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Klopp Interview - The Athletic

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Yes, it's a long read, no, it can't be binnyed, it's a fucking interview. Take the five minutes it takes to read it & glimpse into our managers psyche FFS.

Jurgen Klopp throws open the door to his Melwood office.

“Oh, if I’d known it was you, I wouldn’t have bothered having a shower,” he jokes, his booming laugh echoing down the corridor. “How’s the new job?”

The Liverpool boss is armed with a large bowl of fruit and yoghurt from the canteen. It’s mid-morning and he’s back at his desk after a week’s break in Cape Town with his wife Ulla.

Wearing a red New Balance hoodie, black tracksuit bottoms and white trainers, he looks refreshed and ready for what lies ahead as he takes a seat on one of the three cream sofas.

Klopp radiates positivity. In the space of four years he has transformed the club from one that had lost its way into the champions of Europe and the runaway Premier League leaders. No-one has had a bigger impact on Liverpool Football Club since Bill Shankly’s appointment 60 years ago.

Shrewd recruitment and the manager’s tactical acumen have been key but what’s most striking about Klopp is his man-management. Spending time in his company provides a fascinating insight into how he’s able to drain every last drop of both talent and effort from those he works with and the close bond that is fuelling their pursuit of more silverware.

“Mentality monsters” was how he described his Liverpool team towards the back end of last season and that resilience has been crucial in maintaining momentum as they look to add domestic glory to the club’s sixth European crown.

“How important is the mental side in football? It’s all, if you like,” Klopp says.

“You can have the best technical ability but if you aren’t ready to show it then you can’t make the best of it.

“It’s no different in football than it is in normal life. The first step to achieve whatever you achieve is to think you can do it. You want to do it, you want to achieve it then you have to find a way to go there.

“It’s constantly like question and answer, question and answer. Right, not right, trial and error. That’s how we do it and in football it’s no different. If you are a naturally confident person you take challenges like this. If you are naturally an insecure person then you are pretty much constantly afraid of failing.”

Liverpool, who have suffered just one defeat in their past 51 Premier League matches, keep on finding a way to win. A cherished victory over champions Manchester City prior to the international break put them eight points clear at the summit. Only Manchester United in 1993-94 have ever had a bigger lead after 12 games of a Premier League season.

Klopp’s men have collected 10 points from losing positions already this season — more than any other team. On the last seven occasions when they have conceded the opening goal, they have won six and drawn one.

Fitness is one factor but Klopp knows it goes much deeper than that.

“Of course it’s all about that,” he says, tapping the side of his head. “But you can’t just order it and then assume the boys will deliver it. If it was that easy then you could just tell them in the moment when you are 1-0 down with 10 minutes to play, ‘you still have to believe’.

“You have to create something and what we have created all together started long ago. People now talk about it but I already feel uncomfortable talking about it because I don’t take it for granted, not for one second. It’s not that I’m thinking five minutes before we go 1-0 down ‘no problem, you can score’.

“It’s happened more often than not that we’ve come back which is good, very good, but [we are] not allowed to take it for granted. It’s just that because it’s happened so often, psychologically it’s clear. If you do something good then it’s absolutely likely that the next time you do it, it’s likely that it will work out again.

“If you fail at something then you need to convince yourself ‘I can do it’. You have to at least see the chance that it can work out. That’s what the boys have worked for over the past four years. Everything is different now.”

Klopp’s impact on Liverpool’s mindset extends way beyond the dressing room. A fanbase has been energised and fortress Anfield has been rebuilt. Liverpool are unbeaten in 46 home league games dating back to April 2017 – the second-longest run in the club’s history.

It’s a far cry from four years ago when Klopp felt “pretty alone” at the sight of fans leaving early when his side trailed 2-1 to Crystal Palace in the closing stages.

“Just after I came in we spoke about why people leave the stadium early. I never understood it in my life but I can imagine all the issues with traffic,” he says.

“I did it myself when I went to watch games as a manager. I’d leave the stadium 15 minutes from the end and run to the carpark so I could get out. But as a supporter? I didn’t understand that. We had to work a lot on that.

