Juergen Klopp and England: A match made in heaven
After the wait, comes the opportunity. There has long been a sense of inevitability about Juergen Klopp coaching in England, a sense that his demeanour and approach makes him perfect for the Premier League. Now, following confirmation of his imminent departure from Borussia Dortmund, the hypothesis will surely be put to the test.
Real Madrid or Barcelona may yet attempt to coax Klopp to Spain. But the former appear to have a succession plan in place with Zinedine Zidane waiting in the wings behind Carlo Ancelotti, while Barca are due to become entangled in the labyrinthine politics of presidential elections come the summer. It is England, then, that has the best chance of welcoming Klopp, the country that has always been next on his agenda.
He made that explicit in November. With Dortmund’s league form careering towards the catastrophic, and a Champions League match against Arsenal providing some much-needed relief, Klopp let his guard down when speaking to BT Sport :”'I think [England is] the only country where I should work, next to Germany because it's the only country I know the language a little bit and I need the language for my work. If somebody will call me, then we will talk about it.”
No so much a come-and-get-me-plea, as an I’m-all-yours-baby. Klopp was signalling to his English suitors, as early as the start of the winter, that he was ready for the Premier League. And in truth, the Premier League has been ready for him for some time.
Not since a brash, photogenic upstart named Jose Mourinho conquered Europe with Porto has the English media been so persistently hungry to welcome a foreign manager to the Premier League as they are Klopp.
With his winning demeanour, goofy smile and infectious, if slightly wacky personality, Klopp is a media dream. The sporadic press conferences he has conducted in this country – around Champions League games against Arsenal and Manchester City, and the Wembley final of 2013 – have germinated a love affair.
Klopp has dropped frequent jokes in the native language, flashed that spreading, wonky grin for his English interlocutors and kept a sparkle in his eye on these shores, even if some of his answers to his German compatriots have seemed rather more monotone.
He also has a natural talent for delivering soundbites, if not fully formed ones. In 2013 he described Bayern Munich’s persistent pursuit of his players, in an interview with the Guardian, in these terms: “It's like James Bond – except they are the other guy.” Later that year he said of Arsene Wenger: "He likes having the ball, playing football, passes... it’s like an orchestra. But it is a silent song. I like heavy metal more.”
The ubiquity of football coverage means that Klopp runs the danger of becoming a cliché before he has even arrived in England, if indeed he does at all. The grinning wisecracking clown. There is no mystique around him. But there is certainly anticipation, and something of the Mourinho in how a culture is all aquiver, awaiting the arrival of a genuine character. His tendency to explode on the touchline further marks him out as a sensation waiting to happen.
Klopp’s “heavy metal” football also appeals to English sensibilities. Here’s how he describes his aesthetic preferences: “If, in the last four years, Barcelona were the first team I saw playing when I was four years of age — this serenity of football, they win 5-0, 6-0 — I would have played tennis. It is not my sport. I don’t like winning with 80 per cent [of possession]. Sorry that is not enough for me. Fighting football, not serenity football, that is what I like. What we call in German 'English' — rainy day, heavy pitch, 5-5, everybody is dirty in the face and goes home and cannot play for weeks after."
Yes, Juergen Klopp’s preferred version of football is actually called ‘English’. His style, meanwhile, is one constructed of counter-attacking thrusts and relentless pressing. It values energetic, athletic exuberance over patient, possession-based play and, though firmly of the German tradition, has obvious appeal to England’s particular proclivities, deeply rooted since the very inception of the game.
It is not a model Manchester City have sought. Indeed, their long-term dream remains Pep Guardiola, the man who constructed the team which would have turned a young Klopp onto tennis. But with none of Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea or Liverpool approaching the end of a managerial cycle, Etihad Stadium seems his most likely destination.
It would be a major surprise if the English-speaking, English-playing Klopp does not consummate his long flirtation with the Premier League now his bond with the Bundesliga has been broken.
Tom Adams - @tomEurosport