“Football is like boxing, if you land a good hook you should look for the killer blow” (Arrigo Sacchi).
Another Tuesday night. Another class over. Back in the car. Back to Mainz. One hundred and twenty five miles. So be it.
Jurgen Klopp was coming to the end of his limited playing career as the new millennium dawned. He had spent 12 years at second division side Mainz, initially as a striker and then a hard working defender. He was a leader in the team and had been encouraged to take legendary German coaching guru Erich Rotemoller’s coaching course in Cologne. Two nights a week for two years.
The realization that football was the only thing he knew anything about had hit Klopp long before he had finished playing. A sports science diploma was obtained from the University of Frankfurt in 1995 – Klopp’s thesis ‘Walking – an inventory and evaluation of a sport for all’. Edge of the seat stuff.
Klopp was encouraged along his coaching path by Wolfgang Frank – his manager at Mainz. Frank, like most of the European footballing community at the time was in awe of Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan team of 1987-90. Sacchi had revolutionised Italian football. Traditionally when an Italian side scored they retreated to defend the lead but Sacchi’s Milan of Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard attacked from the off and didn’t stop until they had landed the killer blow.
The dominance of Sacchi’s Milan was forged on the training field where the team was drilled to prepare for every situation. Sacchi’s innovations involved 30-minute sessions with the first eleven lined up in their on-field formation – he would then tell them where the imaginary ball was on the field and he expected them to react accordingly. The objective was that when game day came, the team could effectively relax and play from muscle memory. This allowed the players to react at speed while their opponents were still thinking about the next move.
Klopp and Frank obtained a video of Saachi’s training drills and watched it over and over again. It changed everything – “We used to think before if the other players are better, you have to lose. After that we learned anything is possible – you can beat better teams by using tactics.”
Klopp’s first chance in management came in 2001. Mainz sacked their manager mid-season and Klopp was the natural choice to steady the ship. Promotion to the Bundesliga took three seasons and his tenure ultimately ended with the club back in the second division.
However, the style of football had caught the attention of wealthier German clubs and Dortmund came knocking in 2008. The rest is history with two Bundesliga titles and a Champions League final appearance achieved in seven seasons.
Klopp’s tactical analysis is supplemented by his man management skills and ability to galvanize his teams. To build team spirit he made an event of the annual room sharing allocation at Dortmund – the draw was made in cup style format and conducted with all squad members present. Friendly embarrassment was heaped on ‘snorers’ – they were made to room alone. Klopp is also an advocate of ‘Life Kinetik’, a type of exercise program designed to enhance motor skills in athletes, allowing them to react more quickly to movement.
Where Bill Shankly had Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan, Klopp has ‘The Brain’ and ‘The Eye’ to complete his new incarnation of the Boot Room. Bosnian Zeljko Buvac and German Peter Krawietz are the anatomical parts in question. Both have been with Klopp since his Mainz days. Buvac is Klopp’s No. 2 and sounding board. Krawietz is responsible for video analysis – a 90-minute game generally takes five to six hours for the trio to review.
Klopp’s philosophy has taken the best that Sacchi has to offer and injected it with a managerial passion rarely seen. It might only be eight weeks at Anfield, but that has already produced the humbling of Chelsea, Mancherster City and Southampton.
A new poster on the Kop proclaims ‘I’ve seen his face, now I’m a believer’. Time will tell but Liverpool fans everywhere have begun to dream. We want to believe.
David Sheehan, Pundit Arena
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