Football: Jurgen Klopp the centre of attention as Reds set to thrill S'pore

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SINGAPORE - Every twitch, thumb-twiddle and smirk of his was met with a flurry of camera shutter clicks. Liverpool are in town and manager Jurgen Klopp is the star attraction.

Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah may be the team's biggest - and highest-paid - star on the pitch but it is the German coach, the architect of the club's rise back to prominence after arriving in 2015, who has already achieved status as a cult hero for the 19-time English champions.

This was evident on Thursday (July 14), the eve of his side's Standard Chartered Singapore Trophy exhibition game against Crystal Palace, when Klopp held court in typically jovial fashion.

Dressed in a tracksuit and with a cap he dons more often than not, he entered a packed press conference room at the National Stadium and greeted members of the media with a sprightly: "Hello!"

While he did show effects of the long-haul travel and tropical heat, he answered questions in a thoughtful manner and flashed his trademark pearly whites on occasion.

When told of how adored he is by the Reds' faithful in Singapore and was often cited as the figure they were most looking forward to seeing, he deadpanned: "They should see me play once."

Cue a roar of laughter. But the 55-year-old later also said that he appreciated the warmth extended to him, and added that every player in his squad "deserves to receive the maximum love and attention" too.

This devotion to his players, said former Liverpool skipper Sami Hyypia, is one of the key reasons why Klopp has been so successful with the Reds.

Hyypia told ST: "He's a great motivator and he cares about them. Although he is very demanding... he also creates a supportive atmosphere for them."

It is clear his players reciprocate this affection.

Midfielders Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho, speaking at a fan meet-and-greet event at the team's base at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore earlier in the day, hailed how he handled them. The imposing Klopp - who stands at 1.91m - is famous for his bear hugs and displays of emotion with his charges, which sometimes hilariously include even celebratory slaps to the face.

"It's more the way he says things than the words (themselves)," said Spanish maestro Alcantara.

Brazilian ball-winner Fabinho said he loved that Klopp "works with a lot of passion every day in training", and said the manager knows when to turn the heat and "intensity" up on the players, and when to "be more calm and in difficult situations".

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Liverpool great Ian Rush compared his man management to one of the club's legendary managers.

"He's like the modern-day Bill Shankly (who led Liverpool from 1959-1974)," said Rush, the club's all-time leading goalscorer, who added that Klopp's boisterous nature was "infectious".

Klopp's endearment extends to his relationship with the club's die-hards, and this was observable from an incident upon the team's arrival from Bangkok on Wednesday evening.

While the Liverpool squad were jet-lagged and worn out by the time they arrived at the Ritz Carlton, but the gaffer still made the effort to walk around the front of the team bus, to acknowledge all the fans who had lined up to catch a glimpse of them.

Local fan Dinesh Nandwani, 50, said: "When I see Klopp myself, I get motivated even watching from the bed... at 5am."

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So highly anticipated was Liverpool's return to the Republic that fans started gathering outside the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at 10am, eight hours before their estimated arrival time on July 13.

The gesture to the Singaporean supporters may be all of five or six steps' worth, but it meant the world to them. It was striking, too, given how Klopp has frequently - and vocally - spoken about how his players need more time to rest. Travelling halfway around the world to compete in exhibition games hardly helps.

But as Liverpool chief executive officer Billy Hogan explained to ST: "One of the unique things about Jurgen is that he really understands the club, clearly.

"And he really understands the need for us to, when we can, find ways to strengthen that relationship with our supporters on a global basis."

The Cult of Klopp will be out in full force for the match at the National Stadium on Friday night. And once again, the attention is set to be trained on the hulking German on the Liverpool bench.

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On Thursday (July 14), the Liverpool squad hit the pitch at the National Stadium to take part in an open training session ahead of their match with Crystal Palace on July 15.

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