German coaches whose ideas were formed at Borussia Dortmund are leading their free-scoring teams within reach of English league titles.
While Liverpool is in a thrilling Premier League title chase, Daniel Farke’s Norwich City was promoted to the top tier on Saturday with a team including several players from his and Juergen Klopp’s former club.
After beating Blackburn 2-1, Norwich needs just a point from its final game to ensure captain Christoph Zimmermann — recruited, like coach Farke, from Dortmund’s reserves team two years ago — lifts the second-tier Championship trophy next Sunday.
Klopp has monitored the unlikely promotion campaign, saying in mid-season: “All the Norwich results I know. I had a lot of their players.”
In Klopp’s seven-year spell at Dortmund, his players included Marco Stiepermann and Mario Vrancic, whose goals sealed Norwich’s win Saturday. Moritz Leitner, now the Canaries’ No. 10, was on the bench for the 2013 Champions League final Dortmund lost to Bayern Munich.
Vrancic has a deeper personal link to Klopp from when both were at Mainz and the coach picked him as a 17-year-old playmaker.
“He was my Mario Goetze at Mainz,” Klopp told broadcaster Sky Sports, comparing the Bosnia-Herzegovina international to the scorer of Germany’s winning goal in the 2014 World Cup final.
Farke is now as beloved in Norwich as the charismatic Klopp is at Liverpool. He shaped an unheralded squad of homegrown youngsters, free transfers and free agents, and bargain buys from the German second tier into a promotion winner.
“This feeling is amazing,” Farke said. “We have achieved something really extraordinary.”
The 42-year-old former striker and manager of regional league team Lippstadt arrived in England little-known even in his home country.
Still, there was a clear plan when Norwich hired Farke in May 2017, one year after relegation from the Premier League. His task was to manage a team pieced together on a dramatically declining budget deprived of tens of millions of pounds in broadcast rights income.
In Farke’s first year, Norwich cut its wage bill by 25% and began selling off young homegrown players which are typically over-valued by Premier League clubs. The transition season ended in an unremarkable mid-table finish.
Norwich was not predicted to get much better in Farke’s second season. His four best English attackers were sold in a 12-month period, including playmaker James Maddison to Leicester, to raise 50 million pounds ($65 million) that offset the lost TV money.
The strategy to replace them cheaply recalls the Moneyball-era Oakland Athletics. Undervalued and overlooked assets were found where few were looking, including Cuban-born winger Onel Hernandez from Eintracht Braunschweig.
The plan worked once before. In 2017, a Huddersfield team with strong German influence coached by Klopp’s close friend David Wagner returned to the top tier after a 45-year gap. Just before Huddersfield’s promotion was sealed, Norwich hired the sporting director Stuart Webber to shape its own revival.
He was trusted by club owners who are increasingly rare in the Premier League — English, lifelong fans, living locally. Majority shareholder Delia Smith, the best-known chef on British television in the 1970s and 1980s, once described herself as a “poor millionaire” and saved the club from near-bankruptcy 23 years ago.
Webber repaid her faith after a difficult first season. He then found 28-goal Finland forward Teemu Pukki on a free transfer to revive a career that stalled at Sevilla, Schalke and Celtic.
After Norwich lost three of its first five games, Pukki’s goals helped turn the tide. Norwich has lost only three more in 40 league games since August, and has now scored 91 goals at an average of more than two per game.
Norwich got a creative spark from 22-year-old Emi Buendia, who scored for Argentina at the Under-20 World Cup in 2015. Buendia was out of favor in Spain with Getafe and cost a little over 1 million pounds ($1.3 million).
Now, there is a homegrown defense instead of attack. Full-backs Maximilian Aarons and Jamal Lewis, plus central defender Ben Godfrey are all aged 21 or under, and targets of Premier League clubs.
The way Norwich rely on Aarons and Lewis to support fast attacks is similar to Liverpool, though Farke’s team is more patient than Klopp’s hard-pressing style.
Farke and Klopp missed working together at Dortmund by just a few weeks in 2015, but will soon meet in the Premier League.
Both could be rare examples of German coaches who won trophies in English soccer.