All hail our future Prime Minister, Jurgen Norbert Klopp

Matt Stead

This week, Johnny’s positive look at our managers and how they perform on telly and radio goes foreign and looks at a man who makes our lives better, one who is fast becoming a living legend. That’ll be Jurgen Klopp, then.

 

Who Are Ya?
Mr K is 51 years of age, is a rangy 6ft 3ins and a native of what we used to call West Germany, having been born in Stuttgart. His middle name is Norbert. Nobby Klopp. Sounds like some sort of intimate infection, so Jurgen it is.

Spent almost all of his playing career at Mainz 05, making over 300 appearances. He was that most exotic and now virtually extinct niche player: the striker turned defender, like a German John Charles/Dion Dublin/Paul Warhurst/Chris Sutton.

On his retirement he took over the club as manager in 2001, got them promoted to the Bundesliga, then suffered relegation. He was there for seven years before quitting after a failed promotion campaign. Moved to Borussia Dortmund with an already flourishing reputation which blossomed into legendary status when he won two consecutive titles, followed by two runners-up positions. Currently stands on the threshold of greatness at Liverpool with an amazing 82% win ratio this season and the good wishes of many neutrals who want to see one of the good guys triumph.

Style-wise he favours the tracksuit over the suit. In fact, it was almost impossible to find a photo of him wearing anything other than sports clothing. Currently sports very modern, transparent frames to his glasses which somehow just looks very German. Famously had a hair transplant performed by the same fella who did Ted Danson’s. This must illustrate a degree of emotional vulnerability and sensitivity to how he looks and hints at some of the deeper waters that flow beneath the confident exterior.

Appears to have double the normal amount of teeth, all of which are huge and whitened so brightly that they can be seen from space. If you have loads of teeth does it mean you chew your food quicker? He must be a fantastic masticator.

Is widely credited with the promulgation of Gegenpressing – though as a student of the game, I’m sure he knows that pressing the opposition high up the pitch is not a modern invention. Indeed Liverpool themselves were very good at it in the mid-80s. Ian Rush was always their first line of defence and harried and chased defenders his whole career.

The ‘heavy metal’ quote has somewhat followed him around and been overused since, but at the time it was a typically imaginative way to describe the sort of football he enjoyed. He also expressed it well here in talking about tika-taka.

“It is not my sport. I don’t like winning with 80% [possession]. Sorry that is not enough for me. Fighting football, not serenity football, that is what I like. What we call in German ‘English’ – rainy day, heavy pitch, 5-5, everybody is dirty in the face and goes home and cannot play for weeks after.”

Throughout all of this he’s always been quick with a big smile, happy to have a laugh and to interact with fans. There’s nothing phoney or fake about him. This is a genuinely good-hearted man who brings joy to the party, as here, at an Liverpool fan event in Michigan. Look at the stunned look on the lad’s face and Jurgen’s beaming grin making the perfect circle of humanity where giving happiness makes you happy too. It’s a lesson we all need to keep close to our hearts.

Unafraid to be political. Last year he said: “I’m on the left, of course (I love the “of course”). More left than middle (and I also love that qualification!). I believe in the welfare state. I’m not privately insured. I would never vote for a party because they promised to lower the top tax rate. My political understanding is this: if I am doing well, I want others to do well, too. If there’s something I will never do in my life it is vote for the right.”

Whether you share his outlook, he presents such philosophies in a down to earth way. He has spoken cogently about many societal issues, most recently talking to Dan Roan about Brexit and other matters.

Perhaps these statements give us a glimpse into why he’s such a good manager. He has an ability to distill something complex into a simple take-home truth which resonates. “History taught us that if you are alone, you are weaker than the unit.”

Yeah, now let’s put that on the side of a bus.

 

Cunning Linguist?
It’s not hard to see why he is widely regarded as a tremendous man-manager and motivator from the way he speaks. He has such passion, humour and intelligence, peppering his sentences with quick, big grins. His very expressive eyes betray the tides of his emotional responses. Indeed, more than most, he seems totally open and can’t hide his emotions, nor does he want to.

Can clearly totally lose his rag and has done so on the touchline, more than once going totally tonto. But he is also emotionally generous, quick to compliment or embrace a player. This is another reason he so captivates people. Emotional honesty is a very attractive quality in a man; it shows him as both unpretentious and vulnerable. Add in self-deprecation and an inclination not to take things too seriously and we begin to see why he is so loved and why, when we see him, we smile. What a gift that is.

