The best story about Jürgen Klopp’s reputation in Germany dates back to 2008 when, as Mainz manager, he was under consideration to take over at Hamburg, subject to an intensive, secret period of scrutiny by the club, who had him observed at training, on match-day and in his life outside football.
Of the many details that were reported back to Hamburg, the fact Klopp often wore ripped jeans struck the club’s board as posing a serious question about his suitability. In the end, they gave the job to Martin Jol. For Klopp, who joined Borussia Dortmund months later, the story served as a useful reminder in driving the perception that he was a figure who belonged outside the establishment.
The owners of Liverpool, Fenway Sports Group, will have no such concerns when they move to close a deal with their new manager over the next few days. Klopp, at 48, has a pedigree as good as any manager to come into the Premier League since Louis van Gaal and he has nurtured the reputation of a maverick and an outsider at Dortmund, where he often defeated the mighty Bayern Munich.
In the past, he has publicly compared Munich to the villain in a James Bond movie, while casting Dortmund as the force for good. He also compared Bayern’s approach to China’s theft of Germany’s manufacturing industry’s best ideas. “Bayern go about football in the same way that the Chinese go about industry,” he said in 2013. “They look at what others do and then they copy it, with more resources and more money.”
Put it this way, if Jose Mourinho, for example, goes for the putative new Liverpool manager in one Friday lunchtime press conference, then he can certainly expect a robust response. Klopp has a confidence and an ego to match the biggest that currently call the Premier League home. The question is, what effect he can have on Liverpool?
He inherited a Dortmund team that finished 13th in the Bundesliga in 2008 and took them to two league titles in 2011 and 2012, as well as the cup double the second year. They reached the Champions League final in 2013 but then, after another second-place Bundesliga finish in 2014, they dropped like a stone. Bottom in February, they finished seventh last season, the same as Liverpool, albeit with a much inferior points-to-games average than the English club – 1.35 against 1.63.
Along the way, Klopp fought against a dominant club in Bayern, with the resources to sign his best players. The underdog status will be no different with Liverpool, except that instead of one club with more financial clout than Dortmund, there are four who can outgun Klopp’s new club. How he approaches that challenge will be intriguing.
Speaking to those who know Klopp well, it is his capacity to motivate players that stands out as his greatest strength. He is big on the pre-match speech, on making good players give great performances. He likes the emotion of the occasion and he uses that to his own players’ benefit. He is not against taking on journalists in press conferences.
Tactically, the best Dortmund teams were about hard-running, high-pressing and an energy that overwhelmed their opponents. Even in Klopp’s last season, when it was falling apart in the Bundesliga, they still succeeded in giving Arsenal a comprehensive Champions League chasing in September. He is a manager with one key philosophy and while Dortmund’s style was so formidable for so long, it was also perceived as a weakness.
While there was not one key reason why Dortmund fell apart last season, the problems associated with maintaining that style of football was cited. Another was that the players had simply heard Klopp’s speeches too many times. His power to inspire them had waned and, without that, there was not much left.
His Bosnian assistant, Zeljko Buvac, a team-mate from his playing days at Mainz, is a certainty to follow Klopp to Anfield. He regards Buvac as his “brains” and the co-architect of Dortmund’s style of play. That said, Klopp was regarded as the best pundit on German television when it came to tactical analysis during his stint for broadcaster ZDF during the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany. He was only manager of Mainz then, yet his ability to explain strategy simply made him a first choice above more famous names.
Dortmund’s player recruitment was a collegiate effort, led by the technical director Michael Zorc, regarded as one of the best in the business. Once players were acquired, it was Klopp’s confidence that helped develop some of them into the stars they became. He encouraged the potential of Lukasz Piszczek at full-back, when he had previously been a mediocre striker for most of his time at Hertha Berlin. He also took a chance on Robert Lewandowski.
Since his departure from Dortmund, the new manager, Thomas Tuchel, has tried to introduce more than one way of playing as an alternative to the high-octane style that Klopp preached. That style was cited in some quarters as unsustainable, with a tendency for them to tire late on in games, as they did in losing the 2013 Champions League final. Their start to the current season has been remarkable, unbeaten until they ran into Bayern Munich this weekend and lost 5-1.
Either way, Liverpool are not recruiting a manager who has a track record of making quiet progress. Klopp is an impact coach, a man with a big personality who will seek to establish himself quickly in the minds of his players and in those of the English football public. At least, that is what he did at Dortmund – and the effect, culminating in one three-year period between 2010 and 2013, was impressive.
His mentor was the late Wolfgang Frank, a former player and manager of relative obscurity who was Klopp’s manager at Mainz in the 1990s. Frank was known for his original, unconventional approach, which made an impression on the young Klopp. At a club that has spent more than 25 years trying to return to the top of English football, there is a platform to do things differently.
Liverpool cannot afford to be unreceptive to new ideas as they try to break the top four. Klopp proved himself the master of that innovation at Dortmund and the question he will have to ask himself at Liverpool is whether that will work once more or if a new approach is required to solve a very old problem.
Chelsea’s statement of intent couldn’t be clearer, Jose
“He has the squad with which to do it.” Just nine words, but a sting in the tail to the statement of support that Chelsea offered Jose Mourinho. Roman Abramovich has given his manager the public support he asked for, but made it clear he has the resources at his disposal to, as the statement puts it, “turn this season around”. These statements are not issued lightly and their composition is very carefully considered. Mourinho knows what is required of him and the next club statement reflecting on his performance – if there is another – is not so likely to be good news.Reuse content