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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

In Liverpool, a working class hero is something to be

If Liverpool are this relentless forward-pressing team, it is also because players have bought into Klopp’s idea of football.

football Updated: Sep 25, 2019 10:35 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Kolkata
Popular as he is, manager Juergen Klopp features on graffiti in Liverpool
Popular as he is, manager Juergen Klopp features on graffiti in Liverpool(Getty Images)
         

It wouldn’t have surprised many had Juergen Klopp done an Eric Cantona and turned up in casuals at an awards gala, but having tuxedoed it to Milan on Monday night he announced he would contribute to charity.

Made from the platform of a Fifa function, the statement that he would donate 1% of his estimated £10m salary to Juan Mata’s initiative was another example of how grounded Klopp is even as his stock keeps rising.

It showed why Klopp is perceived to be a hero of the working class. It showed why, on joining Liverpool nearly four years ago, he said he was the ‘normal one’. It showed that those hugs and headlocks with players are not just about mateship but more than that. For Klopp, people matter.

That is why speaking about the refugee crisis in Europe, he had said, it is “a problem for all people. Let’s sort it together.”

“His first instinct is to see players as people,” Klopp’s agent Marc Kosike has said. “It is the way he speaks to us. He puts his arm around you and guides you through each training week…To have that arm around your shoulder, having come from the academy, and to know that he trusts you, is amazing,” Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold was quoted as saying by ‘FourFourTwo’ in October 2018. No wonder Sadio Mane calls him an incredible person.

Klopp and Liverpool, the city and the club, seem a snug fit. The German has told the Guardian that there should have been another vote on Brexit and Liverpool voted to remain in the European Union. Like Borussia Dortmund --- under Klopp, they won two Bundesliga titles, the German Cup and were runners-up in the 2012-13 Champions League --- Liverpool needed resuscitation. Again, like Dortmund, Liverpool thinks its identity is more working class than some of Europe’s giants.

“I couldn’t see him at a Barcelona or a Real Madrid or even an Arsenal. He wants the kind of club where football is the lifeblood of the city. That’s what it is like in Dortmund and Liverpool, possibly Manchester too. Other cities have a different dynamic,” FourFourTwo quoted Neil Atkinson of the Anfield Wrap podcast as saying in October 2016.

“I feel there is a power at this club. I felt it when we played Dortmund at Anfield. I believe there are some clubs who are always more likely to win trophies than other clubs,” Klopp has said.

In this blue-collar city, Klopp doesn’t stand out in his informals. Cap turned back to front, he sang with fans about bringing the Champions League trophy to Liverpool in 2018 and when they did it this year. He and his coaching staff are often seen at city pubs and he is known to go on walks with his wife to the beach and the woods near his house. “I love how Liverpudlians live football; the history around it,” says Klopp.

Just as important is how seamlessly Klopp fitted into the club hierarchy. Klopp is known to get along with sporting director Michael Edwards, a continuation of the legacy of having worked with Michael Zorc who was in the same role at Dortmund. And he enjoys the trust of the club’s American owners.

That explains the megabuck transfer buys of last season when Liverpool spent 163.45 million pounds on Fabinho, Alisson and Naby Keita.

But if Liverpool are this relentless forward-pressing team, it is also because players have bought into Klopp’s idea of football.

When he joined, Klopp said he felt “we have to change the doubters to believers”. That needed work, just as getting the players to understand ‘gegenpressing’ (the forward press that closes out opponents’ passing outlets and initiates attacks on getting possession) did.

Teaching this, according to Klopp, means training players’ impulse to get into positions where they can win the ball. For it to work, players need to run more. Running is the bedrock of Klopp’s dynamic football, one that is inspired by Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan teams. Klopp’s teams are known to run almost 120km in a match --- he once gave Dortmund players three extra days off for trying to run 118km in each of their 10 matches going into the winter break.

Klopp gave Liverpool an idea of how hard he could push. His sessions --- often there were three in a day at temperatures over 31 degrees Centigrade --- had players throwing up. Drills such as shooting practice also had Klopp getting players to run through poles and using obstacles for awkward deflections to simulate match situations.

Klopp also needed Liverpool to become ‘monsters of mentality’, a term he had coined at Dortmund. It meant whatever the challenge, the team just wouldn’t give in. And he can read the riot act. Ask Mamadou Sakho or Ilkay Guendogan when he was at Dortmund.

Gegenpressing isn’t the only way Liverpool play; in the 2019 Champions League final they battened down the hatches to frustrate Tottenham. And by moving Roberto Firmino from the wing to a ‘false nine’, Klopp showed tactical nous that so changed Liverpool.

If Klopp works hard, he parties harder. Twice he has insisted that pre-Christmas parties not be cancelled following a defeat and that attendance was mandatory. And both at Dortmund and Liverpool, where he said no one would leave before 1am, he was the life and soul of those parties.

Klopp knows enough about finishing second; after winning the Champions League he mentioned having gone on six family holidays with the silver medal, “which doesn’t feel so cool.” Because as Bill Shankly, Klopp’s predecessor from many seasons ago, said: “If you are first, you are first. If you are second, you are nowhere.”

Last term, during their incredible race for the Premiership, coach Pep Guardiola had said the team finishing second should have no regrets. Klopp wouldn’t mind knocking a Manchester team off their perch and return the compliment.