A very articulate English speaker, his German accent somehow invests what he says with more gravitas when needed, his habit of shifting a verb to the end of the sentence somehow adds to the charm.

Distinctively uses the word ‘moment’ to describe the present. “We are in a good moment,” is a regular press conference refrain.

And I can’t think of another manager who would describe conceding a goal as “not too cool”. It is quite arresting to hear a football manager use “cool” the way we might do in our everyday language. It sets him apart as special and yet also as an everyman. A better version of ourselves, perhaps.

It is interesting how, even as manager of a divisive club like Liverpool, many supporters of other teams – even their rivals – find themselves unable to not love the man. Many simply wish he was their manager. That is pretty much unprecedented in modern football where tribalism has never been so entrenched and unpleasantness so easily dispensed. It is almost as though to be anti-Klopp is just wrong; a denial of all that is good.

 

Media Hit or Miss?
A rock star manager – for that’s what he is – is always going to be a big hit on TV and radio. He just lights up the screen and answers questions with intellect and charm. He is surely what everyone who works in the media wants from a manager. He is always good value, rarely ducks a question and does not speak in cliches. You always get the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that he’s interested in the interviewer and is doing his best. That is incredibly rare in any walk of life, let alone in football.

Take this interview with him after the Leicester game.

What is the first thing he does? A quick smile and a nod. Immediately he is responsive and welcoming to the interviewer. I’m sure it’s just instinctive, but even after a slightly disappointing result there isn’t a hint of defensiveness, or just trying to get through the obligatory media duties.

Now watch how many little changes of expression he makes throughout the three minutes, going from a concentrated frown, to a wry raising of an eyebrow, a watery resigned smile, back to a thoughtfully furrowed brow, onto a double raise of the eyebrows in a ‘can you believe it?’ sort of expression. He compliments an opposition player as he goes, making a mistake over the half-time score and amusing himself by doing so.

He’s not one-eyed, he just tells it as he sees it. Again, this is the sort of honesty which endears him to us all and makes him appear frankly so damn cool on TV. I can’t think of anyone else in football who is such an engaging interviewee. He is self-assured without being arrogant, charming without being greasy, self-deprecating but never falsely modest. There is an emotional liberalism to his character that makes him instantly empathetic.

I suppose the media is always looking for controversy and faux outrage, but he gives them very little in that regard considering he is so very high profile. Even when he ran on the pitch in the Merseyside derby, something that the tabloids briefly tried to drum up into A Thing, it was dissolved by the feeling that this was a man swept up in a joyful moment and to gainsay that would be too gainsay life itself.

If you’ve got a spare 15 minutes, especially if you need a bit of cheering up, watch some of his funniest bits; they’re so heartwarming.

 

Proper Football Man Rating: -10000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000%
Don’t mention the war, Jeff. I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it. OK so that’s two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering and four Colditz salads, Tommo.

Look, the boys like a laugh as much as the next bitter and vinegary ex-pro but mostly this involves putting dog muck into someone’s shoe, skitting a man with a brightly coloured tie or declaring in an overly loud voice that he himself has not lost his pace because he never had any in the first place. Ha ha ha. So Jurgen’s more charming, nuanced and clever sense of humour is somewhat lost on them, not least because Stan Boardman once told them at a stag do that Germans have no sense of humour.

They’re also suspicious of anyone who wears those transparent glasses frames because it makes him look like someone from the future in a 1960s sci-fi movie. Glasses are for weedy and nerdy boys, not for cyborgs from the 23rd century, Jeff.

But however tin-eared and misanthropic your typical Proper Football Man typically is, he knows that Klopp is very popular and Liverpool are top of the league so they’ve got to keep quiet for now. However, some are keen to tell us that having got to three finals without winning any is actually a problem and not a sign of the sort of success that the PFM has never achieved but demands of any foreigner. At times you can hear them scratching at the ‘he’s over-rated’ door, but they know they can’t walk through it just yet.

