The best friend battle: When David Wagner forced Jurgen Klopp into position change

It can be easy to forget that before his decorated managerial career, Jurgen Klopp amassed 348 games as a player – during which time he had to change position because of his best friend.

Klopp has overseen more than 1,000 games as a manager, nearly three times the number of matches he laced up his boots for as a player.

His account of his playing career is self-deprecating, to say the least. “I had fourth-division feet and a first-division head,” Klopp previously assessed.

Starting out as a striker, Klopp began playing as a defender later in his career at Mainz, and Norwich manager David Wagner attributes the change in position to his arrival at the club in the early 1990s.

“I’ve known Jurgen longer than I’ve known my wife,” Wagner explained to The Guardian in 2015.

“We met up at Mainz and I took his place in the team, so he changed his role from a striker to a defender because it was much easier for him!”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 28, 2017: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp gives Huddersfield Town's manager David Wagner a kiss on the cheek before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool and Huddersfield Town at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It does somewhat contradict information that Klopp’s defensive switch came in 1995, the same year that Wagner left Mainz, but of the 83 games the pair played together from 1991 to 1994, the majority saw Klopp start in defence.

From there, their friendship blossomed. Wagner was Klopp’s best man in 2005, they worked together at Borussia Dortmund from 2011 to 2015, and now they will face off as managers once again.

The two best friends, who have known each other since 1991, will meet on opposing sides of the dugout for the fourth time as managers when Liverpool host Norwich in the FA Cup fourth round.

Wagner has been in charge of the Canaries for just over a year and his side currently sit eighth in the Championship, one division and 27 places below Klopp’s Liverpool.

“Somebody, I do not know how it happened, put us together in a room and that was the start of a lifelong friendship,” Klopp once told Sky Sports of Wagner.

“It is like family, so we understand each other as brothers and it feels like this as it is that long.”


When Klopp and Wagner first met

HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND - Tuesday, January 30, 2018: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp and Huddersfield Town's manager David Wagner before the FA Premier League match between Huddersfield Town FC and Liverpool FC at the John Smith's Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Wagner explained to the official LFC programme:

“It was back in 1991 and I’d just switched [as a player] from Eintracht Frankfurt to Mainz when I went into the dressing room for the first training session, and Jurgen was already there. He’d joined Mainz the previous year.

“We started talking and quickly became friends because he was, and still is of course, a good guy. I realised this very early on after meeting him.

“We played together at Mainz in the German second division and usually had to battle against relegation. It was often a struggle to stay in the league but more often than not we’d win the last and most important game.

“When I retired [from playing] I probably only had two, what I would call ‘real’ friendships from my 12 or 13-year playing career and Jurgen is one of those guys. One of the big reasons we got on so well was a similar sense of humour: we laugh about the same jokes.

“And of course we both think about football and our teams all of the time and want to give them everything.”


What the two talk about!

So what do the duo discuss when they find time to meet up nowadays? Wagner explains:

“You won’t be surprised to hear it’s 95 percent football, four percent family and the rest is about other stuff that goes on in the world every day. Football dominates. That’s to be expected when you know our jobs and personalities.

“Of course we might have different views about different games or players or decisions or certain situations, but in the end there isn’t just one right answer and we know that.

“Also, because we are friends I think we can tell each other the truth about something, rather than just what the other person might like to hear. It’s how we help each other and it’s always more beneficial.”

* The Official Liverpool v Norwich City matchday programme, which features an exclusive interview with Jamie Webster, is available at Anfield, club stores and online from Reach Sport shop.