“It’s just to convince yourself that it’s possible. The best way to convince yourself is by doing it and seeing that it works out. But if you try it and it doesn’t work in the first moment and you give up then you have a real problem.

“Do it again, again and again. That’s what happened here. It’s all about the mental strength in moments like this. It’s all about attitude and character. None of that is just given. It’s not like when we are born we are just given this character or this character. It’s all developed through the experiences you make through life.

“We have this story here that we’ve been writing for four years. Some of the players have been here for the full four years, others for less. They all realise that we can do what we do in a specific way because we get so much power from outside — from the club, from the crowd, from the history.

“We spoke about history when I came in and that it could be a burden. Now it looks like (claps hands), it feels more like a trampoline. You can jump and jump again. That all changed. How we changed it? I have no idea. We just worked since the first day on it because it was always clear that you need to create a mood where it’s easier to perform than in the mood the club was in when I arrived.”

Klopp’s squad is littered with examples of players who had to battle in the face of adversity and overcome difficulties to reach the highest level.

“Yeah for sure that helps,” he continued. “It means you learn to fight pretty early in your life. You want something that a lot of people would say is not possible. You have to stay stubborn and say ‘no, it is possible, I want to try it, I want to do it’.

“There are some players who everyone saw at the first moment and thought ‘oh, that’s so special’. But the biggest player in the world nowadays, probably Lionel Messi, when he was a kid he was pretty little so no-one thought he could get the physicality to be ready for professional football. Obviously, he made his way.

“That’s the story — it shows to everyone that it is possible. But without luck in decisive moments, you still have no chance. The right people need to see you in the right moments, in the right games to think ‘yes, I see something in him’. We are not completely alone responsible for our careers. We always need to get picked by people.”

There’s a shelf in Klopp’s office where a copy of James Milner’s new book ‘Ask A Footballer’ sits alongside pots of chewing gum and a couple of Liverpool FC branded caps. There’s also a DVD of BBC drama ‘Care’ written by Liverpool-born Jimmy McGovern.

On the opposite wall there’s a nod to past glories with a collection of black and white framed photos of Anfield icons Shankly and Bob Paisley. His desk which looks out over Melwood’s training pitches is at the far end.

With so much focus on the emotion and passion that Klopp brings to the job, the attention to detail of the man crowned FIFA Coach of the Year for 2019 is often overlooked. He prides himself on the marginal gains that have been made through the appointment of personnel like head of nutrition Mona Nemmer and throw-in coach Thomas Gronnemark.

Klopp surrounds himself with specialists in their particular fields and The Athletic can exclusively reveal that Liverpool brought on board another one last summer.

Sports psychologist Lee Richardson has been working with the club’s players since July and has his own office at Melwood where he’s based for three days each week.

The former Watford, Blackburn Rovers and Aberdeen midfielder was recruited from Hull City by Liverpool’s medical rehabilitation and performance manager Phil Jacobsen.

Richardson had a brief stint in management with Chesterfield a decade ago before changing careers. He has previously been part of Sam Allardyce’s staff as psychologist for West Ham and then Crystal Palace.

During Brendan Rodgers’ reign, Liverpool secured the services of sports psychiatrist Steve Peters, who was credited with helping cyclists Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton achieve Olympic success.

However, that partnership ended shortly after Klopp’s arrival in 2015. In recent years Liverpool utilised the services of performance psychologist Yvie Ryan. A popular and respected figure around the club, she now works on a part-time basis with the academy teams in Kirkby.

“Now we have Rico,” Klopp confirmed. “He was a player, then a manager and then he studied sports psychology. He’s working for us which is great.

“He works very specifically with the boys and I have no idea what they are talking about. I am not interested. It’s just a nice add on.

“It’s just for us the next step. It’s difficult to find the right people with how I see it in that part of the business. Now we feel pretty good with him on board and that’s cool.”

Whereas Peters needed to feel that he was central to everything at Liverpool, Richardson is content with a more ad hoc role. Going to see him is purely optional for the players and he isn’t involved on match days.