His political point of view and pro-Remain stance just makes the boys damn angry. They’re not really political beyond thinking that no amount of money is enough and any amount of tax paid is too much, so Jurgen’s socialism is an entirely foreign language to them and the man himself from an entirely different planet, possibly an entirely different species. Gets the lowest PFM rating ever recorded, so low it actually broke the machine. (Yes, there is a machine!)

 

What The People Say
I knew this would bring a lot of wonderful comments in. Interestingly, it is the happiness he delivers just by being who he is that we all rejoice in. In these dark times of cynicism, mistrust, bigotry and the loud and frequent spouting of outright f**king ignorance with the sort of self-belief that only the most stupid can muster, those of us who feel the lunatics have taken over the asylum need to remember that all hope isn’t lost. Jurgen gives us that hope and God bless him for that. Imagine how much better things would be if he was Prime Minister. I’m not the only one who loves him. Look at all this love.

‘He adds so much to the general lightness of being. I don’t know anything much about Liverpool, but his smile and the way he speaks lightens life. Perfect fit of manager, city and club.’

‘He just gets it! His enthusiasm and the way he speaks about football and life in general makes you want to play for him.’

‘He comes across as logical, humorous, nuts, passionate, angry and innately decent. An authentic human being.’

‘He just seems to really enjoy what he does and that is infectious. So many managers look like they would rather be doing anything else.’

‘What a man! Funny, charismatic, a motivator, improves players, plays to a plan, buys players to fit that plan, rarely points fingers or blames referees. Taken the team from 7th to top in three years whilst making two European finals. Not sure there’s anything to criticise.’

‘He’s adorable.’

‘He’s making it even worse to be an Evertonian right now and not just because of the success and style of play. Can’t we have a misanthropic Souness type to despise or an out of their depth Mr Roy type to giggle at back in the dugout at Anfield?’

‘As a Newcastle fan, I love the guy. He’s intelligent, takes football seriously but also has a laugh with it. Reminds me of Keegan at Newcastle, but a better version. Players clearly love working for him too. Kind of the antidote to Mourinho’s misery.’

‘Manager of my club and has us playing amazing stuff. Fondest memory is still Sarri’s recounting of Klopp beaming despite us being 1-0 down at Chelsea. “I am really just enjoying this, aren’t you?” Gives the impression he’d give it all up the second it became ‘work’.’

‘As opposed to other managers to ‘get the club’s Jürgen has got a genuine connection with the fans by just being himself the mad, considered, angry, joyous bastard. I love him.’

‘I have no affiliation with Liverpool at all, but boy would I love to work for him, just because of his sheer, unadulterated enthusiasm and joy.’

‘Soft and cuddly exterior but ice cold underneath. Ruthless when he has to be and has made a team in his image. Cracking manager and seems like an erudite and charming man.’

‘As a United fan I’m meant to dislike him, but I can’t. Not too sure about his footballing ethos but he certainly produces exciting, attacking teams. Has an extraordinary amount of teeth.’

‘He seems to have a wider hinterland than most. Maybe more impressive when actually speaking about subjects other than football.’

‘Probably the one manager who’s super crazy about football yet has the sense of perspective to understand that football is nowhere close to everything.’

‘I hate that Liverpool are going to win the league. I hate even more than I’m actually pleased for the guy who’s led them to this.’

‘It’s because, and I can’t stress the importance of this enough, he makes your team more fun to support. Great football is good, the signings are invariably good, buckets of goals, press conferences are funny and you’re just that bit happier. Which is what it’s all about isn’t it?’

‘Brings excellent perspective on football, in terms of its place in the world and in terms of refusing to get carried away because of one performance. More in touch with the public in a foreign country than many who have it in their job description. Glad he’s here.’

 

How Long Has He Got?
As long as he wants. Despite not delivering any trophies so far, it just doesn’t matter and Jurgen surely knows that too. Life at Liverpool FC is wonderful under him. Everyone is happy, he makes us all smile, his decency makes us all better. Oh, and the football is at times some of the most breathtaking we’ve seen since the last time Liverpool were great 30 years ago.

In so many ways, these things are much more important than any amount of silverware. To put joy into people’s hearts is a priceless gift that baubles can never equal. And let’s be under no illusion: that is what Jurgen does. He is the the joy bringer and the good vibes he delivers will ripple down the generations, lifting hearts and inspiring long into the future in the same way Bill Shankly’s words still do. Simply A Great Man.

John Nicholson