The Extraordinary Achievements of Jurgen Klopp, “The Normal One”

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The Extraordinary Achievements of Jurgen Klopp, “The Normal One”

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

“T

he Normal One,” Jurgen Klopp called himself. An average footballer who got a chance to manage Mainz, a club where he had played for 11 years, became a famous TV pundit, and then went on to achieve huge success coaching Borussia Dortmund. Despite Klopp’s humble name for himself, his journey to Liverpool was anything but normal. And since he arrived in England, it has been insistently special.

Upon his arrival at the club, the manager wished to “turn the doubters into believers.” They must be dreaming now. A sixth Champions League title is in the Reds’ kitty after 14 years. Perhaps, Klopp will also be the man to bring Liverpool its first league title since 1990. He almost managed it this season. There is no reason to stop believing now.

When he was still a footballer feeling his way around the game, Klopp had acquired a reputation for problem-solving. As a media intern at the privately-owned channel SAT1, the shirt sponsor of his club Mainz, the tall, moustachioed youngster became popular for his facility for talking and his sharp journalistic skills, which he had come to acquire without prior professional training. To this day, that marriage of substance and exuberance stays with him.

Klopp’s jumpy celebration, his frequent witticisms, and the understated charm often obscure the tactical brilliance that has come to define his teams. The German manager’s triumph over the previous status quo of possession and slow-building moves was set in motion a decade ago. Now, it is his football of high energy and counter-attacking precision that is in vogue. The process that began with Dortmund’s domestic glory in Germany reached its highest point on Saturday as Liverpool won the biggest prize in club football.

His political views are broadly reflected in Liverpool’s historical support for socialism.

But it could not have been achieved without the emotional bond that he has come to share with the Reds. Klopp would not be the manager he is at Liverpool if he was unable to form a rousing affection in his mind with the institution. At Mainz, Dortmund, and Liverpool, it was necessary for Klopp to identify himself with the club and make the team reflect his own values.

His association with Liverpool was natural for it was already representative of many things that he seeks in a club. Although none of the top football teams are socialist anymore, the city’s working-class origins were an attraction for Klopp, just like a similar history had been at Dortmund. His political views are broadly reflected in Liverpool’s historical support for socialism.

“I wouldn’t call myself very political but I’m on the left, of course. More left than the middle. I believe in the welfare state, I don’t mind paying for health insurance. I’m not privately insured, I would never vote for a party because they promised to lower the top tax rate. My political understanding is this: If I’m doing well, I want others to do well, too. If there’s something I’ll never do in my life, it’s voting for the right,” Klopp once said. Liverpool, as a city, is avowedly pro-Labour Party. Even in Madrid last week, Liverpool fans could be seen sticking posters that renamed Margaret Thatcher Square as Jeremy Corbyn Square.

The 51-year-old Swabian’s connection with the club, though, runs deeper than politics. When he was interviewed by Liverpool for the manager’s job, Klopp stressed that football was not merely about tactics. According to him, it was “also rain, tackles flying in, the noise in the stadium.” For those interested in learning more about his life in football, the journalist Raphael Hönigstein’s Bring The Noise is an excellent primer. Klopp spoke of his desire to “activate” the Anfield crowd and for the players to feed off that energy.

Like he once said, “If you get up in the morning and the first hour is bad, does that mean you go back to bed? No, it means let’s try another one.”

The manager’s views on football neatly combine with the traditional notions about the game in the north of England, the original home of football in the country. During his Dortmund days, Klopp would often be seen wearing a baseball cap with the word “Pöhler” – a colloquial term from the Ruhr valley for a person who swears by the pleasures inherent in the playing of football, somebody who is likely to be spotted playing pick-up matches for the fun of it.

This easygoing attitude was important in Liverpool’s context, a club that had come to be weighed down by its failures. In the aftermath of the Champions League final last season, which ended in defeat for the Reds, Klopp partied with his players and staff all night long to celebrate their joyous run to the final. Not for him to dwell over losses. Like he once said, “If you get up in the morning and the first hour is bad, does that mean you go back to bed? No, it means let’s try another one.”

So, what is the road ahead for Klopp and Liverpool? For the latter, retaining the manager’s services for a long time to come is of utmost importance. Klopp spent seven seasons each at Mainz and Dortmund before embarking on a new challenge. He will complete four years this October, so there is time.

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If and when he does leave in the future, it is likely that Liverpool will not let his work merely fritter away. Klopp’s tenure is a long-term project. In fact the club’s officials have said in the past that they have to restrain themselves from expanding his role beyond football, such is the admiration they have for his work. For now, at least, they have managed to not put him under any burden.

For Klopp, anyway, the job is far from done. Until Liverpool win a league title again, the club’s history is going to hang around its neck like an albatross. It will be his next challenge, one for which he is fully equipped. Klopp is already held in the highest esteem by his contemporaries; it would be nigh impossible to make a list of the best coaches in the world without naming the German. The absence of silverware at Liverpool had tended to separate him from the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Massimiliano Allegri, among others. Not anymore.

By bringing the trophy coveted by every club in Europe to Anfield, Klopp has embellished Liverpool’s stature. There is good reason to believe that he and the club will not stop here. Liverpool is finally shaking off the weight of its illustrious past. Winning is likely to be the new normal with “The Normal One” in charge.

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