Jürgen Klopp

Liverpool: Win like Jürgen Klopp

Illustration: Mink Couteaux
Photography: Getty Images

There’s virtually no one better than the 48-year-old German at turning players into winners. The Liverpool manager gives football journalist Raphael Honigstein his 10 personal rules for success: Part 1
Raphael Honigstein
Raphael Honigstein

Born in Munich in 1973. Moved to London in 1993 and began a career as a writer and sports journalist. Writes about the Bundesliga for The Guardian and about the English league for German daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Also a football commentator on TV and radio. Who better to write a regular football column for our website? Check it out: redbulletin.com

Remember that success comes from within 

You’d better stay out of Jürgen Klopp’s way if his team has just lost. Linesmen, journalists, even his club’s press officer… no one is safe from the German’s angry outbursts in times of defeat. This volcano of a manager lives for winning.

There’s one thing that drives Klopp on: maximum success. This has been the case ever since he was a child. Norbert, his sport-mad father, goaded him on, whether at skiing, tennis or football. “He loved me,” Klopp reminisced in a 2009 interview with Die Zeit, “but he never gave an inch, never mind let me win.”

One Saturday morning, after his father had beaten him 6:0, 6:0 at tennis yet again, Klopp shouted at him, “Do you think I’m enjoying this?” To which his father shouted back, “Do you think I am?”

Norbert Klopp, the typical Swabian father, demanded much and praised little. Shortly before his death from cancer at the age of 68, already gravely ill, he doggedly represented his senior team in doubles one last time. This obsessive dedication is in Jürgen Klopp’s blood, too.

If the ball got away from him when he was a player in the 2. Bundesliga (German football’s second division), he says, it would tear him up inside, whereas jeers from spectators didn’t bother him at all. Then, as now, he wanted to get everything right, to win for himself. “I was a fighting machine with a will of iron,” he says.

This very special drive leaves its mark on Klopp’s players, too. At every training session, he instils in them the idea that success comes purely from within, from your own efforts. Every player must take responsibility for his own actions and commit to a common goal.

“If you are full of motivation as a player, if you are full of concentration… I am open arms,” the 48-year-old explained when he arrived at Liverpool last October. “If you are not, of course [I am hard], but only because to work with players who don’t understand the professional part of this life is a waste of time.”

“If you are full of motivation as a player, if you are full of concentration… I am open arms”
Jürgen Klopp, 48

2 It’s on your bad days that you prove your worth

Passion, hunger and will are fundamental to Jürgen Klopp. He wants “mental giants” in his team, giants motivated by “passionate obsession”. That may sound bold, but there’s a logic to it. 

“Anyone can have a good day,” he says. “But you have to be able to perform on a bad day. That’s what you live for as a sportsman. You have to put up a fight.”

Klopp’s idol when he was growing up was Karlheinz Förster, a defender for the German national side and VfB Stuttgart, who may not have been over-endowed with natural talent, but always had the right attitude.

Holding out against an opponent who is objectively better than you by showing greater effort and passion is an “important experience for the mind and the heart”, says Klopp. “Because it’s at times like those that you understand that you’ve got a little bit more in you.”

Klopp has an exceptional ability – a sixth sense for getting that “little bit more” out of his players. It was precisely this skill that helped him transform average Bundesliga players like Kevin Großkreutz and Erik Durm into Bundesliga stars, and even World Cup winners.

“Anyone can have a good day. But you have to be able to perform on a bad day. That’s what you live for as a sportsman. You have to put up a fight”
Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool manager

3 Always be yourself, no matter what you’re doing

Jürgen Klopp is Jürgen Klopp. He always has been, whether as an amateur player in Pforzheim, Sindlingen and Frankfurt, as a professional at Mainz, or as manager at Mainz, Borussia Dortmund and now Liverpool.

Jürgen Klopp

If you ask for Klopp, you get Klopp, 100 per cent. He was authentic long before it became fashionable.

Klopp’s open, friendly personality comes across in the way he manages his team. His players know him as “Kloppo”. Should he create an artificial distance? Appear to demonstrate his authority? 

Out of the question as far as Klopp is concerned. He says the players would instantly see through anything so fake. Which is why Klopp believes that it’s not a problem to show weakness on occasion, too. He wants to work in a pleasant environment himself.

For Klopp, it’s a misconception that you can’t be nice if you’re a manager. On the contrary, you should “be on good form as often as possible”, as this approach releases happiness hormones.

At the same time, everyone knows that the volcano bubbling away inside Jürgen Klopp can erupt within seconds if you get on the wrong side of him. Anyone who doesn’t obey him will be weeded out – and mercilessly at that.

This comes naturally to Klopp. He isn’t only intelligent, empathetic, and skilled at what he does; he’s 100 per cent professional in his ambitions.

Jürgen Klopp

Born in Stuttgart in 1967. Became manager of Mainz 05 in 2001 at the end of his playing career. Moved to Borussia Dortmund in 2008 and led the team to two Bundesliga titles, one DFB Cup win and the 2013 Champions League final (they lost 2:1 to Bayern Munich). Has been Liverpool boss since October 2015. Worked as a TV pundit for German TV channel ZDF during the 2006 World Cup and the 2008 European Championships.

4 Use humour to turn problems around

Jürgen Klopp is a master of motivation. His turn of phrase is perhaps his greatest gift, and not only when dealing with the press. “He’s perfect at getting his point across,” says Hans-Joachim Watzke, CEO of Borussia Dortmund (BVB). 

“That makes you sit up and pay closer attention. Jürgen is never boring.” Klopp never jots down what he’s going to say in advance. It’s important for him to be spontaneous, and humour is one of his most vital weapons.

He knows that a few well-said words can relieve the pressure and make people find positives in things they had previously viewed in a negative light. Psychologists call this ‘reframing’. Klopp insists he doesn’t do it deliberately, but that’s not the point; the ultimate effect is the same. He has the ability to turn problems into opportunities.

Sometimes, Klopp does it by simply staying silent. During the 2012 DFB [German Football Association] Cup campaign, he would show players in the BVB changing room emotionally charged pictures of earlier cup finals, but without saying a word. The result was the team romping their way through the early rounds of a competition they had hitherto hated, humiliating Bayern Munich 5:2 in the final.

5 Commit yourself to a common set of values

Jürgen Klopp isn’t a friend to his players, he’s a partner. He has maximum respect for his players and demands maximum respect from them in return: respect for him personally and also for the team and what they’re trying to achieve. “I would never sign an asshole just because he’s great at football,” he says.

The pledge that every BVB player had to sign in 2011 is now the stuff of legend. It had seven points; unconditional commitment; passionate obsession; determination, regardless of how the game is going; a preparedness to support everyone; a willingness to seek help; a commitment to contribute 100 per cent effort for the good of the team, and the assumption of personal responsibility. Klopp’s pledge is now quoted in management text books.

“Jürgen Klopp is perfect at getting his point across”
Hans-Joachim Watzke, CEO of Borussia Dortmund

There are also hard and fast rules for awkward situations. Anyone who doesn’t make it into Klopp’s team is allowed to express his disappointment, but only immediately after finding out, which normally means the day before a game. Klopp allows no further comment once they’re at the ground and ready for the match itself. An individual’s situation can’t take precedence over respect for one’s teammates.

Klopp’s teams know that when they all work together, they’re stronger than the sum of their parts. “If that co-operation isn’t there,” he says, “something’s missing.”

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05 2016 The Red Bulletin

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