Jurgen Klopp tells a story about playing a hypothetical game of tennis against a three-year-old girl. It would be no fun, he said, if he smashed the ball at her and won easily while she stood and watched. He’d rather play table-tennis against someone his own age and lose.
“At least that will be fun,” he said. “I’m not interested in who is the best but in who makes the most out of their own possibilities.
“Everyone knows the best and everyone knows who is best. But how is that interesting?”
His comments make reports coming out of Germany that Klopp has been thinking about replacing Pep Guardiola as coach of Bayern Munich at the end of the Spaniard’s contract next summer even more surprising. The idea of moving to the best-run, the richest, and the most successful team in Germany is not an obvious fit for a coach who defines himself by his “heavy-metal football”.
If Klopp wanted to take on the big boys, unite a divided community, and wake a sleeping giant, as he did in seven years with Borussia Dortmund, whom he led from 13th in the table to two league titles, and a run to the Champions League final in 2013, then Liverpool is the far more obvious match.
Just like Brendan Rodgers when he moved to Anfield in summer 2012, Klopp has a clear strategy in his mind. That’s why he dropped Dortmund heroes Alex Frei and Mladen Petric shortly after taking over in 2008. He needed players who bought into his ‘aggressive pressing’ gameplan, who defended from the front and worked to win the ball back within three seconds of losing it.
It was inspired by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, but had a twist. “Hunting football” is what SZ called it. “It can sometimes look chaotic but it is chaos of a controlled and highly creative kind,” wrote Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “The creation of goalscoring opportunities… was the logical, mathematically calculated consequence of relentless, frenetic work,” wrote Raphael Honigstein in Das Reboot, his excellent book analysing how Germany won the World Cup. Klopp himself was more succinct: “Gegenpressing is the best playmaker in the world.”
It’s easy to see why Liverpool fans already want Klopp as their coach.
He is a master of the PR game — an area in which Rodgers, too desperate for recognition, often let himself down — and admits he is too emotional. “When I arrived in Dortmund I said, ‘If 80,000 people come every other weekend to the stadium and boring football is played, one of the two parts, either the team or the fans, will have to find a new stadium,” he once told El Pais.
He talks like a fan and not like a new-age manager. There would be no, ‘Who said this, Brendan Rodgers or David Brent’ quizzes with Klopp in charge. “Many of our fans travel 500 miles to come and see us and experience something special,” he said of life in Dortmund. “You have to go full throttle. We have called it full-throttle football. We wanted to ooze vitality. We would rather hit the bar five times than not shoot on goal four times. It’s better to lose. That was the beginning.
“You have to link people to the club. The matches should have an effect that goes further than the result. The whole world knows that you won 3-1 but what they feel is the shot, the goal, the save: That’s what you have inside you all week long.”
Klopp played down suggestions that Liverpool and Chelsea would be interested in him a few years ago, self-deprecatingly referring to himself as an underdog: “Jurgen Klopp, born in the Black Forest, future coach of a big English club... That’s nice!” he told France Football. He was being disingenuous. Klopp is ready for a big club, and has the personality and aura to handle it. Big players, too, would be willing to sign for him.
One question mark remains over the recruitment strategy. At Dortmund he was fortunate to work with Michael Zorc, one of the game’s smartest sporting directors. It was Zorc, not Klopp, who signed Robert Lewandowski from Lech Poznan (€4m), Shinji Kagawa from Cerezo Osaka (€350,000), Mats Hummels from Bayern (€4m), and Ilkay Gundogan from Nuremburg (€4m); even the bigger deals, like Marco Reus for €17m from Borussia Moenchengladbach, have paid off handsomely.
Liverpool’s current squad is a mixture of transfer committee signings and Rodgers picks. If the transfer committee, or a smart appointment as sporting director, can bring Klopp the right players, then his appointment could see Liverpool challenge the top four again.
More importantly for a club like Liverpool, it will have the fans dreaming. As Klopp put it: “I don’t just want to win, I also want to feel!”
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