More than any other coach in elite football, Juergen Klopp is distinguished by his beard and sideline celebrations. His jubel-lauf (his version of the happy dance/walk), fist-pumping antics and gestures have made him a household name in both Dortmund as well as Germany.
But there’s more to the man than his beard. Unlike Joachim Loew, who always appears ready to brace a GQ cover, Klopp is the least bit interested in his appearance. His beard is partly pragmatic, partly personal taste. Kloppo, as some Germans prefer to call him, swears he simply grows it out because he doesn’t appreciate his appearance clean-shaven.
Although the beard has contributed to his commercial success—he was featured in a Philips commercial during Euro 2012 asking fans to grow their beards for as long as Germany remains in the competition—Klopp says money and fame were never his goals.
All he ever wanted was to manage in the Bundesliga and hopefully one day in the English Premier League (although he’s no longer too keen on the latter). In an interview with Der Tagesspiegel last summer, he said he didn’t even realize the extent of his popularity until he noticed the curious heads of strangers peeking over his garden fence. The peak in popularity was due to his job as an on-air personality for the German broadcaster ZDF, analyzing the nationalmannschaft for millions of viewers across the country during the 2006 World Cup and the 2008 European Championship.
But his commercial success is irrelevant. What is important are Klopp’s unique relationship with his players and his managing style. He is the antithesis of Felix Magath. He’s charismatic, edgy and approachable. It’s not uncommon to see him hug his players and show affection. He’s comfortable with the father-like figure. It comes natural to him. This is where Klopp’s coaching style also enters the picture.
To Germans he embodies more than just the qualities of a standard coach. He is defined by many as a motivator. Although bestowed with that title, Klopp himself doesn’t think he’s a motivational guru, yet that doesn’t change the fact that motivation is one of the underlying themes at Dortmund.
He was once asked what happens when one of his players is unable to find his drive; he replied he’ll shake the player and exhaust all possibilities to inspire him again.
Klopp also personalizes his relationship with each and every player. In an interview with German magazine Stern, Klopp said “the more you care about the individual, the more you will get back in return.”
Roman Weidenfeller, his starting goalkeeper, attests to that in an interview with Stern.
“He speaks differently to me than he would to a 19-year old. You can talk to him about anything. He has an open ear and is always willing to listen. Even if the conversation was unpleasant at first, you always come out feeling better.”
In that same interview, he revealed his dislike for players who show up with their agents or advisers (it prevents him from establishing an intimate connection) and his desire to get to know the individual as the main reason he avoids the one-treatment fits all approach.
Part of his success also stems from his ability to convert negatives into positives. Klopp uses a method called reframing or reinterpreting events (at least according to an article in Stern magazine). What that essentially means is that Klopp tries to see the best in everything, whether it’s a win or defeat. His outlook is never negative and he always takes a positive spin.
Some argue he kept to that philosophy when he didn’t allow last year’s poor performance in the Champions League to affect his team’s Bundesliga title chances. The team went on to record an impressive 31-game unbeaten streak that was only broken two months ago by Hamburg.
Except winning isn’t everything. He told German journalists that winning a game played poorly isn’t always better than losing a game played well, because the victory elicits a false sense of success. He added that games aren’t only about results, team development is equally important and losses allow for that growth to occur.
Die Schwarzgelben coach admits he concerns himself neither with the past nor with the opponents. Instead he directs all focus to the progress of the team. He told Sky Sports TV that it’s only logical to approach each game with the belief the opponent is beatable. Likewise, for Klopp it makes absolutely no sense to waste time musing over hypothetical results.
His current fame lies in stark contrast with the coach’s humble beginnings. As with most coaches, Klopp was a player before becoming a manager. He played for Mainz and at the age of 34 became the club’s coach. In his third year he finally lifted the team from the lower league to the Bundesliga.
Not suprisingly, while at Mainz Klopp didn’t receive much national attention. He admitted he had trouble securing a partnership with Nike. The apparel company only promised to provide him with the clothing and no further financial compensation. In other words, he wasn’t paid to advertise the apparel.
Hard to believe this would be the case today as sponsors flock to the charismatic coach in droves. He recently did a commercial for Puma and his club has a partnership with Opel. Indeed, Klopp gave up his Porsche since the partnership with the car company.
Klopp’s stint at Dortmund began in 2008, where he rid the team of old players and brought in young blood. He promised BVB fans that he would develop a team based on leidenschaft (passion) and Vollgasveranstaltungen. A direct translation wouldn’t fully explain this phenomenon, but what the compound term essentially refers to is BVB’s unique style of football: the manner in which the team organizes themselves at high speeds and give it their all (put their heart and soul into each game), with an emphasis on passing, speed, attacking and pressuring the opponent. At the same time, this often creates a scene where both the opponent and the audience are amazed or left wondering what is happening on the field.
Klopp’s passion for the game may have had something to do with his father, who was a sports enthusiast. He’d take the young Klopp racing regardless of the weather. But early on the Dortmund coach was aware of his own limitations as a player. He described himself as a determined footballer with exceptional athleticism and a good ability to head the ball, but technically not as gifted. He once jokingly said his headers are fit for the Bundesliga and his feet for the lower provincial leagues.
But none of this matters when you manage a team that won the title back-to-back against Bayern, an achievement that hasn’t been accomplished since the 1982 season when Hamburg won consecutive titles. Moreover, he is a revered coach both in Dortmund and in Germany and he’ll likely stand as Joachim Loew’s successor.
His optimism, spirit and appreciation for life may stem from his Christian faith. “It’s our purpose in life to be happy,” he once said. But behind the seemingly always content face, lies a more serious side. He’s a disciplinarian and it’s verboten to discuss tactics with players (or at least allow them any form of leeway). Something a journalist also had to find out the hard way during a press conference when he questioned Klopp’s tactic with respect to Lewandowski and Piszczek to which Klopp coldly replied it was his decision and that he won’t change the system for one player.
While he won’t tweak the system for a single player, he will personalize his coaching approach to fit each individual. It’s a personal, human approach that has defined Klopp’s success at Dortmund, and could take him to ever greater heights elsewhere, should he choose to make the leap.