From Doubters to Believers

Photo by Author

When Jürgen Klopp joined Liverpool in October 2015, the team were languishing in tenth place in the league table. They say the league table doesn’t lie and Liverpool were indeed looking like an average mid-table side. I had never seen Liverpool win the Premier League in my lifetime and frankly, I didn’t see it coming any time soon. On 25 June 2020 however, Liverpool were crowned Premier League Champions for the first time and not only that, they secured the league title in record time with seven games to spare. The way in which Jürgen Klopp has transformed this Liverpool side is nothing short of miraculous. Yes, naturally the team’s performances have dropped off since clinching the title and yes, this team is not Arsenal’s Invincibles, nor are they the Manchester United treble winning side, nor the Manchester City record points winning team, but nobody is claiming that they are. Nevertheless, this is the team that brought the Premier League title back to Liverpool after 30 years. It is the combination of Jürgen Klopp’s personal approach, his ‘never give up’ mentality and down-to-earth and humble personality that has garnered a recipe for success and transformed everyone at the club from doubters to believers.

A personal approach

When you look at the Liverpool team, on the face of it, there aren’t many superstars in the team — or at least they weren’t to begin with. One of the hallmarks of Klopp’s reign as Liverpool manager has been his ability to transform average players into world class performers. Just to give a few examples of this: left back Andrew Robertson was signed from Hull City for £8 million; Georginio Wijnaldum was signed from Newcastle United for around £25 million; Joe Gomez was signed from Charlton Athletic for £3.5 million; and captain Jordan Henderson was signed from Sunderland FC for £20 million. Given the current market, these prices are comparatively low and the clubs they were signed from are generally considered to be quite modest clubs in terms of size. Even the front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, who are considered now to be arguably the most formidable attacking force in world football, were signed for a fraction of what they are now worth. Klopp treats each case differently and his man-management skills are an integral part to his success.

When Klopp signs a new player he is as interested in the personality of the player as much as he is in their technical ability. In the words (9m 27s) of Klopp himself, “to have a complete idiot with you just because he can kick a little better is totally annoying”. Apparently, before Liverpool signed Georginio Wijnaldum, Klopp invited him to his house to get to know him better. The topics of conversion centred on Wijnaldum’s last holiday destination rather than anything to do with football. In an interview, Wijnaldum stated “he [Klopp] was not only interested in Wijnaldum the footballer but Wijnaldum the person”. There don’t seem to be any egos in the Liverpool dressing room and by putting together a group of down-to-earth individuals, he has created a harmonious team ethic, whereby each member of the team thinks and performs in a similar way.

In order for Klopp to get his players singing off the same hymn sheet in this way, each player needs to understand their function within the team and must be able to adapt to meet the needs of the entire unit. As such, there is often a ‘bedding in’ period for new players which can often frustrate fans but also creates greater long-term rewards. The likes of Fabinho, Andrew Robertson and Takumi Minamino have all been subject to this, whereby they have had to wait patiently for their opportunities in the starting line-up. While this appears frustrating for both fans and the players themselves, the vast improvements we have seen in Fabinho and Robertson in particular proves that this method can be successful. By taking the time to develop each player personally, Klopp elevates the level of these players to perform at the standard he demands.

Never give up

Last season, Liverpool beat Barcelona 4–0 at Anfield in the Champions League semi-final second leg in one of the greatest comebacks of all time. I didn’t give Liverpool a prayer of winning that game to be honest. They were 3–0 down from the first leg and without two of their best players in Salah and Firmino, but somehow, despite the odds, they still managed to progress. Amidst all the hysteria at the end of one of the greatest footballing miracles I’ve ever seen, I could not help but notice the t-shirt that the injured Mohamed Salah was wearing that night as he watched on from the stands. It was a black t-shirt which read “Never Give Up”. The reason my attention was drawn to this was because this phrase is emblematic of the mentality that Jürgen Klopp has instilled in his players. It is reason why each player will run through brick walls for him and will always keep fighting until the very end.

