Football: Klopp 50 not out

Left: Jurgen Klopp in real life seems like the very opposite of his wild sideline alter-ego - measured, logical and sensible. Below: Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson lifting the Premier League Asia Trophy in Hong Kong. The Reds came from behind to
Jurgen Klopp in real life seems like the very opposite of his wild sideline alter-ego - measured, logical and sensible. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Left: Jurgen Klopp in real life seems like the very opposite of his wild sideline alter-ego - measured, logical and sensible. Below: Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson lifting the Premier League Asia Trophy in Hong Kong. The Reds came from behind to
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson lifting the Premier League Asia Trophy in Hong Kong. The Reds came from behind to beat Leicester City 2-1, with goals from Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho cancelling out Islam Slimani's effort yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

He can be over-the-top theatrical, he can also be down-to-earth sensible. As he turns 50, Jurgen Klopp reflects on his extraordinary job in his first one-on-one interview with an Asian newspaper as the manager of Liverpool

To lead a football club with a rich history, in a city fiercely proud of its unique identity, it is almost a prerequisite that the manager of Liverpool Football Club must have an unshakably strong character.

They can be outspoken - Bill Shankly comes immediately to mind - but they can also be quiet and humble, the best example being Bob Paisley, who won six English top-division titles and three European Cups without saying much.

They have nowhere to hide too. In a club where the cult of the manager is arguably stronger than anywhere else in England, one minute these Reds bosses are revered and feted as the men to lead the club back to glory days; the next minute, they are frowned upon as bumbling novices.

Not surprisingly, such experience can change a man.

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Joe Fagan was never the same after witnessing the 1985 Heysel Disaster; Gerard Houllier faltered after suffering heart problems during his Anfield tenure.

So, has the Liverpool experience changed Jurgen Klopp?

The German, normally quick with a reply, paused, rubbed his stubbled chin, then replied slowly: "I turned 50 a few weeks ago."

I AM WHAT I AM

Look, I'm 50 years old. I'm answerable only to my mother and my wife. I am sometimes very emotional; other times, I like to plan things as much as I can.

JURGEN KLOPP , Liverpool manager, on his two contrasting sides.

Another pause, then: "A lot of things and people have tried to change me in the last 50 years, but I am who I am now. It's too late to change me. I am quite happy."

It would not be the last time Klopp would mention - without any prompting - crossing the big 50.

Clearly, it is a time for him to take stock of his career, which has blossomed in the last decade, first in Borussia Dortmund and now in the constant spotlight of Liverpool.

Clearly, too, he is still in awe that he has the job of reviving the Reds. Now into his second full season in charge, he is beginning to understand the magnitude of his work.

"At Liverpool, you're not simply a manager," he said. "It's such an important role in the football world. You learn how to handle so many different situations: You go overseas to meet fans from other continents, you need to deal with the aftermath of Hillsborough.

"It's an honour to run the club at this moment, even though many clubs are trying hard to achieve success at the same time as us."

For someone who professes his love for rock music, Liverpool - with its Beatles legacy - should have been a sort of spiritual haven for the bespectacled German.

Yet he rues the exposure that comes with his job, even though it has taken him around the world, meeting legions of fans in Hong Kong this past week, for instance.

"Liverpool is really a nice city. But for me, maybe because of my face and being a manager in England, it is not really easy to go out and feel the city, even if I work there.

"Two days ago, I tried to go out with my coaches. After dinner, we went to another bar to have a few drinks. At the end of it, we needed security around us and that's not how we wanted things. But that's life."

He shrugged, then popped in one of his favourite phrases: "What can I say?"

That phrase can be irritating to fans who demand their managers give quotes about everything.

For Klopp, however, it is a self-assessment of the situation he is in. And, in managing a club with perennially high expectations to return to their former glory, he is careful in choosing the right words to prevent those hopes from being deflated.

Yet, it is strange to see Klopp being cautious about anything at all. Who can forget his wild-eyed, fist-pumping touchline celebrations whenever Liverpool score? Or his spectacles being knocked awry as he joyfully hugged every Reds player after a victory?

He should have been the next Shankly, as outspoken in his love for the club and his ambitions to lift the club to stratospheric heights as the ground-breaking Scot was.

Yet, he insists he is the "Normal One" like Paisley. When asked who his footballing hero is, he immediately flashes his big smile and names… Gerd Muller.

Not the magicians like Cruyff, Pele or Maradona, but a supremely efficient, effective scorer.

The same can be said for Klopp's best sides - they overrun their opponents with maximum speed, minimal fuss.

His Dortmund sides were built from the brink of bankruptcy into two-time Bundesliga champions; already he is quietly overseeing major overhauls in Liverpool, such as the addition of stands at Anfield and the proposed combination of their Melwood training ground and youth academy in Kirkby by 2019.

For someone who has pointedly stated that he "will not want to be spectacular in the transfer market" and would rather methodically develop young talents, Klopp in real life seems like the very opposite of his wild sideline alter-ego - measured, logical and sensible.

Does it bother him that few see this side of Jurgen Klopp?

A booming laugh, then he said: "Look, my crazy image brought me to Liverpool, so what's so wrong with that?"

Another loud guffaw, before he added softly: "Look, I'm 50 years old. I'm answerable only to my mother and my wife.

"I am sometimes very emotional; other times, I like to plan things as much as I can. Whatever other people may think of me, I don't bother. I think I'm doing okay."

Once again, that milestone comes up unprompted. Klopp feels he is "doing okay" and "quite happy" going into his 51st year, but is there anything that makes him feel old?

"I am definitely too old for social media," he quipped.

"I am absolutely not interested in telling people what I am doing every second.

"I truly cannot imagine people sitting on the toilet and sending a picture.

"I will never understand this until the end of my hopefully long life."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 23, 2017, with the headline 'Klopp 50 not out'. Print Edition | Subscribe