Jürgen Klopp led Borussia Dortmund to the Bundesliga title in the 2010/11 season. It was his trophy as a coach. - © imago images
Jürgen Klopp led Borussia Dortmund to the Bundesliga title in the 2010/11 season. It was his trophy as a coach. - © imago images
bundesliga

Jürgen Klopp's first trophy: how Borussia Dortmund won the 2010/11 Bundesliga

For the 2010/11 Bundesliga season, current Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp moulded a spectacular young Borussia Dortmund side to dethrone Bayern Munich.

When Klopp was appointed as Dortmund head coach in May 2008, club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke delivered what turned out to be an accurate prediction.

"I think that an exciting period is going to start now," he said.

Klopp had flashed a familiar grin at his unveiling, saying that his job was to get the 1997 European champions "back on the right track again."

By that stage the 40-year-old was already well known in Germany, not only for leading Mainz to the Bundesliga - before being relegated with them two years later - but also for his astute and charismatic observations as a pundit on mainstream TV coverage of major tournaments.

Watch: Klopp and his Dortmund boys celebrate 2011 online!

Dortmund, meanwhile, had emerged from a financial crisis in 2005, but Klopp was their third coach in 18 months, and the previous season they had finished 13th after conceding a league-high 62 goals.

The new arrival's first two seasons were nonetheless promising. Building a squad based around emerging talents aged 21 or under like Sven Bender, Kevin Großkreutz, Mats Hummels, Nuri Sahin, Marcel Schmelzer and Neven Subotic, Dortmund improved each year to finish sixth and then fifth.

Key additions

Paraguayan forward Lucas Barrios had netted 19 league goals in the 2009/10 campaign, but in the summer of 2010 Dortmund added what would prove to be the final pieces of the jigsaw. Lukasz Piszczek, a full-back and former winger, joined from relegated Hertha Berlin, while an unheralded attacking midfielder, Shinji Kagawa, signed after starring for Japanese second-tier side Cerezo Osaka.

Another player who moved abroad for the first time that year was Robert Lewandowski, a soon-to-be 22-year-old who had scored 41 goals in 82 matches for Lech Poznan in Poland.

Jürgen Klopp (l.) coached a 21-year-old Robert Lewandowski (r.) in what was the Polish striker's first season in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund. - imago images

Dortmund, who first won the Bundesliga in 1994/95, had not won the league since 2001/02. Another top-five finish seemed an obvious target but the opposition seemed stiff it they had loftier goals.

Bayern Munich, after all, had claimed a league and cup double the season before, and had also reached the UEFA Champions League final in what was Louis van Gaal's first year in charge.

With the like of Mario Gomez, Thomas Müller, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben in their ranks, the champions had a surplus of attacking talent. They welcomed back young midfielder Toni Kroos from his loan spell at Bayer Leverkusen, while fellow future 2014 FIFA World Cup winners Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger would also play integral roles.

Dortmund's local rivals Schalke, who had been runners-up the year before, also looked strong after securing a marquee signing in veteran forward Raul from Real Madrid. They also recruited Klaas-Jan Huntelaar from AC Milan and had highly-rated young goalkeeper Manuel Neuer between the posts.

Watch: Jürgen Klopp: Made in Bundesliga

Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy had arrived at Hamburg, while former England boss Steve McClaren took over at 2008/09 champions Wolfsburg. The Wolves added up-and-coming Croatian Mario Mandzukic to a formidable attack that still included title heroes Edin Dzeko and Grafite.

A false start

When the season did kick off, Dortmund suffered an opening day defeat. Teenager Mario Götze made his first Bundesliga start as they lost 2-0 at home to Jupp Heynckes’ Bayer Leverkusen, a side that featured Michael Ballack, Sami Hyypia and Arturo Vidal. Roared on by their famously passionate fans, however, Klopp's youthful squad would not lose in Dortmund again that year.

Sure enough, they quickly recovered to chalk up consecutive victories over VfB Stuttgart, Wolfsburg and Schalke. Kagawa got his first Bundesliga goal against the Wolves, and the bargain signing became a firm fan's favourite thanks to his double in the 3-1 derby win at Schalke on Matchday 4. Setting an early marker as someone for the big occasion, Lewandowski came off the bench to score for Dortmund for the first time.

Elsewhere the 2010/11 campaign was producing some unexpected results. Having lost their first three matches, for example, Stuttgart beat Borussia Mönchengladbach 7-0 in their fourth.

