Monday 20 November 2017

The straight shooter who never grew up

Former Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp has been rumoured to replace Brendan Rodgers for Liverpool role
Former Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp has been rumoured to replace Brendan Rodgers for Liverpool role

Jonathan Liew

"Ever watched a porn movie?" the interviewer asked. "Yes," Jurgen Klopp replied immediately.

The name of the porn movie Klopp watched, when he was about 15 or 16, was Josefine Mutzenbacher: wie sie wirklich war (Josefine Mutzenbacher: how she really was).

The film traces the sexual awakening of a young Austrian girl in the 19th century, from an innocent child to a highclass Viennese prostitute.

"I don't remember the plot," Klopp admitted, "but it got right down to business." The interesting point to make here is not the fact that Klopp once watched a blue movie but, that when he was asked about it an interview with a Cologne radio station last year, he admitted it.

Freely. Instantly. With details. Put any other manager in that situation and the likelihood is that, within a matter of seconds, you will be pointing your microphone at an empty chair.

For Klopp, honesty is almost a condition. It is a fearless honesty, an instinctive honesty; almost, in many ways, the honesty of a child. On some profound level, Klopp is still the child-manager who never quite grew up.

There is a simple, crystalline certainty to the way he approaches football: loyal, optimistic, fiercely devout. At a time when Liverpool fans are idly wondering what sort of manager he will make if he ends up taking the job vacated by Brendan Rodgers on Sunday night, this penchant for straight-talking should be kept in mind.

On the face of things, Klopp and Liverpool are a fit so snug they might have been matched on eHarmony.

Borussia Dortmund, where Klopp won two consecutive Bundesliga titles and reached a Champions League final, is a similar sort of club to Liverpool: financially and competitively very much in the second rank of European powers, but with a big name, a gilded history and not so much a fan-base as a congregation.

Both, essentially, are optimistic, dreaming clubs. The issue will come if and when Klopp's ingenuous Swabian candour collides head-on with English football's ingrained culture of cynicism, innuendo and mirage.

Klopp's relationships last. In the last 26 years, he has had a grand total of three jobs: Mainz player, Mainz manager, Dortmund manager. In a way, his great achievement at Dortmund was in maintaining some illusion of continuity in a world where there was none. For even as Dortmund were taking European football by storm, the plates of the game were shifting beneath them.

Key players were snatched away first Nuri Sahin and Shinji Kagawa, then Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski went to Bayern Munich. Teams began to work out Dortmund's signature 'Gegenpressing' style, sitting deep and handing them the ball.

Injuries bit hard. Halfway through last season, Dortmund were bottom of the Bundesliga. They recovered, but Klopp realised that this particular arc had run its course. Time for a new challenge.

The question is whether the last couple of years have taught one of modern football's great ideologue the value of compromise. One of the first things Klopp did when he arrived at Dortmund was to jettison perhaps the club's two biggest stars, Alex Frei and Mladen Petric. Rightly, he identified that neither player was appropriate for the high-energy, high-pressing game he wanted to implement. But these are now bigger stakes, and bigger egos. What if Klopp instantly decided that, say, Christian Benteke and Danny Ings were surplus to requirements?

If Klopp had a major weakness during his last few years at Dortmund, it was an over-reliance on favoured players.

Meanwhile, players on the fringes tell a very different story. "It is as if he has something against me," midfielder Ivan Perisic complained after a spell on the bench. "Klopp has his own three or four players, with whom he shares his opinions and his thoughts."

Yet for the majority, the eloquent Klopp is an easy man to fall in love with. He effervesces with honesty, good intentions, the pure joy of football. And for a club where joy has been all too rarerecently, it seems like a good place to start. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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