Liverpool 4–3 Borussia Dortmund (14 April 2016). Photo by Author

Liverpool have made a habit of coming back to win games from losing positions over the past couple of years, such that they earned the nickname ‘mentality monsters’ at one point for this very reason. Whilst we have become accustomed to Liverpool doing this now, it took a while for everyone to believe Liverpool did in fact have the ability to come back from losing positions with regularity. The home matches against Crystal Palace and West Brom in 2015 were key moments in bringing this belief, that anything was possible, back to Liverpool. In a 2–1 defeat against Crystal Palace, groups of fans left the stadium with around ten minutes to go and in reflecting on that moment Klopp stated “I turned around and I felt pretty alone at this moment. We have to decide when it is over…. We are responsible that nobody can leave the stadium a minute before the last whistle because everything can happen”. Furthermore, Liverpool were ridiculed after Klopp instigated a team celebration in front of the Kop when Liverpool pulled back a goal in the closing stages of a match to draw 2–2 with West Brom. I have to admit that at the time I also felt embarrassed by that. We are Liverpool, why are we celebrating a draw against West Brom? I have now come to realise however, that Klopp had to demonstrate the importance of fighting to the end, never giving up, and it is this mentality that he wanted to instil in both his players and fans alike; a feat that he has now successfully achieved.

Stay humble

Klopp is very much one of the people and has built a harmonious community which involves every single person at the club. The most heart-warming example of how he has achieved this is where Klopp introduced the first team squad to the club’s background staff where he is said to have memorised all 80 of their names. The team ethic extends far beyond the players but courses through the veins of the entire club and fosters the mentality that no one person is bigger than the club and how each person, irrespective of their position, plays an invaluable role in the club’s success. At the heart of Klopp’s philosophy is the notion that we are stronger together.

A significant part of this mentality is remaining down-to-earth and ensuring that the players also remain humble despite their success. One way in which Klopp was able to do this was by enforcing a ban on touching the famous ‘This is Anfield’ sign as the players emerged from the tunnel onto the pitch, until they won a trophy. Liverpool is a club that is steeped in history and tradition, and Klopp ensures that the players are reminded of the legends that played before them such that each player has had to earn the right to participate in this custom; a subtle yet humbling touch.

The Normal One

Klopp is renowned for his hugs, laughs and charismatic interviews, and is appreciated greatly even by rival fans for the way he connects people both on and off the pitch. Through these actions he sets an example to his players in terms of staying grounded and honest.

I remember on one occasion where Wayne Rooney (a former Everton and Manchester United player) was chastised by the media, having been pictured consuming alcohol whilst on England duty. Klopp was asked for his thoughts on the matter and he defended Rooney, in replying “all the legends drank like devils and smoked like crazy and were still good players”. Of all the comments that Klopp has made since his arrival, this one sticks out in my memory just because it would have been easy for him to criticise a player of a rival team. Instead, Klopp chose to see the human element to the situation and empathised with how closely footballers of today are scrutinised in comparison to the players of the past.

On another occasion, Klopp took the time to respond to a letter from a 10-year-old Manchester United fan who had implored Klopp to make Liverpool lose a few games. Klopp responded stating that whilst it was his job to help Liverpool win, fortunes in football oscillate very quickly. What I enjoyed most about his letter was once again how he appealed to the human element of football. He wrote “although our clubs are great rivals, we also share a great respect for one another. This, to me, is what football is all about”. At a time where racism in football is rife and there is so much animosity between fans, I admire Klopp so much for making statements like this; unifying fans instead of dividing them.

More recently, following Wycombe Wanderers’ promotion to the Championship, celebrity player Adebayo Akinfenwa jokingly mentioned in a post-match interview that the only person who could get in touch with him was Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp, so that they could celebrate together. Klopp got hold of this message, and lo and behold, sent him a personal video of congratulations. A small gesture, but one that would have meant the world to Liverpool fan Akinfenwa.

Klopp gave himself the nickname of ‘The Normal One’ at the start of his reign, but he proves time and time again that he is anything but that.

More than footballing success

In all my time watching football, I have never come across a manager who is liked by everyone in the sport. Whether it be Liverpool fans or opposition fans (even Manchester United fans), I haven’t come across a single person who doesn’t like Jürgen Klopp. He has brought success to Liverpool as manager by getting the most out of his players, by instilling in them a ‘never give up’ mentality and by keeping them humble. More than that, he serves as a reminder that there is so much more to football than just winning titles. He shows us that there is a far more important human element to the sport and has illustrated the importance of community and togetherness. He goes above and beyond the call of duty to unite people by showing us that whilst we all are fuelled by passion for the game, we must equally respect each other. With Jürgen Klopp at the helm, Liverpool’s anthem of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has never rung truer.

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