A young, new-look Borussia Dortmund quickly began to bond into an unstoppable Bundesliga team. - IMAGO / Ulmer/Cremer

With Robben injured for the first couple of months and several other World Cup stars fatigued after a long summer, Bayern dropped 10 points in their first six matches. Mainz - who stunned the champions 2-1 in Munich on Matchday 6 - led the league by October with a magnificent seven wins from seven games.

Guided by Thomas Tuchel (37) and spurred on by Andre Schürrle (19), Lewis Holtby (20) and Adam Szalai (22), the plucky 05ers held a three-point advantage over second-placed Dortmund.

By that stage though, Klopp & Co. were building up a head of steam themselves. On Matchday 7 they underlined their title credentials as Barrios and Sahin condemned Bayern to a second successive defeat, leaving the champions in 12th after scoring just five goals all season.

Showdown with Tuchel

Full throttle was what this young side did best, according to Watzke, and they continued to relentlessly reel off wins in the same way they hunted down the ball.

Friends off the pitch, Thomas Tuchel (l.) and Jürgen Klopp (r.) went head-to-head with Mainz and Borussia Dortmund at the top of the table in 2010/11. - IMAGO / Ulmer/Cremer

Hummels - an elegant defender alongside the more robust Subotic - later said that Klopp had introduced both a system that worked and a desire to "give it everything and go the extra yard."

Dortmund were put to the test on Matchday 10, when two young coaches - nowadays seen as among the best in the world - met in Mainz. Tuchel had succeeded Klopp at his old club, but the master got the better of the apprentice as Dortmund went clear on points for the first time thanks to a 2-0 victory.

It was a fun match between young, high-energy teams and a glimpse into what the two tacticians would later bring to Chelsea and Liverpool, but Klopp's side were further down the line with their aggressive pressing and rapid counter-attacks.

Man-of-the-match Götze - still only 18 - got the opener before visiting keeper Roman Weidenfeller saved a penalty. Barrios added another goal in the second half as BVB became the first club ever to win five away games in a row at the start of a campaign.

Watch: The Mario Götze Dortmund years

Tuchel, who would also take over from Klopp at Dortmund in 2015, said the defeat was not something his team should be ashamed of. "Dortmund have insane amounts of quality," he conceded.

No let up

BVB's win over Mainz - where Klopp had spent the best part of two decades as a player and then head coach - was one of 14 in 15 league matches after the opening day. Teams couldn’t live with the intensity and work rate of Klopp's team, with both playmaker Sahin and the electric Götze in majestic form and Kagawa finishing with eight goals before the winter break.

Dortmund were beaten at Eintracht Frankfurt in their final game of 2010, but by then they had built up a 10-point lead.

Looking back on that season in 2015, Klopp said he had instructed his side to treat what followed as a fresh start.

By January 2011 and the second half of the season, Borussia Dortmund were well on their way to a first Bundesliga title in nine years. - imago images

"We were determined not to try and defend any kind of a lead, but rather to start the second half of the season from scratch again," he revealed.

When the Bundesliga resumed in January 2011, Dortmund got revenge against Leverkusen and Sven Bender got one over his twin brother Lars. Childhood Dortmund fan Großkreutz was the unlikely hero, as the hard-running midfielder playing for his local club got the first two goals in a 3-1 success. Götze added a third in the space of six devastating second-half minutes.

"They play an elegant, passionate and imaginative football," impressed Leverkusen boss Heynckes - who would soon be battling Klopp with Bayern - said after the game.

Despite a 12-point advantage, Klopp continued to play down Dortmund's title chances. But inside the club his impact was obvious.

"In this year of the first title, he was a locomotive who gave the power to the rest," Watzke told Sky Sports in 2019.

Magic in Munich

A 0-0 draw with Schalke on Matchday 21 would have been a disappointment but their neighbours could not deny them the title. The Royal Blues did end up reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League and winning the DFB Cup, but they finished 14th the league.

If ever there was a sign that this season was different, it came on Matchday 24. Dortmund won in Munich for the first time in 19 years, leaving Bayern in fourth following a 3-1 victory.

With Australian Mitchell Langerak making his competitive debut in place of the injured Weidenfeller, the visitors fielded the youngest team in their Bundesliga history - with an average age of 22.3 years.

