As the 6’4’’ German strode into the press conference room, a tangible wave of excitement swept through the crowd of eager reporters. It was October 9, 2015, the day that Jürgen Klopp finally arrived in Liverpool as the newest manager of Liverpool FC. Employing his trademark combination of charm and wit, Klopp spent the next half-hour responding to the queries of the press corps—addressing everything from his plans for the team to his personal reasons for accepting the job. It was a masterful exhibition of charisma from the former professional player, the highlight of which was his reply to a comparison between himself and Jose Mourinho, the polarizing manager of Chelsea FC who dubbed himself “the Special One.” Asked whether he possessed the same “special” managerial capabilities as Mourinho, Klopp flashed his easy smile and answered wryly, “I’m the Normal One.” The thing is, no one actually believed him.
This is the essence of the enigmatic Jürgen Klopp. He’s far from normal, possessing an indomitable character that has helped him become one of the most respected managers on the planet. Klopp is a vacillating whirlwind of charm and grit, of warmth and steel—all topped off with a touch of the air of a mad scientist. Indeed, despite the endearing figure of assurance that he presented at his introductory press conference, Klopp unquestionably harbors a wild side. The former Borussia Dortmund manager is known equally for acting as a caring father to his youth players as he is for being a seething dictator during matches, relentlessly pacing the sidelines while intermittently screaming orders to his squad. Just last season, Klopp was ejected from a Champions League match against Napoli for going absolutely berserk at a sideline referee after a missed call. Jürgen Klopp is a man who overflows with passion for the game of soccer, a trait that Liverpool fans can certainly relate to.
It’s not only his animated character that has earned Klopp plaudits from the soccer world, but also his astounding record as a professional manager. After playing as a defender for 12 years at German club Mainz 05, the towering German took over as the team’s manager in 2001. With a mixture of shrewd player development and tactical astuteness, Klopp led the small club to its first-ever promotion from the second division of German soccer to the top flight division, known as the Bundesliga. After an unfortunate relegation back to the second division in the 2006-2007 season, Klopp left Mainz following the 2007-2008 campaign. In May 2008, Klopp took over as the manager of the struggling first division team Borussia Dortmund. It was there that he would establish himself as a world class manager in astonishing fashion.
The task that Klopp faced in turning around the fortunes of Borussia Dortmund was monumental. Playing in a league thoroughly dominated by the global soccer giants Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund had finished a lowly 13th place the year before Klopp’s arrival. The club’s improbable renaissance began when, in a display of tactical genius, Klopp instituted an innovative style of frenetic, high-tempo team soccer called “genpressing.” With the help of an incredibly intense fitness regimen, Borussia Dortmund’s players suffocated opponents by relentlessly harassing them as soon as they obtained possession of the ball. Dortmund further limited the free space available to other teams by employing a compact 4-2-3-1 formation with a high defensive line. On offense, the team used lightning-quick passing and explosive counterattacks to open up gaps in the opponent’s defense. This never-before-seen tactical system, along with Klopp’s remarkable development of young players such as Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Mats Hummels, and Marco Reus, led to a period of unprecedented success for the club. In 2010-11 and 2011-12, Dortmund stunned the world by winning two successive Bundesliga titles over the seemingly-invincible Bayern Munich. Furthermore, in May 2012, Dortmund upended Bayern in the DFB-Pokal final by a scoreline of 5-2 for an additional trophy. The following two seasons were marked by more triumph, including two DFL-Supercup trophies and the team’s first-ever appearance in the Champions League final during 2013. However, Dortmund’s dizzying success could not last forever, with star players such as Lewandowski, Gotze, and Kagawa unfortunately leaving for larger clubs. After a rough 2014-2015 season in which an injury-hit Dortmund finished in 7th place, Klopp announced that he would be leaving the club and taking a sabbatical from management.
Now, equipped with his sparkling resumé and larger-than-life personality, the man who led a middling Bundesliga side to the pinnacle of world soccer is faced with the challenge of rebuilding Liverpool FC. To put it bluntly, Liverpool is in dire need of the sort of magical heroism that Klopp pulled off at Dortmund. Although they are historically recognized as one of the most successful clubs in Europe, the past decade has seen Liverpool FC gradually deteriorate from the apex of English soccer to their current status as a beatable second-tier team. They haven’t won the Premier League since the 1989-90 season, with their last truly notable trophy coming in the form of the 2004-05 Champions League title. In recent years, they have simply been unable to compete—both on the field and in the transfer market—with other massive European clubs such as Chelsea FC, Manchester United, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich. Largely due to the efforts of mercurial striker Luis Suarez (who now plies his trade for FC Barcelona), the team nearly won the Premier League title during the 2013-14 campaign under previous manager Brendan Rogers. However, after another trophy-less 2014-15 season and a mediocre start to the current season, Liverpool washed their hands of Rogers and managed to recruit Klopp.
Realistically, it’s too early to fully predict the type of impact Klopp will have on Liverpool FC. It’s likely that he’ll establish a similar type of dynamic, free-flowing tactical system at Liverpool that he utilized to such great effect at Borussia Dortmund. Furthermore, his high-profile managerial presence may help the Liverpool attract more world-class players in the transfer market—an area in which the club have struggled during recent years. However, one thing is completely certain. With a mad genius like Klopp at the reigns, Liverpool FC is in for the ride of their lives.