The Premier League and the Bundesliga are both in the throes of exciting title races. This is something of a novelty for the German league in particular; Bayern Munich have won each of the last six titles, and finished last season with a margin of twenty-one points to second place. No side has as yet established such dominance in England, but the last campaign in the top flight was similarly uncompetitive when Manchester City ended up with a 19-point lead. The champions of each league now find themselves in second place, behind Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund respectively. Both of these challengers thus hold the curious position of huge clubs that are nonetheless undeniably fulfilling the role of the underdog, but their similarities run much deeper.
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Most obviously, they have Jurgen Klopp in common. The current Liverpool manager spent seven hugely successful years at Borussia Dortmund between 2008 and 2015, winning successive Bundesliga titles in 2010/11 and 2011/12. This makes him the last Dortmund manager to win the league, and the last manager of any team to prevent Bayern Munich from claiming the German title.
Lucien Favre is the man looking to emulate that feat. As chance would have it, his fortunes nearly became tied up with another Merseyside outfit; he reportedly became “tired of waiting” for a decision from Everton after his successful spell at Borussia Mönchengladbach, and instead moved on to an equally impressive stint at Nice. It was from the French club that he joined Dortmund with the ambition of becoming the first of Klopp’s successors to live up to his achievements.
Klopp also took Dortmund to a Champions League final, a feat he has now matched with Liverpool. It was an all-German affair when his side met with Bayern Munich at Wembley in 2013, and only an 89th minute winner from Arjen Robben prevented the game from going all the way. This represented a degree of revenge for Bayern, who had been thwarted by Klopp and Dortmund in two of the last three league campaigns as well as in the previous year’s German Cup final. Klopp will renew acquaintances with the Bavarian side when his Liverpool team take them on in the Champions League – he will be hoping for the same kind of result as those which secured these three honours and enshrined his immortal status at Dortmund. When he departed in 2015, he did so as a legend.
Ryan Fenix, a Dortmund fan and football commentator who has served as the representative for The Philippines on the Ballon d’Or jury, described the emotions after Klopp joined the Reds: “If there was one club Jurgen Klopp could go to after BVB, it had to be Liverpool. The manifestation of passion from the fans is mirrored very closely by Klopp, and this was what fans in Dortmund came to expect. In many ways, Liverpool is the perfect landing spot”.
This might be best encapsulated by the German word bekömmlich, a term which can be imperfectly rendered in English as ‘palatable’ – no Dortmund fan wanted Klopp to leave, but if he had to go then Liverpool was an acceptable destination to fans such as Fenix. He continued: “The fist-pumping Klopp on the sidelines will be my long-lasting memory of him. It is amazing how he has now put his stamp on LFC the same way he did [at Dortmund]”.
A year before Klopp arrived at his “landing spot”, he touched the This Is Anfield sign for the first time prior to a pre-season friendly between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund. He would be made to wait for his first win at Anfield; Liverpool ran out comfortable 4-0 winners against his Dortmund side. Dejan Lovren, making his debut, was amongst the scorers.
Lovren would repeat this feat on an altogether greater stage when the clubs met in the Europa League quarter-final two years later, with Klopp occupying the home dugout this time. The Croat powered a dramatic stoppage time header beyond Roman Weidenfeller to win the game 4-3 and send Liverpool to the semi-final. This match, played on the eve of the 27th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, began with an emotional rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from both sets of fans.
Mohammad Hammoudeh, a Liverpool supporter at that game, described the moment: “I was holding my phone for pictures and videos, but then I put it back in my pocket and just sang my heart out. It was everything that I expected it to be.”
The story of how this anthem came to be adopted by both clubs is a fascinating one. Originally from the musical Carousel, the song made its way from Broadway to Merseyside in the 1960s when it was covered by Gerry and the Pacemakers. It was rapidly taken up by The Kop, but it was not until the 1990s that it was to be heard emanating from the Yellow Wall of Borussia Dortmund. They seemingly co-opted for it from Hamburg St Pauli, who had introduced You’ll Never Walk Alone to Germany after a group of fans had met with Celtic supporters.
The Glasgow club have been singing it for almost as long as the Liverpool faithful, taking up the anthem following a European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final against The Reds in 1966. Liverpool won, and who should they meet in the final? None other than Borussia Dortmund, who eventually triumphed 2-1. The song could undoubtedly have been heard around Hampden Park on that day, but it took another thirty years for Dortmund fans to take it into their hearts.
Local band and Borussia fans Pur Harmony are responsible for the version of You’ll Never Walk Alone that can be heard on matchdays at Signal Iduna Park. The song resonated with them, and they decided to record a cover; Dortmund agreed to play it, and the anthem has been a mainstay at Westfalenstadion ever since. Matthias Kartner, the lead singer of the band, sung it live at Anfield in a 2001 Champions League group stage match – this was the first time that both sets of fans joined together in a rendition, a sound since heard not only in the Europa League encounter but also in various pre-season meetings between the sides, the latest of which saw Dortmund triumph courtesy of a brace from the now Chelsea-bound Christian Pulisic.
More than managers and songs have passed between the two clubs: four players have made the move from Dortmund to Liverpool. The first was Patrik Berger, who spent a single season at Borussia Dortmund in 1995/96; the Czech international made a total of twenty-five league appearances as Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side won the Bundesliga title. Roy Evans opted to bring Berger to Anfield following his success in Euro ‘96.
Karl-Heinz Riedle followed Berger from Dortmund, joining Liverpool in 1997 to become their first German player. He could not emulate the same success, struggling for game time as a result of Fowler’s brilliance and the emergence of a young Michael Owen. Nonetheless, he ultimately managed sixty appearances and eleven goals for the club.
Philipp Degen, similarly, was never able to establish himself as a first-team regular when he swapped the Westfalenstadion for Anfield in 2008 making just seven appearances. The most recent player to have featured for both clubs is Nuri Şahin of Turkey. The central midfielder had a season-long stint at Real Madrid between his first spell in Germany and his loan move to Merseyside; it was the Spanish club that loaned him to Liverpool for the 2012/13 campaign. But the loan was terminated in January amidst concerns from both sides that the midfielder did not fit the system and was consequently not being properly utilised.
Two sides with shared players, managers, songs and ethos: as Ryan Fenix described it, the clubs are “soul brothers” of sorts. Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund fans will only hope that they are united in celebration come the end of the season. The available resources of their closest opponents notwithstanding, there seems to be no reason why this cannot be the case. Klopp laid the blueprint for smart management overcoming sheer spending power in his time with Dortmund, and while Favre has taken up the mantle at the Westfalenstadion, Klopp has taken the same principles to Anfield.