed little sign of abating, Klopp’s men continued to push ahead in Europe.
Thirteen points saw them top Group D before they came up short against eventual UEFA Champions League finalists Juventus in the last 16.
October’s 4-0 win over Galatasaray in Istanbul was Dortmund’s biggest victory of the campaign but Klopp warned he would “not break out into euphoria”.
Perhaps wise, given the Bundesliga struggles that were to come.
Echte Liebe in February
After defeat to Augsburg, Dortmund fans were eventually given something to cheer in February as four consecutive wins moved them 10th.
Victories over Freiburg, Mainz and Stuttgart offered light at the end of the tunnel with a welcome 3-0 rout of fierce rivals Schalke taking further pressure off.
“We are no longer in the mire,” Klopp asserted after an unbeaten domestic run in March, which included DFB-Pokal progression against Dynamo Dresden.
Klopp leaves with Europe secured
Klopp and long-serving former captain Sebastian Kehl said their Signal Iduna Park farewells with victory over Werder Bremen – a win that secured UEFA Europa League football.
Kehl resisted calls to extend his stay at the club and helped salvage continental qualification from a rocky campaign.
“It was not easy, I had tears in my eyes. I love this stadium,” Klopp said of his farewell.
Pokal defeat mars Klopp’s exit
Having beaten Bayern on penalties to reach the final, everything was set up for Dortmund to sign off the Klopp era with Pokal victory in Berlin.
However, Dieter Hecking’s Wolfsburg – who assumed Dortmund’s mantle as Bayern’s main challengers – showcased their superiority in a 3-1 success.
It may not have been the fairytale ending many would have hoped for but Klopp leaves Dortmund a legend after two Bundesliga titles, a Pokal victory and a run to the UEFA Champions League final.
“Over the course of the last seven years an incredible amount has happened, I’ve learnt so much, it has just been so emotional, so special,” Klopp told a post-final farewell party.
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