Jurgen Klopp has given a substantial interview to the Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3771348/Jurgen-Klopp-m-not-saying-world-s-best-m-quite-good.html) in which he talks about subjects as wide ranging as transfers to Brexit. Worth reading if only to get an insight into the way he thinks:
Jurgen Klopp is giving a quick tour of the bookshelf in his office. He pulls out one title. Denken Hilft Zwar, Nutzt Aber Nichts.
‘Thinking is good, but doesn’t help,’ he translates. Next to it, in similar vein, Schnelles Denken, Langsames Denken. Quick thinking, slow thinking.
Liverpool’s manager is obviously a student of motivational psychology. He pulls a face. ‘I like to read, but not this,’ he says. ‘That’s why they’re here, not at home with me.’
The shelf, it transpires is the repository for people’s misconceptions about him. There is a Metallica CD, too, Master Of Puppets, sent by a fan who took his heavy metal analogy from a while ago seriously. It remains in its cellophane wrapper, unheard.
Klopp had compared Arsene Wenger’s style of play to the symphony, his own to hard rock.
‘It was a joke,’ he said. ‘I’m not into heavy metal. I mean, I used to like Kiss when I was young, but…’
And the psychology? ‘In Germany, they all thought I was a bit mental, very emotional,’ he says. ‘So they were convinced this is what I am interested in. In Germany, each psychologist will send me a letter, those who coach the mentality of sport, all that stuff.’ He grimaces again. ‘And it’s not for me.’ Klopp seems far happier with a gift on the wall of his PA’s office. Jurgen’s Map of Britain. It shows every team in the English league, with colours, and where they play.
Klopp says he thought Bournemouth was a very nice part of the world. And he is genuinely astonished, still, at how many clubs there are in London.
‘In England you have stadiums in the middle of the city,’ he says, slightly awed. ‘In London, you’ll be walking around and — “Oh, there’s the ground”. Every area of the city has a Premier League club. They all survive, they all exist with enough money and that’s good.
‘We don’t have that in Germany. If we had a stadium in the city, the people would be telling you, ‘‘Hey, it’s Monday night — turn the sound down’’. Here it’s tradition.
‘But then you have not so much room. We fit the pitch here — the dressing rooms, ‘‘Where can we put them?’’ So you go to the smallest room in the whole stadium to change your clothes. Everybody is used to it. But when you come from outside, you think, “That is the dressing room for all of us?”
‘It’s kind of nice, but you cannot imagine it before you arrive. Crystal Palace is the smallest dressing room. There is even a pillar in the middle so if you stand at one point you cannot see your players.’
He mimes peering round a column. In that moment, he has a big grin; like Bernie Winters emerging from behind the theatre curtain. Eeee.
It is all in the face, of course, with Klopp. That face and its repertoire of incredible expressions. YouTube has reels devoted to them. The Liverpool Echo ran a photo montage of 26.
The most memorable, the one that probably attracted the attention of all those psychologists, has him gritting and baring his teeth at the same time with a wild look in his eyes; a manic snarl of rage, encouragement or simple abandon that he says is entirely involuntary.
‘That is my face for sport,’ he explains, resigned. ‘When I was a kid, when I played tennis, that’s how I was. I don’t like it, but I have to accept it. I cannot change my face in this situation. People want me to change it. They tell me, “Jurgen, you have to, it’s not good”.
‘I try with everything I have, but it doesn’t work. I’m that kind of person, I think. I sleep like that.
‘If I see a little baby I make the same face. “Oh come here, how cute you are”.’
He smiles in a way that is, frankly, terrifying. ‘It’s not nice, I know.
‘It looks emotional, but it looks aggressive too. One moment, “Oh he’s so emotional” — the next, “Woah, he looks like a killer”.’ It was the face he was pulling the night he was sent off during Borussia Dortmund’s match with Napoli. September 18, 2013.
‘How many mistakes are you allowed?’ Klopp asked the fourth official. ‘Because if it’s 15, you’ve got one left.’
He recalls: ‘By the time I said it, I had already turned round and was on the way to the stand. They had no sense of humour, they were not on my side.’
Yet while Klopp’s manic touchline persona engages with the passion of English football, his real worth, he believes, is detachment. The ability to stand back from the hype and hoopla and solve the problems of a football club.
And Liverpool have those. They have not won the title in the modern Premier League era. They are in a transfer arms race with Manchester and, to a lesser extent, London, going against rockets with muskets. Liverpool spent less than any other elite club this summer, including Leicester. Their outlay was slightly more than Watford.
In net terms, Klopp actually showed a profit. That is not the work of a man who is a mess of unpredictability and emotion. He states he is rational, studious, dull even; interested in structure and the long term. If he stays to the end of his new contract at Liverpool, he will have lasted seven years; as he did at Mainz, as he did at Dortmund.
