Tuesday 17 September 2019

Analysis: Absence of the ‘Brain’ Buvac from Klopp’s bootroom will have long-term implications for Reds

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp overseeing a training session at Melwood earlier this season with his now former assistant Zeljko Buvac. Photo: Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp overseeing a training session at Melwood earlier this season with his now former assistant Zeljko Buvac. Photo: Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Chris Bascombe

When Philippe Coutinho left Liverpool for his big money move to Barcelona in January it was suggested that it meant the break-up of the 'fab four'.

If we take the words of Jurgen Klopp's back-room team at face value, Anfield is going through another band-split with the departure - temporary or otherwise - of coach Zeljko Buvac.

"We are like a music band, each with their own instrument," was how assistant coach Peter Krawietz, the other key member of the coaching trio, described their relationships two years ago.

"Jurgen is the band leader and others are behind him playing the bass guitar or drum. It is very collaborative how we work. We've been this way since we started together.

"Many years ago a journalist in Germany said I was 'the eye' and Zeljko was 'the brain' and people repeat it. We could only laugh at this, see it as an invention and say, 'so what is Jurgen?'.

"We are all part of the team here but it is different in Germany to England. Here, as a manager, there are so many more tasks around the club so me and Zeljko try to help as much as we can."

The idea of Buvac as the "brain" of Klopp's operation has stuck as a memorable sound bite even if it has been exaggerated for dramatic effect. The Bosnian earned his reputation as a shrewd tactician after Klopp described him as a "master of all kinds of training".

Liverpool's dynamic style has evolved through training drills overseen by Klopp and Buvac. They became friends when team-mates at Mainz in the early 1990s and made a pact that whoever became a manager first would appoint the other as their assistant.

When the time came for Klopp to take over at Mainz - implementing the style and methods of his mentor Wolfgang Frank, the former Mainz coach - he kept his promise and Buvac joined his staff.

The coaching unit followed Klopp to Dortmund and when Anfield called on the German, his first request was to hire Buvac and Krawietz.

Although in recent years it has been suggested the relationship between Klopp and Buvac was more professional than personal, and based mostly on the training ground, the presence of a figure with a forthright opinion, who was prepared to stand his ground without fear of losing his job, has been healthy, particularly in an industry where high-profile managers surround themselves with acolytes and yes men.

Evidently, the dynamic of the relationship between Klopp and Buvac has changed over the course of recent months, the Bosnian cutting a more withdrawn figure and feeling less involved in tactical briefings.

He still does not speak English, which obviously affects communication with many of the players.

Although Liverpool have ambiguously attributed Buvac's break from first-team duties to "personal reasons", there is no doubt those reasons are work-related.

Liverpool say Buvac remains a club employee. That will be the case until such time the 56-year-old decides he cannot repair his working relationship with Klopp.

That it has reached the point where Buvac will not board the flight to Rome for the second leg of tomorrow's Champions League semi-final is astonishing, given how hard Klopp and his staff have worked to bring the club to this point. The timing of this setback could not be worse.

But beyond that, on a purely human level, it is also extremely sad. As a matter of habit, possibly superstition, Klopp emerges from the tunnel before every game and offers Buvac a hug. He has generally been the first person Klopp looks to when celebrating a goal.

To say Klopp will be missing his 'brain' in the Stadio Olimpico is an overstatement. But his right-hand man will be absent and that is strange enough.

With their side carrying a 5-2 lead into the second leg against Roma, all those on the red half of Merseyside will be hoping there are no short-term consequencs, regardless of what happens down the road. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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