Saturday 25 January 2020

'Jurgen Klopp sent me a selfie to prove it was him' - Klavan thought he was victim of prank when Liverpool swooped

Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool talks with Ragnar Klavan during a training session
Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool talks with Ragnar Klavan during a training session

Chris Bascombe

Ragnar Klavan thought he was the victim of a prank. The defender was at his summer house in Estonia when the text came through asking if he fancied a move to Liverpool.

He presumed a friend was pretending to be Jurgen Klopp, engaging in a scam which included his agent informing him an ‘amazing club’ had bid for him.

Then came the conclusive evidence.

“Jurgen sent me a selfie to prove it was him,” says Klavan.

“I’d received the messages so I wrote back ‘I don’t believe you. I need proof’. He sent me the picture smiling.

“At first I couldn’t believe it. It was my dream to play in the Premier League for 22 years. Then you are told you not only have a chance to do it, but it is Liverpool. I was like ‘are you serious? This is really happening?’

Liverpool's Ragnar Klavan in action against Burnley
Liverpool's Ragnar Klavan in action against Burnley

“I never thought of the possibility. There are some players who are always asking their agent ‘is anyone interested in me? Tell me, tell me’.

“I always told my agent that if there is something real and 100 per cent sure you can tell me about it, but I don’t want to hear about maybes.

“What is interest nowadays in football? Interest could mean you are in a list of 20 players. I had no idea Klopp was looking at me.

“I didn’t need convincing. I told the manager straight away if there is a chance to come, no other club interests me.”

Once it was known Klavan was Anfield-bound, the internet search engines took a hammering. Klavan excelled against Liverpool in the Europa League last season but despite featuring twice against England in the Euro 2016 qualifiers the name is not well known, even if his pedigree abroad is established.

Klavan was a title winner in Dutch football with AZ Alkmaar and then ranked among the Bundesliga’s best defenders as he assisted Augsburg to European qualification. Despite that, a fee of £4.2 million led to the presumption the 30-year-old’s function at Anfield would be as mere back-up - instantly refuted by Klopp, who paired Klavan with Dejan Lovren on the opening day of the season.

“This is like it has been throughout my whole career. I had the same in Germany,” said Klavan.

“I was under the radar, nobody knew about me and people said I was a surprise. It was only after three of four games for Augsburg some said ‘who is this guy? Do we know anything about him?’

“I like it that way. There is no fuss around me. It’s how I am as a person. When I moved to do the Bundesliga it was never possible for me, or Augsburg, to get to such a high level without working as a team. Because of that we had success. To make 5th was an amazing achievement.

“I’m not the kind of guy to say I did this or that. I’ve never been a flashy player. I don’t seek or need the attention.

“I’ve not been back to Estonia since becoming a Liverpool player so I don’t know if the reaction will be different now. I don’t think so. The Estonian way tends to be one of calm. Our culture likes it low key. It’s not a country where everyone wants to have your picture. They will just say ‘ah, it’s Klavan. He’s done well’. They will recognise you but that’s it. It’s obviously going to get interest in the media, but has no effect on my life.”

Klavan may be underestimating Estonia’s pride in the progress in their captain.

Read more here:

He has over 100 caps for his country; he was the first Estonian to play in the Dutch league; the first to play in the Bundesliga; the first to play in the Champions League group stage; the first to play Europa League group stage; and three times the Estonian player of the year.

“Most of our players are spread around Scandinavia or Poland. We had Mart Poom who was the first in the Premier League,” says Klavan, whose father Dzintar was an international midfielder.

“When I was growing up, the winters were so bad you had to play ice hockey instead of football. There was only snow and ice. There was no money to rent an indoor hall, and some of the pitches were gravel.

“The idea of playing in England kept me going when I was a youngster. That was the dream. When my friends reached the age when they were they were partying or looking for girls, I went running. I had that desire to make it. They understood. It was the only way. I had to work hard to get to this level.

“When I was 17 I had a lot of trials in Holland, France and Spain but never England but I was not born a centre-half. I was played everywhere else.”

After four years at Dutch side Heracles Almelo, an initial loan move to AZ in 2009 proved transformative. Should Klavan enjoy a distinguished career at Liverpool, a thank you letter will be dispatched to a former Manchester United manager.

“It was Louis Van Gaal who made me into a centre-half,” says Klavan.

“Before that I’d played mainly as a left back. He changed my game.

“Van Gaal was brilliant. I learnt a lot from him. We were not a big team in the Dutch league, but there were no egos there and he took it over without pressure. I’d heard he had problems in Bayern Munich because of his big character and ego, but for us he was ideal, telling us what to do and in the end we were champions.”

Klavan also played for Everton manager Ronald Koeman, who replaced Van Gaal at AZ.

“You can see Koeman is a good manager but he was not with us long,” he said.

“It was not an easy time for him because we’d just become champions and then Van Gaal left and there were issues at the top of the club.

“It was more chaotic and more difficult.”

There is quiet confidence Klopp signed one of the bargains of the summer in Klavan. The understated nature of his transfer prompted tentative comparisons with Sami Hyypia’s arrival in 1999, the last Liverpool centre-half to be signed relatively cheap who confounded expectations by becoming the manager’s chief lieutenant rather than a deputy.

“It is too soon to be compared to a legend like Sami Hyypia,” says Klavan, shaking his head.

“But growing up he was a player who everyone in my country looked up to. A country like Estonia looked to a player from the Nordic countries. Hyypia was seen as a big player – an inspiration.

“But this is early. I’m still getting used to the Klopp style and the Premier League. I’ve only had two tests and they were two very different games. With the Burnley game it is difficult to say what happened. I’ve never played that kind of game before. In Germany you do not see this style, where the opponent lets you keep the ball. They did it good, they had their plan and they succeeded.

“Our mood was not good in the locker room afterwards.”

Klavan's hopes of facing Spurs on Saturday have been hit by a minor injury. Joel Matip started against Burton Albion in midweek is on standby but the Estonian is relishing the battles ahead.

“I don’t see it as a competition with my team mates. If I I don’t play I take it as a sign I have to do better to challenge the guy who is playing,” he says.

“I like to be part of how the team functions and works. I still have those same values about football.

“That is what makes you go further. I don’t want to come here, sit down on a comfortable chair and cruise along through the season. You have to make the best of every day and every training session. That will bring us further as players and as a team.

“Comfort can be good, but also not so good if you want to achieve. Whatever happens I am ready for it.”

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