A pulsating match featured three early goals, with Sahin sweeping home from outside the area with his lethal left foot to make it 2-1. On the hour mark, Hummels headed home against his former club to give Dortmund a two-goal cushion that they never lost.

Jürgen Klopp got so caught up in Borussia Dortmund's celebrations after the win over Bayern Munich in February 2011 that his glasses were broken. - imago images

Klopp did lose his glasses, though, after Sahin damaged them in the immediate post-match celebrations. Twelve points clear of second-placed Leverkusen and 16 ahead of the defending champions, it felt like nothing could stop Dortmund with 10 games to go.

A run of five points from 12 between Matchdays 26 and 29 might have caused some nerves as Leverkusen swiftly cut the gap to five points with five games to play. Bayern hammered Leverkusen 5-1 the following week, however, with Gomez getting a hat-trick as part of a league-high 28 goals for the season.

Goosebumps all over

Barrios would finish with 16, one of which came on Matchday 32 as Dortmund sealed the title with two games to spare following a 2-0 home win against Nuremberg. Lewandowski - who ended his first season in Germany with eight league goals - cleverly lifted in the second shortly before half-time.

Midway through the second half, the noise levels increased in the stands when news from Cologne started to filter through. The party really began - for the fans at least - when Dortmund's stadium announcer confirmed the rumour: title rivals Leverkusen were losing.

"My heart was beating like crazy," Klopp recalled many years later of the moment he heard that scoreline. Hummels, meanwhile, described being "covered in goosebumps from top to bottom" in the final quarter of the game.

"It's one of the most beautiful days," BVB sporting director Michael Zorc, who won the league with Dortmund as a player twice in the 1990s, said afterwards. "We've waited a very, very long time for this."

Borussia Dortmund clinched the 2010/11 title with two games to spare at home against Nuremberg. - imago images

Worthy winners

Elsewhere in 2010/11, St Pauli took four points off richer rivals Hamburg despite finishing bottom, and Eintracht dropped from seventh at Christmas to end up being relegated on a dramatic final day. Future Dortmund captain Marco Reus then saved Gladbach from the same fate with a late goal in a promotion/relegation play-off with Bochum.

The story of the campaign was undoubtedly Dortmund, however, who won the league by seven points from Leverkusen and finished 10 points ahead of Bayern in third.

Klopp's team won 23 and lost only five of their 34 matches, and boasted the best defence with just 22 goals conceded. The next best - Tuchel's Mainz, who finished fifth - had let in 17 more.

"I think there's rarely been a champion that’s deserved it as much - they're on fire," said Stuttgart coach Bruno Labbadia when asked about Germany's youngest ever champions, who seemed as popular as they were effective.

Mentality giants

Everyone contributed in an admirable collective effort. Grosskreutz had eight goals, Hummels got five, and Polish pair Piszczek and Jakub Blaszczykowski finished with seven assists and three goals and four assists respectively. Götze and Sahin each scored six goals and combined for over 20 assists between them.

With the support of Borussia Dortmund's famous Yellow Wall behind them, Jürgen Klopp's side played like they were unbeatable. - imago images

"It's crazy how much each one of them has improved over the last three years," a beaming Klopp said of his squad in the wake of the Nuremberg win.

Ottmar Hitzfeld, who led a more experienced Dortmund side to their first Bundesliga title in 1995 and European Cup glory two years later, said a clutch of young and hungry players had been vital to Dortmund’s high-tempo style. Many had stood out.

"Because Dortmund play as a unit, I like a lot of players," the former Bayern coach told Der Tagesspiegel in April 2011.

"Sahin as a director in midfield who pulls the strings, Götze who already plays with a lot of calmness and enjoys his football, Barrios who has been really successful. And at the back with Hummels and Subotic, there are two players who guarantee that you often keep a clean sheet."

Jürgen Klopp etched his name into Bundesliga history in 2010/11 before winning a league and cup double a year later. - imago images

Midfielder Sebastian Kehl told Sky in 2019 that Klopp had convinced his team that it was time for them to become German champions. The man himself no doubt hoped his squad could challenge for the title, but he felt that not setting a goal for the season had allowed them to flourish.

"We didn't want to limit ourselves by setting a realistic target," Klopp said in 2015. "We just looked to see how far we could take it. And that was a fabulous decision."

The celebrations that followed the first trophy of Klopp's managerial career were suitably exuberant. They were far from the last.

Mark Rodden