It’s a better fit for Klopp’s style of management. In reality, when it comes to personnel delivering on the field, Klopp himself is Liverpool’s psychologist.

“I don’t know what the boys think but yes, I’m responsible for that,” he says.

“When it comes to performing, physical investment, stuff like this, how much they want to do instead of how much they have to do — that’s my job, that’s how I understand it.

“If that’s psychology, I have no idea, I’ve never thought about it like that. Of course, I must be influential in their thinking process.

“It takes time to create an atmosphere where players listen to you like that or where players tell you about some issues. My job is to watch them constantly and to find out what they do and why they do it. If I can understand why they do it then I can be influential. If I don’t know why they do things then I have no clue.

“That’s why I say when we win the players are responsible, when we lose I am responsible. That’s how I see it. If we lose then it means my message didn’t come across. It’s my job to make sure they understand it. For me to ensure they understand it, I need to know as much as I can about them.

“I already have the issue with my language. If I have another issue with understanding the boys then we have got a problem. Knowing more about the players is the biggest help I can get.”

For someone who isn’t a native speaker, Klopp has a remarkable knack of finding the right words at the right times.

After Liverpool overhauled a 3-0 first-leg deficit in stunning fashion to beat Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League back in May, a number of his players referenced the inspirational speech he had delivered in the team meeting at the city’s Hope Street Hotel before the coach left for Anfield.

“The world outside is saying it is not possible,” he told them. “And let’s be honest, it’s probably impossible. But because it’s you? Because it’s you, we have a chance.”

Captain Jordan Henderson recalled: “The players could see that the manager believed which helped us believe in what he said. The manager has ingrained that belief into us: no matter what happens you keep fighting right to the end.”

Asked about working with Klopp, striker Roberto Firmino said: “Jurgen motivates us in a different way every day.”

Where does it come from? A smile creeps across Klopp’s face.

“Sorry, I would write a book about the things I do if I knew why I did them,” he says.

“But I could never write a book because I have no clue about how these things work. I just react in situations. My job, my life is 24/7 thinking about what happens here.

“The training sessions are one-and-a-half hours or two hours a day. There are still 22 hours left! There are so many things that influence the boys.

“The meetings are based on our past if you want — what happened after the last game, what happened yesterday, things like this. What can we use? I always react.

“I don’t usually remember what I say. If the boys didn’t say things in the press afterwards then I wouldn’t even know I’d said it. I remember Divock Origi after the Dortmund game (in the quarter-final of the Europa League in 2016 when Liverpool fought back from 3-1 down to win 4-3). He said: ‘The boss told us at half-time that if we turned the game around it would be a story we’d all be able to tell our grandchildren about so it would be really worth giving it a try.’

“But if it was that easy I’d tell them things like that constantly! We always want stories to tell the grandkids! When we start a team meeting the only thing I really know what I am going to say is the first sentence.”

Really? So the rest is just off the cuff?

“All that happens through the week, it stays in my mind, I don’t write anything down,” he explains. “I just think about what’s worth telling the boys. Shit session, very good session, whatever, little things. I know how it sounds and it should not sound like this — like I know always to say the right words. But I do trust myself 100 per cent to find the right words.

“I only know the first sentence. I am not nervous because I don’t know yet the second sentence. I always realise after a meeting that I sweat here [he points to his brow]. That’s when I feel the intensity of the meeting. I don’t realise that it’s intense until the drops come down my face and I think ‘it’s not that warm’. I am obviously pretty much ‘in it’.

“If the meeting before a game was the only moment when we speak about football then it would take two-and-a-half hours. But it’s only 10 to 15 minutes max. Most of the things are already said.

“It’s about repeating the things we’ve said during the week. Then I think it always makes sense to give the boys a little hint about why it’s so worth it, why it’s so valuable to do it more intense than others.

“We all have to come in a mood where we can reach the highest. You cannot get up in the morning at 8am having got pissed the night before and try to climb the Rocky Mountains or Mount Everest. It’s just not possible. We have to come in a mood where we say ‘now this step, now that step’. That’s what we try to create constantly.”

