We all know what the Cathedral der Klopp looks like today, but what went into its construction? The first part of a review of Raphael Honigstein’s Klopp: Bring The Noise.
These days, services at the Cathedral der Klopp are frequent and well-attended. It’s difficult to find an open pew. If somehow this is your first ordinance, hopefully, you can find some standing room in the back beneath the wonderful murals overflowing with vibrant colour.
We all know what the inside of the cathedral looks and feels like these days: grandiose, yet familial; optimistic, yet realistic; insightful, yet simple; passionate, yet warm. With a wide, toothy smile underneath a slick pair of frames.
Before the window panes were artfully illuminated, depicting dizzying summits like back-to-back Bundesliga titles in the face of the serpent that was Bayern Munich; before the formation of his long list of disciples, as countless players, current and former, would be correctly described; before the pews grew to accommodate passionate followers from the Bruchwegstaion to Signal Iduna Park, then Anfield—what was the journey like?
Think of Raphael Honigstein’s Bring the Noise: The Jurgen Klopp Story as the Gospel of Klopp. In it, the important information is consumed through tremendous tales filled with authenticity, humour and deep detail. More importantly, you’ll learn how Klopp gradually transformed from a gangly target striker with a donkey’s touch across the lower divisions in Germany to a no-nonsense defender at the heart of Mainz to the world-class manager you see today, all while essentially remaining the same person. He has built his cathedral brick-by-brick.
Allow Honigstein to give you a personal tour through the Cathedral der Klopp.
In the name of the father
“It was the first great fortune of my life to do exactly what my father wanted to do, I lived the life he dreamt about.”
– Jurgen Klopp, Klopp: Bring the Noise
For the first five years of Isolde Reich’s life, she was treated as the son her father, Norbert, didn’t (yet) have. Her dad’s obsession with the sport was suppressed by his father, thus destined to be projected on at least one of his kids.
Norbert would have a five-year-old Isolde practice headers at a local park. Whenever her technique was imperfect, she’d be instructed to run a lap.
This existence was the only life Isolde knew with no signs of relenting—until Norbert and her mother came home with a howling baby boy. At that moment, Isolde was emancipated from practicing headers at the crack of dawn. She said the baby ‘set her free’ as Norbert refocused his sporting dreams onto the boy.
The boy’s name was Jurgen Norbert Klopp.
To the ignorant, myself included prior to reading the book, you’d be excused for having assumed that Klopp was born into some Dr. Seuss-ian factory of football, laughing, passion and gegenpressing, filled with silly truffula trees and fueled by green eggs with ham for dinner.
Klopp, all things considered, may well be a Dr. Seuss* character: his cartoonish likeability, warmth, larger-than-life aura and bite-sized wisdom shrouded in silliness. With the middle name “Norbert”, he’d fit right in.**
Jurgen wouldn’t be shackled to Norbert’s fate, who wanted to be a professional footballer himself but was spurned by his own dad that told him to ‘get a proper job’. In fact, fate floated Jurgen’s sporting childhood to the other extreme.
Outside of rigid training sessions with his son, Norbert was ‘likeable, sociable, a great entertainer who could tell the best stories,’ according to Klopp family friend Ulrich Rath. Sound familiar?
Norbert was Jurgen’s first great coach. He learned immensely from his father, and he carries what he learned. All the foundations of the man that Jurgen is today come from Norbert. As is natural for boys who idolise their fathers.
But, on the pitch, the patron saint of Klopp’s tactics is Wolfgang Frank.
The Holy Spirit
“Our father was brutally self-disciplined, some
might say he was a little obsessed.”
– Benjamin Frank, Klopp: Bring the Noise
In a purely managerial sense, there is no character in Klopp’s Testament more important than Wolfgang Frank, who coached the striker-turned-defender at Mainz.
Frank was the minister who preached Klopp his first sermon on tactics.
Today, the tactics seem mundane. But in the Zweite Bundesliga in the late 90s, there weren’t many intellects gathering to concoct cutting-edge theories. All teams still deployed sweepers, something that seems so painfully archaic these days.
Frank was the first to institute a style heavy on-ball-oriented zonal-marking. Cutting out the need for a sweeper, he was able to put another player in the midfield.
Suddenly, the relegation-destined Mainz begun to charge up the table and remained safe in the German second division. The following season, Frank pushed them into a position to challenge for promotion to the Bundesliga.
In the process, Klopp had an epiphany.
“I realised that our system made us beat teams that had better players,” Klopp said. “He made our results independent of our talent, to an extent.”
That quote is Klopp’s managerial career summed up in a line. The big suits at Liverpool intend to outsmart the big money clubs in the world, find market inefficiencies and win in the margins. The best way to do that is by having a manager who consistently produces more with his squad than the sum of its parts.
Enter gegenpressing, which was spawned from Frank’s ball-oriented zonal-marking.
Of course, gegenpressing is not so easy. Players can’t just stroll up to the park and play a little bit of football. It’s incredibly difficult, both physically and mentally.
To induce handsomely paid professional football players to fully buy into Klopp’s ethos, it takes more than a few motivational talks. The players have to be fully behind not only the gospel but the preacher himself. Quickly, the players find, the preacher is the divine being in this scenario, though he’d prefer The Normal One.
“He talked a lot about the team trusting itself, about belief,
and not fearing any other team. He definitely had that confidence…
you walked through the door and you could feel it. I think
that automatically filters through to his players”
– Adam Lallana, Klopp: Bring the Noise
Part of the foundation at the Cathedral der Klopp that serves as a magnetic force, drawing footballers through the doors: Klopp treats his players like human beings.
Blessed are the merciful
While at Mainz, Klopp gave midfielder Fabian Gerber a day off from training so he could celebrate his mother’s birthday. That’s no small gesture in the footballing world, and Klopp caught flak for it from the ‘Back-In-My-Day’ Alpha-Male pundits. But he didn’t care. It was a decision that wasn’t made on the spot, but one long before he’d even met Gerber.
When Klopp was still in his playing days, he wasn’t allowed to miss training so he could bring his son to school. Nothing substantial but one of those little scars imperceptible to any eye but your own—and he didn’t soon forget it. Gerber and Mrs. Gerber were the direct benefactors on that day.
A more current example: the case of Dejan Lovren at Liverpool. He’s a low-hanging fruit for fans to pick. An easy target with more than a few high-profile mishaps. Instead of burying him deep on the bench, ignoring then selling him at the first chance, Klopp worked with the player, giving him the opportunity to improve.
“He never made a player feel that they were dead to him, that they had blown it,” former Dortmund footballer Sven Bender told Honigstein. “On the contrary, he always made sure the player was given another chance if they wanted to take it. You could prove to him that you were still there, ready to step on the gas.”
Lovren’s ability can be questioned, but his commitment cannot. He’ll strive for that next chance and work hard to get it. Klopp recognises this trait and rewards it.
To not be burned away at first mistake; to have a fair chance at redemption. We all want a boss to believe in us like Klopp does.
When Klopp’s teams play, you see the belief the players have in each other and in the manager. Their indefatigable, automatic running all over the pitch is analogous to singing hymns in church, as both are fueled by a common phenomenon: faith.
Continued in Part 2: From Doubters to Believers.