With his zany demeanour, all-action football philosophy, manic touchline antics and flair for wry soundbites, Liverpool manager-elect Jurgen Klopp has been tipped to take English football by storm.
The 48-year-old German, who is expected to be appointed as Brendan Rodgers’ successor this week, will inherit a task similar to the one that faced him at Borussia Dortmund in 2008, that of restoring a sleeping giant to former glories and upsetting the established hierarchy.
He led Dortmund to two Bundesliga titles and a Champions League final and the style of breathless pressing football that he inculcated seems custom-made for the blood and thunder of the Premier League.
“Fighting football, not serenity football, that is what I like,” he has said.
“What we call in German ‘English football’—a rainy day, heavy pitch, finishing 5-5, everybody is dirty in the face and goes home and cannot play for weeks after.”
Klopp might not find exactly that on the immaculate playing surfaces of the English top flight, but his blend of charisma and candour seem certain to strike a chord with Liverpool fans, not to mention his sense of humour.
Discussing an injury to Dortmund defender Mats Hummels, he said: “We will wait for him like a good wife waiting for her husband who is in jail.”
Asked for his thoughts after Dortmund had demolished Bayern Munich 5-2 in the 2012 German Cup final, Klopp grinned: “It could have been a bit warmer.”
But while he rivals Jose Mourinho—whose path he will soon cross—in the quotability stakes, it is on the pitch and the training ground that Liverpool’s owners Fenway Sports Group will expect him to deliver.
Dortmund were stagnating when Klopp arrived from Mainz in 2008, having finished seventh, seventh, ninth and 13th in the previous four seasons, and Liverpool have also reached something of an impasse.
After narrowly missing out on the Premier League title in 2014, they finished sixth last season and currently sit in 10th place after one win in their last six games.
‘DIRECTION TO FOLLOW’
Under Rodgers Liverpool spent around £300 million ($456 million, 406 million euros) on new players, but with Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Raheem Sterling having all departed during his tenure, they now lack an identity.
The current squad are a disparate bunch and Rodgers’ tactical tinkering proved a barrier to on-pitch continuity, but the clear-sighted Klopp will look to impose order quickly.
“The first point is to get the right players, try to recognise the potential, try to develop it and turn it into skills with everyone who is involved,” he said while at Dortmund.
“That’s how you can find success. You need a game philosophy which reflects your mentality, which reflects the club, which gives a direction to follow.”
Klopp, unmistakeable with his stubble and glasses, built Dortmund’s game around the principle of ‘gegenpressing’, or counter-pressing.
It soon became a buzzword in European football and fans in Germany grew accustomed to the sight of Klopp’s yellow-shirted hordes asphyxiating their opponents with high pressing and quick transitions.
It was an approach that reached its apogee in a 4-1 demolition of Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the 2012-13 Champions League semi-finals, when Robert Lewandowski scored all four goals.
Dortmund ran out of puff last season, finishing seventh in the league and losing to Wolfsburg in the German Cup final, but Klopp has had time to fine-tune his philosophy during a five-month sabbatical.
“He is for me one of the best in the world,” says Germany great Franz Beckenbauer. “This combination—Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp—it’s a very good combination.”
Liverpoool’s 25-year wait for a league title has only served to increase the emotional attachment they feel towards their club, but although that emotion can cloy, Klopp is likely to embrace it.
In place of the Westfalenstadion’s Yellow Wall he now has the famous Kop and with ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ lustily sung before home matches at both clubs, Anfield will feel like a second home.
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