Jurgen Klopp arrived at Liverpool FC six years ago this week. We sat down for an exclusive chat with the boss to discuss that and his 20th season in football management.
On October 8, 2015, when Jurgen Klopp was confirmed as the 22nd person to manage Liverpool Football Club, the unveiling press conference took place inside Anfield’s then-named Centenary Stand (now the Sir Kenny Dalglish Stand).
The reason for the setting was that the Main Stand, where such press conferences would usually take place, was being redeveloped – a metaphor for what was to take place on the pitch and off the pitch in the years to follow.
Klopp is an imposing person, not just because he stands at 6ft 4, but also his stature and character when he enters a room. On that autumn day in 2015 he towered over then-managing director Ian Ayre and club chairman Thomas Werner. He was suntanned from his sabbatical – one that was cut short by the call from FSG – and behind him the cranes towered above Anfield.
The rebuild since then has been dramatic, passionate, fulfilling and rewarding – for everybody: supporters, players and the manager alike.
The 30-year title wait has ended, European Cup number six was achieved, a first-ever Club World Cup title, a new club record league points haul, and a four-year unbeaten home run was witnessed.
The words ‘Barcelona’, ‘Dortmund’ and ‘Madrid’ now immediately conjure the same emotions as the words ‘Istanbul,’ ‘St Etienne and ‘Rome’.
In all competitions, 328 games have been played, 671 goals have been scored, 197 games have been won. Klopp has a 60% win ratio – higher than any Liverpool manager since the 1890s!
It was our absolute privilege to sit down for a one-on-one chat with the boss to discuss his six years at Liverpool and what is now his 20th season in football management.
Jurgen, what’s the one piece of advice you would give to yourself 20 years ago?
Don’t worry, you will be fine! I didn’t know that, obviously, when I started as a coach. You have no idea how it will be, how long you are allowed to do it and I always knew, especially from the moment I started doing it, that’s the one thing I want to do for the rest of my working life.
So I was a little bit under pressure and when you have this kind of pressure on you, you don’t know how long you are allowed, how successful you will be.
And then you worry in moments when you don’t succeed and so my advice to my young version of myself: ‘Be cool, everything will be fine!’
One thing you would do differently?
I didn’t worry that much, it was not like that. I was too much in the job and there was never a reason from the clubs I worked for to worry about anything. Pretty quick it was clear that, surprisingly for myself, that I have a proper skill set for the job.
I was a player on a Sunday and a coach on Monday so it’s not that I thought, ‘Oh my god!’ – I didn’t plan anything like that.
I wanted to be a coach but three years later in the second team of Mainz. That was the plan, to be involved in the coaching staff then. I still had a maybe two-year contract when I became a manager.
I didn’t worry that much.
What would I have changed? One or two lineups [He laughs]. Before the game, I had a proper idea and after the game, I thought ‘No’! That could have been different!
One game you wish you could relive from 20 years of management, but be in the stands for?
Barcelona, easy. I would love to watch this game from all different angles of the stadium, to be honest.
I know we’ve played finals and won finals, that’s great. And I became champion with Dortmund and got promoted with Mainz which was absolutely insane and it would probably be my second game I would watch again; the last matchday when we got promoted with Mainz. Because of the two years before we didn’t make it for one point, one goal and stuff like this so it was tricky and that would be the other game.
But the Barcelona game is the one game. I just don’t think anybody will see that again. It was so rare, so special the situation was so crazy difficult and the boys made it happen. So that’s the game I would wish to see again.
After six years at Liverpool, is there one thing that has surprised you most about the club and the city?
The passion. I knew about it but not about the extent of it. The love for the club.
Liverpool FC is obviously a massive club, a worldwide brand and all this stuff. But inside we are really small, in a good way, so really together.
When I was at Mainz I was a player and then a coach, so it means I never had to change anything so I could wear the same clothes and nobody would ask me to behave like I’m the manager.
I was just the day before a player so why should I change? So that was pretty easy going.
Then I go to Dortmund and thought I have to change, big club and stuff like this. At the beginning I wore jeans and a shirt on the sideline just because I thought you cannot run around constantly like, I don’t know, a tramp or whatever wearing a tracksuit.
But after four or five games I thought, ‘Oh, come on.’ It’s all fine so go back to the tracksuit.
And then you come to Liverpool and you start to think again what’s now the case. But I was now already grown up, matured if you want, and didn’t have to change again.
So that’s really nice that you can be who you are, how you are or can stay who you are or how you are in such a massive club. So I was surprised about that, or maybe not surprised but really pleased.
One player from the history of football, any period prior to your management, you would like to have coached?
That’s easy. It’s Stevie.
When we played in Sydney three or four years ago and after the season we didn’t have a proper team and we invited McManaman, Agger, Jamie Carragher and Stevie.
To be honest, I knew Liverpool and I saw him playing, of course, but a little bit advanced age group wise but they were all really good.
But Stevie, what a player he still was then! I think he was already retired but maybe a youth coach here. Incredible.
Stevie and me together in the roles, he as the man on the pitch and me as a coach that would have been nice. So it’s Stevie.
Six years ago it would have been a different answer but now I’m here and I know him as a person and as a player so that’s now an easy answer.
What’s one thing you’ve learned as a manager in your 20 years that you’ve taken into the rest of your life?
Don’t take it [life] too seriously. I know it’s important to all of us but people make a massive fuss of football. So in a lot of moments where I think [scrunched face] ‘Come on, it’s still a game don’t forget that.’
I know we get pushed in situations where it’s like managers get sacked and so many things happen in the world and in football so I think very often calm down, don’t take it too seriously. It’s still a game.
I knew that from the beginning but meanwhile I live it.
One rule you would change in football?
In this moment it’s more how we use VAR. The clear and obvious error, that’s not right because what is a clear and obvious error? It’s right or wrong.
Yeah, the ref could see it maybe like this…
And it’s not about us, it’s in general. We now have a situation, there’s a foul and then the ref says play on and then you see, the whole world is clear, no, it was a foul.
The clear and obvious and the understanding I would change it immediately. The one in the office says, ‘No, it was a foul’ bam, foul and go back for the free-kick or a penalty, whatever, just for that and it would make things so much easier.
Now we have everyone thinks it was a mistake by the ref, which isn’t a problem it happens as the game is so quick, but you have another guy in the office who sees it better and now he says, ‘Nah, I don’t want to overrule him.’
Where’s the problem? It’s all about the right decision, nothing else. So to delete this little phrase, clear and obvious error.
What’s one thing you are looking forward to most after leaving management?
Seeing the world. It’s easy.
I was a young father, an average player and it means for seeing the world I had no time and no money and then I became a manager and I had immediately had absolutely no time but a little bit more money.
I could see the whole world if I wanted but still, I have no time. So that’s it.
Let me say it like this when a season ends – and I could obviously travel much more in the summer – I lie behind the finishing line still deeply breathing after a 100-metre race for the first two weeks.
It’s not that you go on holiday and now, come on I want to see the world. Go there and have a look at that cathedral or whatever, you just lie on some sunbed, anywhere in the world for the first two or three weeks.
And then you usually start already again [for pre-season.] It’s fine, it’s just to have a look at what is out there.
I’m pretty sure I am the coach who is most often asked, what are you doing after your career! What, I still have three years left at Liverpool and that’s a long, long time in football.
And I hope we are successful as possible in that time and I’m not even with one toe in the period after my career. I’m fully here, I’m full of energy and I want to go as far as possible and let’s see where we can end up.
This interview is part of This Is Anfield’s 20-year celebration. You can watch the interview in full on our YouTube – and please remember to subscribe for more!
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