After building a successful Dortmund team from nothing, Jürgen Klopp is now considered the saviour of Anfield.
A fellow football analyst recently wrote, “He has a special status internationally, being a living monument of the proletarian revolution in football.” He is Jürgen Klopp and, seemingly, the Lenin of our time. The Swabian with the characteristic beard aspires after equality in these cold-hearted times. Being the mastermind behind the pressing revolution, Klopp has been able to make an average team look outstanding, and to make outstanding opponents look average. So, after all, it seems just logical that he, the football leftie, comes to Liverpool, an English city shaped by the bleak wind at the docks and the sound of Merseybeat.
But beyond this wobbly narrative, there is another Jürgen Klopp. A football coach who appears like a larger-than-life persona with a million dollar smile and true emotions when soaring through the air with arms punching and legs kicking after his team had scored a goal. It was his smile, his emotions, his outspoken appearance that made him almost bigger than Borussia Dortmund, the club where he became the star of the masses.
Being the leader of more than 80,000 supporters, who always sing You’ll Never Walk Alone before kick-off, in the electric Westfalenstadion, Klopp already tasted what it is like to be the focal point rather than his players. It will be his task to end the silence that has taken over Anfield after the devastating loss against Chelsea during the final stage of the championship in 2014. Lately, Brendan Rodgers, clearly a tactical mind, has become a clown-like figure who could not sell to anybody that he was able to turn things around.
Klopp himself went through difficult times last season, as Borussia Dortmund found themselves rock-bottom temporarily, falling short of their high expectations. The rise of Dortmund from 2008 to 2013, when Klopp put the Bundesliga giant back on track, with two domestic championships and the Champions League final of 2013 being the climaxes, and the fall of his team during the recent seasons – across the last three campaigns under Klopp, Dortmund have accumulated 77 fewer points than Bayern Munich – have shown potentialities and limitations of his work.
Klopp (and his assistant Željko Buvač) built up the whole team from almost nothing, implementing a pressing and counterpressing style that made many opponents sweat, as in most of the matches they were not able to resist the pressure over the course of ninety minutes. The term Gegenpressing, the German word for counterpressing, has been introduced to a larger, international audience, thanks to Klopp’s Dortmund side that went on the hunt for the ball after losing it.
Yet, it has to be clarified that Dortmund’s pressing style had only little in common with what we are seeing from, for instance, Bayer Leverkusen today. The school of thought that prefers a high pressing line with many players and immediate turnovers was not Klopp’s. He cultivated the so-called middle press where his players were asked to lead the opposing build-up into a certain zone and to put pressure on ball carrier, passing lanes and/or open men afterwards. Local compactness, high intensity near the ball, and the striving for attacking transition plays were the key elements which set the stage for trophies and legendary nights.
On the downside, the later phase of the Klopp era at Borussia Dortmund unfolded his tactical limitations, as he was not able to introduce a stabile, more possession-orientated style that was required against deep sitting Bundesliga sides. His big smile deteriorated to a grumpy phiz quite often.
Nevertheless, besides all tactical aspects of his work, Klopp is, without the shadow of a doubt, a charismatic instigator – a guy who can talk people into doing things. He can coach and motivate his players to an extent where Lukasz Piszczek looks like Dani Alves and Kevin Großkreutz like Gareth Bale. In Germany, Klopp-esque personas are often called Menschenfänger.
Even in 2015, many football fans favour simple statements and tough talk. And that is why Klopp has mesmerised the masses. He can talk a good game, yet the question remains if he can convince people and win them over when not speaking his native language. However, his shoot-for-the-moon mentality could work without being as articulate as he has been since becoming head coach at Mainz in 2001, after a rather underwhelming career as player.
The Liverpool squad gives him footballers to re-create the system he was successful with. Not to mention the fact that, when being in charge at Dortmund, he was interested in signing Firmino and Benteke. Anfield offers also an atmosphere that could be his supporting orchestra to push the players to their limits.
With his presence, he could be again a conductor of a passionate army. With his pressing approach and tactic of compressing the field, he could have a lever to outcoach many teams. The arrival of Jürgen Klopp brings the Premier League a charismatic leader, which could have appeared as an exemplary figure in Max Weber essays, and maybe a football mind that revolutionises the English style of play in the long run.