His response to Daragh Curley was another example of how Juergen Klopp gets people. Curley, a 10-year-old Manchester United fan, wrote to Klopp asking him to “please make Liverpool lose”. Klopp said he couldn’t but pointed out, “we have lost games in the past and we will lose games in future.” When the private correspondence became public, Klopp said he replied because he found Curley’s missive “cheeky and nice.” Curley’s father Gordon, also a United fan, said: “This letter really confirms to me that he is a decent, decent guy.”
Because Klopp gets people, he gets Liverpool; the city and the club. Even in the time of celebration, he spoke of Covid-19 having made it “difficult for a lot people.”
Soon after joining in October 2015, Klopp was at a pub frequented by fans. On Sky Sports, Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish called him a Scouser. “This was built on your soul, Kenny and on the legs of Stevie (Steven Gerrard). It is easy for me to motivate the team because of our great history… But we found a good way to get rid of it because we had to write our own story,” said Klopp.
If this Liverpool team does not walk alone—with skipper Jordan Henderson typifying the team-first mentality—it is because Klopp has built it this way. “Your football has to be mirrored by your soul,” he has said. For the past two seasons, Liverpool have been brimming with confidence, energy and industry; attributes synonymous with Klopp. In his time, they have won the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup. And, yes, they can also eke out wins—14 by 1-0 margins this league. Gerrard said a statue for Klopp should be built alongside the iconic Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley.
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On joining, Klopp had said: “Liverpool was a garden that needed a bit of work to bring the flowers back again,” (FourFourTwo, Nov 2019). It was a lot of work. Training sessions often simulated match situations, were always intense and sometimes thrice a day. If their ‘gegenpressing’ (counter-press to regain possession up the pitch) is slick now, if with an average of 63.48% possession they control games, it is because a lot of work has gone into it. “We didn’t have a chance till last year,” said Klopp. “Three years ago… it was clear that we lacked consistency. But you cannot ask for that and then the boys deliver. You have to work on that, create that, convince people and that is what we all did together.”
Crucial to that was Klopp getting trainer Andreas Kornmayer and nutritionist Mona Nemmer in 2016. They are part of Klopp’s “strong people” around him, a group which includes assistant-manager Pep Lijnders and psychologist Lee Richardson. Such is Klopp’s attention to detail that Liverpool hired a throw-in coach in Thomas Gronnemark. Premiership teams keep possession in 48.6% of throw-ins under pressure; Liverpool’s number for that is almost 70%. Liverpool could again win the Fair Play Trophy and if they do, it would be the first since United in 2002-03 that the champions have that honour.
If Liverpool can, in Klopp’s words, go for the ball and not the bone it is because they hunt together. Twice, in 2002-03 and 2009-10, Liverpool followed up a second-place finish with a slide down the standings. This time they faced a bump, exiting from the Champions League and FA Cup and losing to Watford which ended a 44-game unbeaten run—the second best, after Arsenal’s 49—in the league. Klopp said he was worried about how the team would react to the three-month break. The 4-0 win against Palace allayed his fears. “They all look like they have a few good years in their legs,” he said.