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'Klopp wanted Julian Brandt...in the past there'd be friction about the manager not getting who he wanted'

Melissa Reddy, author of a new book about Liverpool’s rise under Jurgen Klopp, is this week’s guest on Behind the Lines.

Jurgen Klopp.
Jurgen Klopp.
Image: PA

SOME SLEDGEHAMMER SYMBOLISM to show the difference between Jurgen Klopp and his predecessor. 

Among the most memorable scenes from the documentary series Being:Liverpool were those inside Brendan Rodgers’ home, which revealed a giant self-portrait hanging in one of the rooms. 

There also exists a portrait of Klopp, albeit with a couple of differences: it hangs at the training ground, and it is made up of the names of everyone who works at the club.

“The picture was a way to say he is the face of everything Liverpool are doing but he wouldn’t be able to do it without everyone at the training ground”, says Melissa Reddy, author of Believe Us: How Jurgen Klopp turned Liverpool into title winners. 

Melissa is our latest guest on our sportswriting podcast Behind the Lines, our weekly show for members of The42 which features a lengthy interview with a writer about sport. To gain instant access to a 48-episode back catalogue, head to members.the42.ie. 

As Melissa’s book shows, one of Klopp’s key strengths is his ability to work within the framework he walked into at Liverpool, something Rodgers couldn’t do. Rodgers clashed endlessly with the notorious “transfer committee”, which led to series of curious compromises.

For example, in 2015 the transfer committee pushed for the signing of Roberto Firmino, which Rodgers doubted, and so was placated by the arrival of Christian Benteke, meaning Liverpool ended up with two wildly different players in the same position. 

Ultimately Klopp’s ability to trust those around him has been one of the key strengths of his time at Liverpool. Although the members of the transfer committee have not actually changed since Rodgers’ time, they’ve shown their expertise under Klopp and the club are on a streak of successful transfers. 

Klopp, though now revered on Merseyside as a kind of totemic managerial figure in the British lineage of Shankly, Stein and Ferguson, is in fact much more democratic than those nigh-autocratic legends. 

“From day one, his first meeting with the staff where they all elected him to lay down the law to them”, says Melissa.

“But the meeting was, ‘So guys, tell me what you do and how it works here?’ What happens on a matchday, what’s our training plan? I have come here to work in this country, you guys have been here and done it, you tell me, I need to learn.’

“The change is there is a world-class manager working within the system with a very clear stylistic profile for the scouts to work towards, but a man happy to listen to recommendations and take them on board. 

imago-20201020 Julian Brandt, now of Borussia Dortmund. Source: Imago/PA Images

“The example is he really wanted Julian Brandt. Klopp knew Julian quite well, he did a lot of research and his Bundesliga contacts are excellent. But Brandt knew he wouldn’t be a definite starter at Liverpool so he didn’t want to make that step too soon. [Sporting Director] Michael Edwards said ‘We are wasting time, and we should go and get Mohamed Salah.’

“Klopp said, ‘Okay, yes.’ In the past there would have been so much friction about the manager not getting who he wanted. That’s where you see the big difference of a manager who is right for everything. 

“Right as he has worked with sporting directors before so he has enjoyed that relationship before; right because he didn’t want to blow a big transfer budget; right because he knew there would be no immediate success, but he had the evidence behind him at Mainz and Dortmund to convince players and staff he was the right man to bring Liverpool on this journey.” 

  • To get access to the archive of almost 50 BTL episodes – featuring Wright Thompson, David Walsh, Diane K Shah, Michael Foley and many more — join The42 here

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Klopp’s first press conference back in 2015 called for supporters to turn from “doubters into believers”, but behind the scenes he called for the same conversion among his players.

“I worked covering the club prior to his arrival, I’d been at Anfield and felt the toxicity and the division.

“The insecurity was one of the biggest things he had to change. When he walked in many of the players felt they didn’t deserve to be at Liverpool, and there was the weight of not being anywhere close to winning the title. Adam Lallana talks about it in the book: you wear it with you all the time and can’t switch it off. Klopp had to really shake that out off the players. ‘You have to be free from that to fulfil your potential.’

“In terms of players, staff and even supporters, when they saw how much Klopp was giving of himself and how much trust and belief he was willing to share in the players, the club and the process, everyone found it pretty easy to get with it.” 

Liverpool under Klopp have specialised in reacting to setbacks. They followed heartbreak in the Champions League and Premier League by winning the competitions the following season. Now champions, they face arguably their greatest setback of all, with Virgil van Dijk likely miss the rest of the season with a knee ligament injury. 

Van Dijk has transformed Liverpool since he arrived in January 2018 following the sale of Philippe Coutinho, and his absence leaves Liverpool threadbare in defence.

“This is their greatest challenge now. They have dealt well with the loss of players in recent history, like Philippe Coutinho. 

“Virigl has an aura that is very hard to explain. You look at him, there’s an assurance about him. The opposition, always target the right side as they don’t trouble themselves to try and get by Van Dijk. 

That’s gone. You have lost that psychological effect, but you have also lost the guy who is the best in the league in the air, that is an absolute machine in the minutes he racks up -he played every minute of the 74 games prior to be taking off in the derby – the best at duels in the league, and you are now exposed in those respects with the opposition thinking, ‘Ah! We don’t have that Van Dijk problem any more.’

“He’s not just any player. He is a really, really, really important and with Alisson already missing and Joe Gomez and Matip so injury-prone, it is a severe blow for Liverpool to deal with.

“Jurgen referred to them as “mentality monsters” and I know his speech to them after Coutinho left and Alisson was injured [at start of last season] was, ‘Don’t give people on the outside a reason to say your season ended with this setback. You have the power to decide what happens next.’

“If Liverpool can cope with losing Virgil van Dijk for the season then, wow, that is some achievement.”

Listen to the full conversation by subscribing at members.the42.ie. 

Believe Us by Melissa Reddy is published by Harper North and will be released on 10 November.

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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