Jurgen's revolution: how Klopp persuaded Liverpool he would be their perfect match
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool revolution began in the city that never sleeps.
New York city. Autumn. A job interview to shape Liverpool’s future.
John W. Henry, Mike Gordon, Tom Werner and Ian Ayre heard Klopp map out his vision over six hours in a Madison Avenue law firm.
He detailed the qualities of the squad he’d be taking over, expressing admiration for recruits who were being written off as emblems of a poor transfer policy. He promised he’d turn Emre Can into a central midfielder; he explained why Roberto Firmino wasn’t being used in the position that made him excel in Germany.
Alternative candidates, such as Carlo Ancelotti, made it sound like they’d get to work once they drove into Melwood. Klopp gave the impression the job had already begun, as if it was his vocation. After an hour in his company, FSG were preparing contract talks with Klopp’s agent, Marc Kosike.
It was announced a week later. A jubilant fanbase and enthusiastic media declared the prototype Liverpool manager in place, as if some footballing version of a dating agency had delivered the perfect match. FSG retained some caution despite enjoying the positivity after a difficult 18 months under Brendan Rodgers. Klopp had still needed to convince them with deeds. Even they could not have envisaged how swiftly the relationship has flourished with two major final in four months.
We can talk about press conferences coated in charisma, the occasional brilliance hinting at what is to come, and the obvious change of style from pedestrian, predictable football to the ferocious foraging that overcame Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal.
But a truer insight into how Klopp has taken a grip of Liverpool came courtesy of an interview with Adam Lallana as part of the Europa League Final build-up.
Lallana was recalling Klopp’s promise before the Capital One Cup Final that it would be ‘the first of many’ when the manager appeared from behind a glass wall at Melwood’s training ground.
Klopp was in mischievous mood, patrolling the corridor, poking his nose against the partition suspiciously peering and pondering what his midfielder was saying.
The manager moved out of sight and Lallana continued. Within a few minutes, Klopp reappeared across the other side of the room, spotted through the French doors separating the office where this interview is taking place from the veranda.
He intervened, ordering a journalist to let him in.
“Ask him if he knows when Spurs start pre-season training.”
Klopp said, roaring with laughter.
“I asked him and he knew. He said it was July 1!”
Lallana protested he didn’t realise the question – asked on the day he’d been linked with a reunion with former manager Mauricio Pochettino - was a joke.
Within five minutes, those present witnessed the quintessential Klopp - a manager with a multi-faceted relationship with his players. The boundaries of who is the leader are clear, but equally the style can be one of paternal warmth as much as cracked whip.
Klopp’s Liverpool is fixated on hedonism, making the smiling face part of the kit, creating an environment where players are reminded of the privileges their talent affords them and encouraged - compelled if necessary - to suck the marrow out of life. Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez, the club’s last great European conquerors, were brilliant football minds but you could never imagine them engaging with their players in this way in front of guests. Melwood was like a scientific laboratory under them - and by the end of their reigns more like boot camp. This is not to decry different methods, but merely to underline how utterly different Klopp is.
“There are different ways to Rome,” as Klopp puts it.
He has all the studiousness and attention to detail that typified Houllier and Benitez at their best, but it is allied to contagious charm. Anger comes when players fail to create bonhomie.
“He is animated and emotional on match days. That makes him who he is. When you come onto the training pitch he is very affectionate, and has a laugh and joke,” said Lallana.
“People speak about the hugs he seems to give everyone but sometimes that can mean a lot to a player. It can make you feel wanted and shows he appreciates the hard work you have just put into a game. He demands hard work. He demands 100%. He doesn't do passive.”
Klopp’s arrival at Anfield now seems one of football’s greatest no-brainers, but there are those who were worried Liverpool waited too long to move for him.
The hero of Liverpool’s last European trophy win, Jerzy Dudek, had consulted the Polish contingent who excelled in Klopp’s Dortmund side and was eager for his former club to get on with it.
“I knew he was right because I spoke to Lewandowski, Piszczek and Blaszczkowski and they all said his mentality with the players, transmission to the supporters and knowledge of the game is so good,” said Dudek.
“I don’t wish bad for anyone but I was scared they would miss out on Klopp. This is the right man for this club. I was scared maybe Arsenal would take him before us.
“Lewandowski said he is a guy who you never know is speaking seriously or speaking with love. Sometimes he can kill you on the pitch and then a few seconds later he is giving you a hug. Direction is important. You are scared and then he maybe says I did too much - but he stirs emotions and that is why the players are so focused. You never know when he is going to shout. He is involved in every single moment. If he sees someone is not working, he will go and he is going to kill him. If the person starts to cry he says ‘ok man, no problem. I am watching you.’ You have to work for him.
“When you see what he has done and how he is at the end of the game with the supporters you see the passion and enthusiasm. Everyone is engaged. Ten minutes before time (against Villarreal) when Dejan Lovren made a tackle, you saw what Klopp is. He didn’t see the reaction he wanted from the people and he turned around and said ‘come on, cheer him’. He wants you to fight for him.”
This is the Klopp that seduced Liverpool in New York. It is the man Liverpool hopes will deliver their ninth European trophy in Basel.