Klopp, The Athletic, and one massive bowl of fruit and yoghurt…
Sports psychology formed part of the diploma in sports science that Klopp completed at Goethe University Frankfurt during his playing career with Mainz in the mid-1990s.

It was a topic that legendary German manager Wolfgang Frank was passionate about. Frank, who had two spells as Mainz boss, was a huge influence on Klopp’s move into coaching but he didn’t always follow his orders.

“Yeah, Wolfgang was constantly reading books,” Klopp says. “He actually told us players that we had to spend at least 10 per cent of our wages on books about psychology. I never bought one!

“To be honest, we had players that even if the books they bought had been the other way around, they wouldn’t have known any different. They didn’t even understand the titles! They just got them because the boss told us to do it.

“I only read what I needed to read to prepare for my final diploma exam. I remember going to see the professor in sports psychology. I opened the door and he said from his desk ‘if you want to talk about motivation get out of my office!’

“Everyone wanted to make the exam about motivation. I had ‘mo…’ on my lips actually but I said: ‘oh no, I actually want to talk about something else…’ I didn’t read many books about psychology to be honest. If there were more books about common sense then I would probably read them.

“If you ask me ‘do you have a strength?’ I’d say it’s not my right foot, not my left foot, I’m not really smart but common sense? Yes. I can really judge things in the right way — as long as I’m not emotionally involved like during a game.

“Before and after a game, I’m completely in the middle. If you tell me about a problem, I’ll be able to tell you if it’s really serious or not and how you can deal with it. That’s one of my strengths. It was always like this. That’s my thing — common sense more than psychology. Make the big things big and leave the small things small.”

Win or lose, Klopp says little to his players in the dressing room immediately after games. He prefers to wait until the dust has settled. The real debriefs take place at Melwood the following morning.

“There’s no need straight after,” he explains. “We have two, maybe three minutes max.

“What I say straight after a game is very spontaneous and brief — very good or very bad is easy. Mediocre isn’t too interesting so we can talk about that the next day.

“Straight after a game you are emotionally involved but it’s also that you are too busy. Players are off doing media or drugs tests. When you want to say the right things, you should think about it and I have no time to think about it at that time.

“I don’t need to read newspapers to know if we were good or bad. I know that before I read anything. I tell them that the only opinion that really counts is my opinion. The day after is when I tell the boys how it was and why it was.”

It’s a measure of what Klopp has created that he rarely has to contend with any dissenting voices. Even those on the fringes with limited game-time feel like they are part of something special at Liverpool.

A desire to protect and enhance that unity and spirit is one of the reasons why the 52-year-old prefers to operate with a relatively small senior squad.

“There’s a lot of responsibility on the boys themselves. A person who doesn’t want to feel needed, I cannot help,” Klopp says.

“If you play in the first XI and it’s ‘yeah!’ or if you don’t play and it’s ‘oh, you can all fuck off’ then you cannot exist in this kind of environment, it’s not possible.

“Yes, I get that it feels different if you haven’t played but you must always be ready for the moment when you come on and stuff like this.

“How do I keep them motivated? I treat them all the same, 100 per cent. You score four goals or no goals, for me you are the same person. When we talk about football it’s easier for me to speak with the guy who scored four goals, but on a personal level they’re all the same for me.

“I like them all a lot — that’s why they are all here. It’s not that anyone has forced me to get around with these guys. They are all wonderful, different but wonderful. I like being around them. Hopefully, they know that and they feel that.

“They know that if you are at a club like Liverpool you want to play all the games until you are injured. Then that doesn’t work! We have to make sure we go through the season with as few injuries as possible.

“First and foremost, we have to win football games. At a club like Liverpool, you are expected to win pretty much every three days. For that we need more than 11 players so that makes it easier keeping 17 or 18 players happy with appearances. If we had 22 or 23 then it gets more complicated.”

