Jurgen Klopp wowed Liverpool on day one – after snubbing Manchester United’s ‘Disneyland’ offer, the German immersed himself in Anfield’s folklore on a journey to the biggest prize of all
- Jurgen Klopp gave Liverpool their first league title in 30 years this week
- Klopp gave serious thought to replacing David Moyes at Manchester United
- His style of play was honed in Dortmund and has reached a pinnacle at Liverpool
- Liverpool’s progress under Klopp has been both linear and transformative
After sealing the deal to become Liverpool manager at a meeting in New York in October 2015, Jurgen Klopp sent Mike Gordon, the president of the club’s owners Fenway Sports Group, a text. It ended with the word ‘Wow’.
Now, four-and-a-half years on, Liverpool’s supporters can fully appreciate the excitement.
A relationship between Liverpool and their German coach that first began with a failed approach back in 2012 reached its latest and most significant staging post this week when Klopp gave the club their first English title for 30 years.
Liverpool fans can now finally appreciate the excitement of hiring Jurgen Klopp in 2015
The German this week dedicated Liverpool’s first title in 30 years to the club’s supporters
Few who have met Klopp during a coaching career that began at unfashionable Mainz in Germany’s Bundesliga 2 in 2001 will be surprised at what he has done.
Back then his team was said to have the ‘mentality of murderers’ on the field. It sounds familiar.
More tellingly, nobody at Anfield is surprised at what he has done for them either. At that first face- to-face meeting with Liverpool executives at the offices of the law firm Shearman and Sterling on Lexington Avenue, it didn’t take long for Klopp to seal the kind of career move he had been preparing for.
‘That first impression really was something,’ former Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre told Sportsmail this week. ‘Within 20 minutes you just knew this guy would be brilliant.’
And delivering the title to Anfield represents the most significant staging post at Liverpool
Former Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre was left impressed by Klopp’s interview at the club
It had been a different Liverpool who had first courted Klopp five years previously. In 2012, after Kenny Dalglish had led the club to a disappointing eighth place finish, Klopp was alerted to their interest.
On his way to winning a league and cup double with Borussia Dortmund and lacking confidence in what he believed to be his sub-standard English, he said no without hesitation.
That could have been as far as the relationship ever got. Brendan Rodgers was given the Liverpool job and almost won the Premier League two years later.
Klopp, meanwhile, gave serious thought to replacing David Moyes at Manchester United at around about the same time.
Klopp was first alerted to Liverpool’s interest in 2012 after Kenny Dalglish’s men came eighth
The tale of Klopp’s meeting with United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward must get harder for the club’s followers to hear the deeper they continue to retreat in to their great rivals’ shadow.
During a conversation between the two men after Woodward flew to Germany, he is said to have described United as ‘an adult version of Disneyland’. The idea was to present Old Trafford as a place where Klopp could make his grandest dreams come true, but something about the sales pitch didn’t convince the German. Still, he almost took the job and met twice for a heart to heart with Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke before deciding to stay.
‘We were close, or so we thought,’ said a United source. ‘We had won the title a year earlier and thought we had everything to offer him.
‘He was the kind of exciting, charismatic coach we needed. I remember thinking shortly after: ‘He hasn’t come to us but he will definitely come to the Premier League’.’
Klopp also gave serious thought to replacing David Moyes at Manchester United
In Germany, it is said Klopp was also fancied by Manchester City.
That seems unlikely given their long-game was always to recruit Pep Guardiola and has never been corroborated in this country.
At Anfield, meanwhile, Rodgers’ creditable rebuilding project after the dark days of Dalglish and, before that, Roy Hodgson was beginning to crumble at the start of the 2015 season.
But FSG kept Klopp at the forefront of their minds and eventually pressed the button again
FSG had kept Klopp at the forefront of their minds and this time, with the 48-year-old out of work after leaving Dortmund that summer, they decided to press the button once more.
Klopp, still concerned about his English, had been practising.
Intrigued enough by English football to have once read Nick Hornby’s seminal 1992 book ‘Fever Pitch’, he was ready. After his agent ignored a few phone calls from people purporting to represent Liverpool, he eventually received direct contact from Ayre. He picked up the phone.
Klopp can talk almost as well as he can coach and he saved one of this best lines for the moments after Wednesday’s victory over Crystal Palace. ‘We were leading 4-0 and still chasing the ball like it was the only one left on the planet,’ he said. For Klopp’s teams it has always been this way. A style of play developed and honed at Mainz and Dortmund has reached a pinnacle of effectiveness in the Premier League.
