|Champions League final: Real Madrid v Liverpool|
|Watch a special Radio Five Live programme at 19:00 BST on Wednesday, 23 May featuring Guillem Balague’s interview with Jurgen Klopp|
|Live text coverage on the BBC website & Radio 5 live commentary of the Champions League final on Saturday, 26 May|
On Saturday night in Kiev, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will have his second tilt at winning a Champions League final.
As his side face Real Madrid, arguably the biggest club in the world, Klopp will go through a maelstrom of emotions on the touchline, an animated figure who has taken Liverpool to the brink of a high not reached since that famous night in Istanbul 13 years ago.
But when I caught up with him last week at Liverpool’s training camp in Marbella, he was relaxed and insightful as he discussed the people who have shaped him and his career – as well as Saturday night’s intriguing final.
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Recharging the batteries
The previous occasion I was supposed to meet with Klopp was at Melwood, Liverpool’s training complex.
That got cancelled because he had to go to hospital, for something subsequently described to me as a ‘precautionary measure’.
There do not seem to be any issues this time as we sit by the pool, with Klopp cutting a calm and relaxed figure in the Spanish sun. But last week’s trip was about much more than topping up the tan.
“It isn’t about bonding, because we are already bonded as a team,” Klopp told me.
“It isn’t even about the weather because we have that in England at the moment. But we need a moment together to concentrate our minds and our forces.”
Five years ago at Wembley against Bayern Munich, his Dortmund side fell just short of the finishing line as a late Arjen Robben goal won the Champions League for their arch rivals. Many felt an exhausting season and an exceedingly demanding coach had finally taken its toll.
“Back home when we have the day free we dedicate them to doing all sorts of things and I just wanted us to have a few days together doing the absolute minimum.
“To recharge our batteries, do things well in training, have tactical meetings and all that sort of stuff. We need to go into the final with refreshed legs and minds.”
Klopp is preparing for the biggest match in domestic football as a man at the top of his sphere. But it has been a long journey for the 50-year-old.
My dad? It was like living with a coach
To understand Klopp it helps to know where he is from and how he was raised.
He was born in the sleepy, natural beauty of Glatten – a small town in the Black Forest, in the region of Swabia.
According to Klopp it is “a great place to grow up, but a bit boring for a young adolescent”.
Klopp threw himself – or perhaps more correctly, was hurled – into the world of sport, by his ever demanding and sports-mad father, Norbert.
A non-stop regime of exercise, drills and sport were put in place by Jurgen’s father, who was desperate to see his son achieve the targets that circumstances and fate had prevented him from reaching.
Jurgen’s two sisters, who had been the sporting focus of Norbert’s attention prior to Jurgen’s arrival, were relieved. Pressure on the girls stopped immediately and they were able to devote time to their favoured hobbies such as ballet and music.
“It was most difficult for my sisters because they weren’t particularly interested in sport,” added Klopp.
“I had a good relationship with him – it was like having a trainer with you all the time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“But it was not that difficult. He never punished me or anything like that. I have always said that all those things my father wanted me to do, I loved doing. That was my good fortune. Football of course, but I also enjoyed tennis, I never argued with him about that.”
Yet his dad hardly ever said “well done”.
He preferred focusing on the chances he missed instead of the goals scored, or the brilliance of one of his team-mates. Pushing his son was Norbert’s way of being affectionate.
|Klopp in his own words|
|I’m a totally normal guy, I came from the Black Forest. I’m the Normal One.||With all these pictures on Twitter, it always looks like I am in restaurants and bars! I am not that type of guy.|
|Whose idea was this to have two games in the semi-final?! Strange!||The best word I can say to describe it [beating Manchester City] is: Boom!|
|When I left school, the head said, ‘I hope you can do something in football because, if not, I have not the best feeling for your future’.||You’ll never find me three days after a win, drunk in a hedge and still celebrating.|
|People should not make me out to be like Jesus; I don’t walk on water||Yes, it’s true. I underwent a hair transplant. I think the results are really cool, don’t you?|
There is a Swabian proverb that says “to say nothing is praise enough”. But if that worked for Norbert, it has not been adopted by Jurgen.