Over the course of this interview, there are knocks on the door from head physio Lee Nobes and head of fitness and conditioning Andreas Kornmayer. You can guarantee that they wanted to discuss the various states of fitness that the club’s international contingent have returned to Melwood in.

This is Klopp’s life. He’s always dealing with problems and challenges. His door is always open for staff and players alike. Does he ever find it draining?

“No, this for me is absolutely energy-giving, not energy-taking, 100 per cent,” he says.

“Life is all about these things. I like being alone. I have no problem with being alone sometimes but actually I love having people around, speaking to them, listening to them. I enjoy much more because I really think that listening to people is the best teacher in life in general.

“The best thing is to listen to smart people. Not all people are smart but it’s still interesting. I really constantly try to understand the people I have to deal with.

“It’s not at all draining. It’s actually pretty much the best part of my job to be around these guys and to have the opportunity to help them and get the best out of them.

“That’s the plan of a career — to make the best career you can make. Only some of us will know that it was the best career we could get. All the others will be a little bit in doubt in terms of ‘if only I’d done more here or there’. Coming close to your personal perfect career — that’s my target for the boys.”

Can Klopp ever truly switch off?

“I would say yes, Ulla would probably say no,” he laughs.

“But I’m much better. On holiday in the summer, if it’s say four weeks, then I’d say the first week is difficult and the last week is difficult. But in between, yes I can completely switch off.”

But what about being able to savour a victory? It was telling that when Klopp faced the media straight after Liverpool’s win over title rivals Manchester City he was bemoaning the lack of preparation time he would have for this weekend’s trip to Crystal Palace. Even after such a statement triumph, he was immediately looking to the next hurdle that needed to be cleared rather than living in the moment.

“Yes because I hate the internationals! From a personal point of view, I just hate it,” he says.

“Sadio Mane played in Swaziland (for Senegal). You know nothing about games like this. He went off straight after half-time and you are thinking ‘oh’. These are the situations that kill me, to be honest.

“It’s just not knowing about what is exactly happening, trying to find out what we can do, what we have to do. As soon as Sadio got a phone we could get in contact but he’s the player, he’s not the guy who organises everything else around it. Dealing with things like this is not cool.

“That’s why the last game before an international break is always difficult for me. The final whistle goes and then I’m thinking ‘now they leave’. That’s the biggest problem in my working life.

“You know the best game of the season so far for me to enjoy? It was Arsenal in the Carabao Cup (when a youthful Liverpool line up fought back from 4-2 down to win 5-4 on penalties after a thrilling 5-5 draw).

“When we were 3-1 down I was thinking ‘come on, don’t give them a knock, don’t lose 4-1 or 5-1 as that wouldn’t be nice’. Then we started scoring again. That was my game to enjoy. I don’t have that a lot.

“The boys made it a special night and I loved it. The atmosphere was brilliant and buzzing. We’ve had a lot of good moments at Anfield.”

Liverpool will need plenty more good moments if they are going to end the club’s painful 30-year wait for English football’s top-flight crown.

Winning the title isn’t so much a target as an obsession on Merseyside. Supporters crave it so much that the emotion can become overwhelming. Last season Liverpool agonisingly missed out to City by a solitary point — a club record 97-point haul was in vain — before rallying to lift the European Cup in Madrid.

This time around Klopp’s men find themselves in a position of strength domestically and the manager knows that holding their nerve will go a long way to deciding the outcome.

“The difference is not too big to last season,” he insists.

“I know people will get nervous. Everybody thinks we need to win all the games otherwise they will catch us. But in those moments when people imagine that, they think the other teams won’t drop any more points themselves.

“Last season City didn’t lose any games anymore when we were both fighting for the title. But that doesn’t mean it will be like this again. Last season was very helpful for the future of all of us. We were completely concentrated on a specific game. We knew we had to win it.

“The Champions League final, going there with my personal history in finals, not too cool, and the history of the team with losing the final the year before, not too cool. But if you use history in the right way then it can always help.

“We’re all human beings and it’s natural to have doubts. I was actually afraid of the three or four hours alone in the hotel room before the final because I’d have no interaction with anyone. Usually, I’d just sit there on the chair or on the bed and prepare.