Former Dortmund centre-half Neven Subotic told German journalist Raphael Honigstein for his brilliant biography of Klopp ‘Bring the Noise’: ‘In the first year it was normal football with a pinch of Klopp. The second year it got spicier. In the third year: ‘Boom!’. We reached a whole new level. Training felt like war.’
At Liverpool, the rate of progress was similar. Klopp always says it takes at least three years and looking back through his pre-Anfield period, it is not hard to spot familiar tricks and psychological traits.
Neven Subotic revealed that Borussia Dortmund’s training sessions under Klopp were like war
When Mainz failed at the death to win promotion in 2002, Klopp cried in the dressing room and then insisted his players drank through the night with him at the team hotel.
Fast forward to Basel and Liverpool’s defeat in the 2016 Europa League final and those who attended the post-match party were left wondering just how raucous it would have been had Klopp’s team actually lifted the trophy. It was another dawn finish.
Klopp’s style of football — the so-called Gegenpress — has been his calling card for so long it is now possible to use it on the FIFA 20 video game. In real life, you need the capacity to run harder than you ever dreamed of.
Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana told Honigstein of the pleasure of the pain, his sentiments echoed by Dortmund’s Sven Bender in the same book. ‘When things go like clockwork you are happy to run,’ explained the German. ‘You don’t even feel it any more. We were so eager to help each other. We were blood brothers.’
Many wondered how raucous it would have been had Liverpool won the 2016 Europa League
Certainly Klopp’s style of football doesn’t work unless it is underpinned by a common thought and bond. When you press that intensely, the plan falls apart if somebody forgets — or can’t be bothered — to do it. So a coach needs everybody on board.
Common purpose and unity is everything and with that in mind, Klopp used to take his Mainz and Dortmund players to pre-season survival camps. Last year on a Liverpool pre-season visit to Evian he recruited a world champion surfer to show his players how to stay relaxed, calm and — crucially — alive while submerged for minutes at a time in water.
Cod psychology or cute man management? It depends on whether it works or not and for Klopp it tends to.
Rarely have there ever been half measures. Klopp has immersed himself in Liverpool life the same way he did at his two German clubs. At the club’s Melwood training base, he quickly learned the names of all 80 staff.
Klopp hired a surfer to show his players how to stay relaxed in last year’s Evian pre-season visit
In Dortmund, he went to meet the club’s disgruntled Ultras in his early days. And took his wife Ulla with him. He called corporate ticket holders to ask why they were not renewing and visited a staff member’s mother for coffee and cake on her 90th birthday.
On the field, he won over the club’s sceptical older players. At Liverpool he did likewise with someone like James Milner. Asked to learn a new position — left-back — in the 2016-17 season, Milner baulked. He even considered leaving the club but he didn’t.
Three seasons on and the 34-year-old has a Champions League medal and another Premier League title to go with the two he won at City. And he occasionally still plays at left back.
Klopp won over the club’s sceptical older players and asked James Milner to play left-back
Klopp has immersed himself in Liverpool life the same way he did at Mainz and Dortmund
The first night of Klopp’s time in Liverpool was spent at the perfectly named Hope Street Hotel. The team use it to this day.
Before long he moved in to the house in Formby previously occupied by his predecessor Rodgers.
‘I showed him round and we talked about football,’ revealed Rodgers recently. The Irishman — now doing a fine job at Leicester — bequeathed Klopp a better side than many choose to remember.
Rodgers is a front-foot coach too and those who suggest it was Luis Suarez alone who took Liverpool to within a Steven Gerrard calamity of the 2014 league title are not correct.
Klopp has transformed a side that came close to winning the league under Brendan Rodgers
Nevertheless, progress under Klopp has been linear and transformative. At his early training sessions, players were so eager to show they could play to their new manager’s thunderous beat they only managed to foul each other. There has been some refinement since then.
So almost perfect has Liverpool’s football been at times that Klopp’s players have occasionally reached that exalted state where, on their day, nobody can stay with them.
Not City — driven to submission several times. Not Barcelona — filleted 4-0 in the Champions League last four last season; and certainly not Dortmund — beaten at the death in a startling Europa League quarter-final in 2016.
Klopp’s players have occasionally reached that exalted state where nobody can stay with them
Klopp temporarily fell out with old friends over that one, but it wasn’t to last and that feels right for a man who generally walks through people’s lives making them feel better.
In an interview with a German weekly magazine in 2008 he said that ‘life is about leaving a better place behind’. He is three for three with that one now. At Mainz, at Dortmund and, whatever happens next, at Liverpool.
As he likes to say himself: ‘Wow’.
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