“Treating them (his sons) differently was easy because common sense is a big strength of mine,” added Klopp. “I can explain problems to myself and come to a solution. That’s how life is, you learn from your own mistakes or from the mistakes that other people are making, so that’s what I did.
“Sometimes with my sons I had a reaction similar to my father and I thought ‘whoah’. I realised it and stopped it immediately.”
Klopp’s father died in 2000 after a two-year battle with cancer and shortly before his death pushed himself to the limit to play in one final tennis match with his club. He never lived to enjoy his son’s managerial success.
My future? I never doubted it
Klopp never regarded himself as anything other than an enthusiastic but mediocre footballer, playing for little money in the fairly modest environs of second division side Mainz, with whom he spent a decade between 1990 and 2001.
He had to supplement his semi-professional wages by working in a bar and also in a warehouse that distributed new films to cinemas.
“It was clear from the start I was not going to have a great career,” he admits.
“And I was playing in the second division and in those days not only did you not make much money but it was also so intense it took up so much of your time and kept you away from better-paid jobs.
“But I never doubted my future. That is very important. When they cut your Visa card in half because you do not have sufficient funds, it is not pleasant. But there is always a solution.”
His intense upbringing had taught him about his limitations – but also his strengths.
“There’s nothing in life I’ve been better prepared for than coaching. I have more capabilities as a manager than I had as a player.
“I started to coach when I was 20 with the under-10s and under-11s at Frankfurt and I loved the experience.”
With his ordinary playing career drawing to a close and with a family to feed, his passion for teaching and coaching nudged Klopp towards management.
In 2001, at the age of 33, he was given the chance to manage Mainz.
And he had one very strong trump card in his favour. At Mainz he played under Wolfgang Frank, the coach who proved to be his inspiration.
My football style? The fist that opens
Frank was at the helm of 16 different clubs and led Rot-Weiss Essen to the 1994 German FA Cup final (the DFB-Pokal), although they lost 3-1 to SV Werder Bremen at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.
He died aged 62 in 2013 but despite having very little success in terms of trophies or titles, Frank is credited with inspiring a renaissance in the Bundesliga that has inspired a new generation of managers including Germany coach Joachim Low as well as Klopp.
“When I started I wasn’t learning anything about football that I like. It was all about ‘how can we get the points?'” says Klopp.
“Wolfgang Frank inspired me not with his ideas of passionate football, but much more with his organisation. How to set up a team so you don’t lose, because when I first became a manager we lost a lot of games.
“It wasn’t about entertaining or a case of ‘let’s play football we can fall in love with’ but about organisation, which is always the base from where you get the freedom to be brave.”
Frank sowed the seeds for the style of play known as ‘gegenpressing’ which, in its simplest form, effectively decrees that you have to win the ball back as quickly as possible once you have lost it.
He played a back four without a sweeper – extremely unusual in Germany – and deliberately defended narrowly in certain areas of the pitch.
Frank worked on the idea that your opponent was at its most vulnerable when it has just won the ball and was looking to do something positive with it. His teams would leave one or two players unmarked, encouraging the person in possession to pass to them. It was a trap waiting to be sprung.
His tactics were an “epiphany” for Klopp, who was impressed by how “everybody had to go where the ball was. The aim was to create numerical superiority to win the ball, then sprawl out, like a fist that opens”. Sound familiar?
I asked Klopp if it is effectively organised chaos. He laughed, but his answer is serious.
“Organised chaos sounds good always assuming the organised bit is coming from our team and the chaos from the opposition,” he said.
“You can only do these sort of things when you have good enough players. The best coaches in the world do the things the players have given them the opportunity to do.”