‘This is a crazy time where football is, for some people, the most serious thing in the world, but no-one really cares about it,’ he says. ‘Look at the transfers: all everyone wants to know is what happens. They never want to know what it means behind, for this team, for that team.
‘It’s just, “Come on — give me the next big signing”. To be cool enough to stay out of this colourful world around football, that is what I do. I’m not part of that, I’m not there, I don’t enjoy it.
‘My car knows only one way — home to here, here to home. There are more exciting lives around. The day I step back, I will never miss any of the world around football. Without being the most confident person in the world, I think I am the right person for Liverpool.
‘I can’t score goals and I can’t make saves. I am not saying I am the best manager in the world, either. But I’m quite good and I am one of those managers who is really interested in structure.
‘I don’t sleep too long. Here is a moment when the club needs consistency in this chair — they need the right person and I am the right person, because most of the time I am really serious, but normal.
‘I am not saying there was no-one else around. The club would have found another manager, and I would have found another job — maybe an easier job. But I liked this club before I came here.
‘It wasn’t a big decision for me. It was the only club that could have broken up my holiday. I had enough offers, I was saying, “No, no, sorry, not now . . . ”, and then came Liverpool. And I know how this sounds, and what people will say, but I fell in love.
‘I felt responsible really quickly. It’s like if you are in my inner circle, my family, my friends. I felt Liverpool was both: family and friends.’
So what did he fall in love with?
‘We can start with the colour,’ Klopp continues, patting a vividly red sofa cushion. ‘Then the stadium, the people in this club. I am not the sort of person who comes in and says, “You — sacked”. That is not me, “Don’t like his face, don’t like his face… ”
‘I like to give first, second, even third chances. We are human beings. If I was judged on my first mistake, I wouldn’t be here.
‘So I felt faith, and that is how life should be.
‘In football everybody is under such pressure, all they try to do is keep safe. I make this decision, then this decision, and now I am safe for, what, three weeks?
‘I know about pressure but I don’t feel it. I would never make a decision for how it looks outside, to be safe. Now everyone wants an £80million signing, or just the next signing, the latest signing. But I would never buy a player for that — just to do it. We have bought enough, and if I am convinced, I am convinced. It’s for the good of the club, not for the good of me. I’m not that important.
‘There are big competitors in this league, but we can’t say, “If we had this signing we would beat them, and if not, no chance”. What is that? It is not important that one or two clubs have more than us. It is not important who the best player in the world was last year.
‘It is important who will be the best next year. As long as we can be in the race, we have a chance. I am not jealous of anybody else. I’ve never been jealous. I love this game because it is a team game. Trust, faith and togetherness.
‘If one minute you’re great and the next, “Get out”, that’s not honest. And honesty is one of the most important things in life.
‘We are not all marionettes, we cannot be thrown away each day. If you only change the people, without solving the problems, then the next person will have the same problems. Work on solutions, work on the future. That’s what we do.
‘The atmosphere around this club is how football should be. But with so much emotion there will always be impatience. You cannot be emotional and then switch and say, but now I am cool and we can wait two years. It is always — now!
‘So the Burnley game was a big hit in our face. I can’t control this expectation. People are allowed to dream. All I can say is that if you really love this club then you need to believe in our way, and that way is not always going to be easy, but I think we will do it.’
When he was five, Klopp and his father drove from their home in Stuttgart to Munich to watch the Olympic men’s 100 metres final. He can still remember everything about the day, and the race.
Valeriy Borzov, of the Soviet Union, took gold in a time of 10.14 seconds. Jobst Hirscht, a German, came sixth.
It was the beginning of a lifelong fascination for Klopp, with the Olympics, and athleticism.
In particular, he marvels at the way the best competitors can reach a physical peak whenever it is required, the way they are seemingly born ready; some footballers, too.
‘This summer was the first Olympic Games I did not see too much,’ he says. ‘The timings were just wrong for our pre-season.
‘Usually, I watch everything. The slow horse-riding, anything. I have no idea what they are doing, but I like it. I like each kind of sport, every kind of challenge, these people who train so hard for four years and then it all comes down to a matter of seconds. Everything. And it all has to go right; Usain Bolt, every time, it has to be right. That’s not just about being quick: three times in a row, 12 years, always right.
‘That’s not just talent. In my managerial career, I learned some of the best players have a physical ability you cannot train. A better base: they don’t fall. It’s not that they work 500 per cent harder. They might have a little bit of that, but it’s more complex.
‘We all saw Paul Pogba. He was here, he was there, selfie, selfie, 9,000 of them, all summer. And then he comes to Manchester United has, what, two training sessions, and plays 90 minutes against Southampton. You think, how?