“But on the day of the final I went in my room and I slept for two hours. I surprised myself. I woke up and I was still in a good mood. I have no clue why that happened. It’s not that I forced myself to be in a good mood. I was just really looking forward to the game.

“It comes down to the faith and the trust I have in these boys. Not that we will make it because you can’t guarantee that but that we will make the best out of it. I was really positive before the game. It was so nice.”

His players repaid that faith in abundance on the biggest of stages and they have continued in similar fashion since. With the Super Cup already added to the Champions League and next month’s Club World Cup on the horizon, the stage is set for a golden era. This is Liverpool’s time.

“The experiences we’ve had certainly help,” Klopp adds.

“Last season showed us again that we have to keep going until the last matchday. If you look throughout my career, you will see that I’ve pretty much always gone until the last matchday. It’s unbelievable.

“When we became German champions with Dortmund it was the third to last match day but there was a cup final still to come at the end of the season.

“It’s always until the bitter end. Ulla doesn’t like that too much but that’s part of my career. I should get used to it. We always try to squeeze out everything that we possibly can.”

Time is up. Klopp has staff to liaise with and an afternoon training session to oversee. The relentless pursuit of perfection goes on.

(Photo: Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Not that he'd ever do it, but he'd make an absolute killing on the management consulting circuit.

I'm not sure he'd even want to do much public speaking after he's done with football.
It's always interesting to read this sort of thing.

But I sometimes wish Jurgen was a little less forthcoming. The bad guys (i.e. other teams) will study this stuff and try to game it.
It's always interesting to read this sort of thing.

But I sometimes wish Jurgen was a little less forthcoming. The bad guys (i.e. other teams) will study this stuff and try to game it.

Maybe, but to be honest when others try to copy or imitate him - it's not really genuine. I mean the guy is married to someone who as I recall was a social worker back in Germany at the time - that tells you something in itself. The fact that most other teams fans like him speaks volumes, but also he is the only manager who has admitted that sometimes he comes out with bullshit - like the season before last when we ended up drawing with WBA, he lost it, but later in another interview he said he was talking shit after that game. That very act makes him so different to the likes of Jose, and Pep - who will never admit they behaved and/or acted like a shit after a game.
(Heh, my ex-wife was a social worker ...). :)

Don't get me wrong, I think he's fantastic, and difficult if not impossible to copy. It's just them trying to screw things up somehow. I'd rather he didn't give them so much to work with.
Did anyone else have Jurgens voice in their head whilst reading it?
For sure, yes!

He has a fairly unique way of speaking, hesitating, then reiterating the point with another word or phrase, "For sure" then "yes" or even expanding on the point to back it up breathlessly.

That means when you're reading his words it's extremely easy to slip into his voice, which is perhaps natural, but this is all kinds of cool!
Maybe, but to be honest when others try to copy or imitate him - it's not really genuine. I mean the guy is married to someone who as I recall was a social worker back in Germany at the time - that tells you something in itself. The fact that most other teams fans like him speaks volumes, but also he is the only manager who has admitted that sometimes he comes out with bullshit - like the season before last when we ended up drawing with WBA, he lost it, but later in another interview he said he was talking shit after that game. That very act makes him so different to the likes of Jose, and Pep - who will never admit they behaved and/or acted like a shit after a game.
Absolutely right. You can't package or replicate what Klopp does. He even says himself how spontaneous a lot of his interaction with the players is. Nobody is going to be able to imitate the Klopp method, because so much of it is rooted in his personality and character.
For sure, yes!

He has a fairly unique way of speaking, hesitating, then reiterating the point with another word or phrase, "For sure" then "yes" or even expanding on the point to back it up breathlessly.

That means when you're reading his words it's extremely easy to slip into his voice, which is perhaps natural, but this is all kinds of cool!

Hahaha! Very nicely emulated.

not an interview.

just stumbled upon this. posted two days before last year UCL final. apologies if this has been shared.
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