Armed with Frank’s tactics and a passion and commitment that has won the unswerving love of players, directors and supporters wherever he has coached, Klopp took Mainz to the German top flight for the first time in their history in 2004.
He was at the club seven years, the same amount of time he spent at his next club Borussia Dortmund, where he won five trophies including two Bundesliga titles.
It is the same period that, if everything goes well, he says privately he plans to be in Liverpool.
My wife said ‘Liverpool is for you’
Liverpool, who appointed Klopp in October 2015, were drawn against his former employers Dortmund in the quarter finals of the 2016 Europa League.
A 1-1 first-leg draw was a precursor to what many still feel is the greatest game ever played in the competition as Liverpool fought back from 3-1 down at Anfield in the second leg to win 4-3.
Matched only in drama by what happened in Istanbul, Klopp started half-time by showing the players some videos of what had gone wrong in their first-half performance, and then he gave a rousing speech that referenced Liverpool’s dramatic turnaround against AC Milan in Turkey.
|Klopp’s managerial stats|
Klopp told the players to “create something that we could tell our grandchildren one day”, and according to Liverpool striker Divock Origi, the manager’s aggression from the touchline in the second half made a huge difference.
Germany defender Mats Hummels later admitted Dortmund “started bricking ourselves” at the sight of Klopp creating a positive atmosphere in the ground.
Liverpool were beaten by Sevilla in the final but by then the marriage between Klopp and the Anfield club’s fans was established.
Klopp is an unashamed lover of what is described in Germany as the ‘English’ game.
Physical and uncompromising, ‘heavy metal’ football is also described using the German word “geil” by Klopp in Raphael Honigstein’s biography of his compatriot.
It comes with the suggestion that “self-sacrificing toil could be a sensual, arousing experience”. The Kop has totally bought into this concept.
Phil Thompson, who spent 13 years at Anfield, recently interviewed Klopp for Liverpool TV.
Klopp told him that it was wife who said to him: “Jurgen, if Liverpool FC come for you, that is for you.” It explains, too, why he turned down Manchester United.
Thompson added: “He comes in, he understands the people, the people understand him, they see his passion and I think that is a very, very important part of what it is to be part of this club.”
There is an English core to Klopp’s squad with Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Nathaniel Clyne, Dominic Solanke and Danny Ings joined by other bright young British talents such as Scotland’s Andrew Robertson and Wales’ Ben Woodburn.
Surprisingly – albeit partly because of injuries – there are only two Liverpool players in England manager Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad.
They have thunderous weapons in attack while Klopp added composure in defence when he brought in Netherlands defender Virgil van Dijk in January, a signing that helped the side finish fourth in the Premier League and reach the Champions League final.
The final? It will be a huge struggle
Klopp will now try to do with Liverpool what he came so close to achieving with former club Dortmund.
Victory against Madrid would be the culmination of the meeting he had in the law offices of his new employers on 1 October 2015, when he told them Liverpool should, and could, be a regular force in Europe.
He added that his aim was not just to get them back to that elite level but to transform them into the kind of team no-one wanted to face.
Job done, or at least part of it.
“The fans have been waiting so long for this and there is talk of nothing else in Liverpool,” Klopp told me.
“We have had so many brilliant moments together this season and enjoyed every second of the Champions League so we can now get together to finish things off in a brilliant way.
“We will do the very best we can. We are in a good place at the moment and everyone knows how much I appreciate the efforts our fans are about to make to be a part of this party.”
As our chat comes to an end, I ask him how he can prepare to face an unpredictable team like Real Madrid, who offered up more than a dozen good chances against Bayern Munich in their semi-final yet still went through.
“It’s a game of football,” he replied.
“Sure we have the chance to win. We are going to have to work hard for it because it is the final of the Champions League.
“But if anyone thinks it will be easy for either of the two sides then they are mistaken. It’s going to be a huge struggle for both teams. Brilliant! Bring it on!”