‘They’re different. Diego Maradona was different. He never really trained. He would warm up with his shoes undone. I saw him playing in Stuttgart with Napoli when I was 21. Watching him warm up, I could not close my mouth. It was so low intensity. He was walking. And then he went and outplayed the whole stadium. Unbelievable.
‘Barcelona are like that. They play all over, they go to so many places they don’t know where they are.
‘We played them in London. In the tunnel, they were like, this, (he mimes yawning and stretching, looking around, “Oh, this is Wembley, nice”) and, yes, we beat them. Yet in that match they could have scored five goals.
‘But these physical advantages will only help if you are also strong in mind. I was never that special in my life, so I really respect this — but my job is to help people become successful in other ways. Because, there are other ways, but you need a special mentality to be part of a special story. That is why I am not interested in comparing my club to other clubs. We’ll compare when we play because there is always a way to win. The stronger they are, sure, the more unlikely it is, but we may be really good on that day.
‘You can beat the best players with a team of less skilled players. That is what I love about football. It is the only game where you can have 80 per cent of the play and lose against Burnley. In no other game, in basketball or whatever, could that happen. It’s impossible. I hate it when I am involved, but later I love it.
‘That is what makes football so special. Nothing is predictable. So if you are an optimistic guy, there’s always a chance.”
He’s no fool, though, Klopp. He knows the unique demands of English football make challenging the super-elite difficult. He knows rivals can cope with the fixture list by fielding two starting XIs. He knows when Christmas comes, Liverpool may be stretched again in a way others are not. He knows what he is up against.
‘Look,’ he insists, ‘I’m not a guy who comes to England and says (adopts smug voice): ‘‘In Germany we do it like this…’’
‘That’s not why I’m here. I’m here because I knew everything about Germany, so I wanted to have this different culture and I enjoy it. I’m not the President of the Winter Breakers. But it’s a classic situation, because as human beings we want everything. And England want everything. They are the mother of football, so now we have to play every day. OK, it’s like it is. But in the end you have to accept that when the summer comes, if you want to be successful, you need to maybe cut one or two games.
‘How many games did the English play before the European Championship? But still we think, ‘‘Yes, but they could have played better, they didn’t perform well, blah, blah, blah’’.
‘Now if you want it like this, that’s no problem for me — I’m here because of this. Play on December 24, play on December 26, I love my family but for me I prefer to play football. But then we play December 28 and 31, and January 2 and I am thinking: ‘‘OK, now we need three teams for this’’.
‘The fixtures are like they are. I knew that before I came here. All I did not know is how the cup games are. In Germany all you might read is: ‘‘Manchester United lost to Milton Keynes, ha ha ha’’. You don’t know there were 20 games before, 100 games to go, and they were playing their eighth team. You don’t get a line-up. It’s only, ‘‘Look at them…’’
‘And then you go to Exeter and you think, ‘‘Whoah’’. You look at the pitch and think ‘‘That is not for football today’’ but then they play real football and you have to really fight. You have professional teams in league five here.
‘The biggest difference between England and the others is that the competition is always so hard. So, yes, you can play three games if you have teams with special ability, like Manchester City or Manchester United — two teams and let them play.
‘The big difference to Spain is that Barcelona can play 50 per cent of their games with Team B; or there are games where Lionel Messi runs 4.3 kilometres but scores five goals. That’s a recovery session. England has no recovery session, in absolutely any game.
‘You can win, you can win high if you break them at a specific point, but until that point it is always hard, hard, hard. So you get three games, 26th, 28th, 31st, at the highest intensity. Not one second of recovery.’
Klopp was at home with friends when he heard about Brexit.
‘I woke up and someone said, ‘‘England is out’’ and my first thought was the football,’ he recalls. So I didn’t understand. I’m thinking: ‘‘England is out? I watched all their games. They qualified. How can they be out?’’
‘And then they said, ‘‘No, Brexit’’. And, do you know, I still couldn’t imagine. Just couldn’t imagine. Look, the EU was 100 per cent not the best thing in the world. But it was the best idea. I love the idea. I would have tried to change a lot things, but without leaving. Change it together. But stay. That’s all.
‘In this moment, it was really hard for me. We are footballers. We work with people not just from Europe but all over the world. We know the difficulties, but we know the benefits of having different cultures. It’s all good.
‘I was 16 years at Mainz, seven at Dortmund, but I am more a traveller than a person who always wants to be in the same place. I am more interested in the world and life, and wanting to see different things. So, for me, it is always a surprise to be at clubs seven years.’
We should make the most of it, then, and the most of him, too, with his baby-scaring face, and his shelves of unplayed metal CDs and his fervent belief that you don’t need Lionel Messi, the biggest bank account, or even the best team, to win a football match. And while he’s not the only one disturbed by Brexit, he shouldn’t worry. They didn’t mean you, Jurgen, honestly. You’re welcome, mate. More than welcome.