Before Jurgen Klopp first walked through the Westfalenstadion door as manager, before he forged a black and yellow dynasty, upsetting the German football status quo and waking up one of the European game’s sleeping giants, he received a compelling offer. It would have set him on a completely different career path.
Klopp was still at Mainz in the German second division when Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness called. He was told that he was one of two candidates to succeed Ottmar Hitzfeld, who had revealed midway through the season that he would not be staying beyond the summer. At that time the German was considered something of a wildcard option and ultimately the Bavarians opted to hire Jurgen Klinsmann instead. That worked out well.
Bavaria was once again raised as a potential destination for Klopp after leaving Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2015. Bayern Munich were already preparing for the departure of Pep Guardiola and for many Klopp was the obvious choice to replace his one-time Bundesliga rival. As we all now know, he pitched up at Liverpool instead.
Despite never playing or coaching them, Bayern Munich are a club woven through the fabric of Klopp’s career. His defining achievement as a manager came in toppling the Bavarians as the Bundesliga’s predominant force, winning back-to-back league titles between 2011 and 2012, while his defining failure as a manager also came against the same team, suffering defeat in the 2013 Champions League final.
Now, Klopp will face Bayern Munich once again, with the German champions on Merseyside to take on Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. Between them, the two clubs have 10 European Cup titles, but only one will progress into the quarter finals here. It promises to be one of the most intriguing ties of the round.
Had things turned out a little differently, Klopp might have been the manager in the away dugout for this clash. And it’s possible that he could still become Bayern Munich manager in the future. In fact, there are many who believe it to be inevitable that he will one day take the reins at the Allianz Arena.
Klopp is Germany’s predominant manager and despite the current look of the Bundesliga table, Bayern Munich are Germany’s predominant club. In that mutual stature, there is enough to link the two. But there are also philosophical parallels that would, theoretically, make them a good fit for each other. Klopp professes a brand of fast and furious football that would go down well in Bavaria.
But why would the German want to leave Liverpool? He is on the brink of delivering the club’s first league title in 29 years. Last season, he led the Reds to the Champions League final. The 51-year-old is putting in place the pillars that will hold up Liverpool for a generation and restore the club not just as a force in English football, but on the continent as well. Klopp could join the pantheon of great Liverpool managers.
And yet for a German, the lure of Bayern Munich must be strong. He is, for the Bavarians, the one that got away, not once, but twice. They have made, almost to the point of parody, a cottage industry of plundering the rest of the Bundesliga for its best footballing talent, but Klopp is the one German talent they have yet been unable to draw.
Bayern Munich are a club in the midst of a generational transition. Their success over the past decade or so has been built on a core of players that will go down in German football folklore. However, the likes of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller are expected to phased out of the team over the next season or two and with that there is a great opportunity for someone to make a profound impression on a true footballing superpower.
If it were up to the Bavarians, Klopp would surely be near the top of their list of preferred figures to take the club into a new era. Questions have been asked of Niko Kovac all season long, with few convinced that the Croatian will be at the Allianz Arena in the long term. However, there’s no suggestion that Klopp has put any sort of expiry date on his Liverpool tenure.
Indeed, unlike Guardiola, who is widely expected to continue the pattern of his career by leaving Manchester City after just three or four seasons, Klopp seems to have the heart for building another dynasty. The 51-year-old’s already been at Anfield for three-and-a-half years and there’s still a sense that he’s only just getting started.
So while there may be an inevitability to Klopp one day becoming Bayern Munich boss, it might be a while before he is once again on the market. If Kovac is indeed to be moved on, as many predict, the Bundesliga giants will have to look elsewhere, perhaps to someone like Zinedine Zidane or Antonio Conte.
Neither Zidane nor Conte are like Klopp, though. Bayern Munich need someone who can implement a long term vision. They need someone to assemble a group of players good enough to take the Bavarians back to the top of the German and European game, all while staying within the parameters of the club’s identity.
The only other manager who would fit that criteria is Thomas Tuchel and he too is out of reach, already in an elite position at Paris Saint-Germain. Bayern Munich have spent much of the past decade poaching Germany’s best playing talent, but they allowed its two best young coaches to slip through their fingers.
Klopp’s stock has never been higher. He has now restored two sleeping giants of the European game, imposing his ‘Gegenpressing’ ideology at both Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool. Pipping Manchester City, the team that just last season broke the Premier League points tally, to the title would be his crowning achievement.
It could be just at this moment, if Borussia Dortmund go on to break Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga’s monopoly, that Klopp is most needed at the Allianz Arena. And it could be just at this moment that Klopp is most out of reach for the club that has more than once desired, and needed, him.