In conversation with Raphael Honigstein: An insight into Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool
Klopp: Bring the Noise goes behind-the-scenes at Liverpool, Mainz and Dortmund to tell the definitive story of 50-year old Jurgen Klopp’s career, transformative footballing genius and how he is bringing a new level of optimism to the Anfield faithful.
Highly respected journalist Raphael Honigstein gained exclusive access to the German head coach’s inner circle to tell the story of the Liverpool boss’ rise to prominence. Honigstein speaks to family, friends, players and colleagues – and he has also spoken to The Boot Room ahead of the book’s release this week.
The Boot Room: Can you tell us about the new book, what should we expect from Klopp: Bring the Noise?
Raphael Honigstein: This is a book that really chronicles the life of Jurgen Klopp from birth to up until now, but I would say it is a football book. I mean, I’m interested in Klopp the football person, how his upbringing and football education, as a player and later as a coach, impacts his career.
I tried to speak to as many people as possible to get a really round picture of his, from former teammates, to former players that he coached at Mainz and Dortmund.
There are a few chapters on his current work at Liverpool and on the kind of things he is trying to do there, the problems that he has encountered and the way he has tried to fix them. I think you get a pretty good idea of who this guy is and what makes him a little bit different to more ordinary managers.
After the success of Das Reboot, what made you decide to write your next publication on the topic of Jurgen Klopp?
Well I was always really interested in him. I have following him from a bit of distance, being based in London, but I was always happy when he came over with Dortmund to play in the Champions League.
I always found him quite fascinating. While his persona, or shall we say, his demeanour towards, the end of his Dortmund career got a little bit tetchy and he became a little bit curter and less charming and less entertaining – being in quite a precarious position with Dortmund towards the end of his stay there – I still felt that this is a really interesting guy.
For me, he stands for this truly quite amazing story of a guy literally coming from nowhere, only through his own ideas, through his own intelligence his ability to adapt, to learn from others, to make things his own, has made it all the way to being Liverpool manager.
It is quite a fascinating story. I wouldn’t call it a fairytale or anything like that, but it is quite inspiring and I think he, certainly in Germany, has influenced a lot of people who perhaps before felt, you know, “I’m not a former Germany international, I have never really played in the Bundesliga. I can’t be a coach. I can’t be a TV analyst”.
He showed that it didn’t really matter so much what your background was. What matters is all your hard work, your ability to educate yourself, and connect with people. I think he has done all of these things.
You mentioned Klopp’s charm and charisma. Do you think that has, despite results not always going his way at Liverpool, been the factor behind supporters still believing in him and still being keen to give him the backing?
Yeah, of course it helps if you are a popular and people believe in you. All of these things are important in management.
You have seen it with some managers, who probably have huge talent, but didn’t have the ability to connect with people. Not in the dressing room, not in the wider community, not at boardroom level. Klopp manages to do that. It is a big fact of what he considers his role as a coach and a manager.
The results haven’t been that bad. Finishing fourth ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United was a pretty successful season last year. I think this season they are a little bit behind the schedule. They would have liked to be a bit closer to the top of the table, but I don’t think that it’s truly a big disaster. He is well within the realms of what he should be doing, give or take a few points.
It is sometimes a little bit easier from a distance, if you don’t really see what he does on the training pitch, or if you don’t really have that much insight into his former work at Dortmund or Mainz, to miscast him, to underrate or caricature him as this guy who ‘lives on his charm’, on hugging players and on being loud.
That really is just one part of his coaching. There is a lot of stuff that is going on that has brought him to the point where he is today.
Those who do not have the insight into what he does behind the scenes will largely see him as this charismatic man, who, like you said, is often seen through the cameras hugging his players.
What is it he does off the pitch and away from the limelight that is so special, enabling him to get the best out of his teams and individual players?
First things first, his attitude is such that, “I am here to coach players. I am not here to ask my owners about better players every year.” It would have been easier for him to come in and say, “the defense is rubbish. I don’t have a centre forward. I don’t have this. I don’t have that.”
Other managers do that regularly, but he is not that type of guy. He does not want to throw his players under the bus. He knows that playing the political game does not win you many favours inside the club and certainly not inside the dressing room.
From his personal experience at Mainz and Dortmund, where money was never really flowing very freely and you had to make do with what he had, he sees his role in coaching. There are two things to that.
One is having a system that hides your weaknesses and brings out your strengths and makes players who, perhaps individually people look at and think they are not very special, makes them more special.
Dortmund is a great example of that, because a lot of his players who went to different clubs did not look the same player. I’m thinking of Nuri Sahin and Shinji Kagawa.
The other factor is creating that special bond, between players but also between players and the club and the players and the supporters.
That is another huge theme for Klopp, were he feels that you need create a united front and a kind of wave of energy that doesn’t just exist on the individual quality of the players, but actually makes people grow into something bigger all together.
At Mainz he was able to do it, at Dortmund he was able to do it and now at Liverpool he is trying to do the same.
It brings us to a slight change of topic, but being a German living in England you must keep an eye on the nation’s brightest talents who play in the Premier League. Is there anyone who has particularly caught your eye this season?
I am personally very excited about Manchester City’s Leroy Sane and I’m also hopeful that his teammate Ilkay Gundogan will find his form again and fulfil his amazing potential.
I have seen it from Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich, just how much he manages to improve players. I think Sane and Gundogan are at the perfect club and it is hugely beneficial for the German national team and for them personally that they undergo this wonderful coaching.
Would you say, from your experience, that Guardiola and Klopp are the best managers in the Premier League, currently, at getting the best out of an individual, getting a player to perform at the maximum level of their potential?
Pep obviously manages to do that by coaching players really minutely, by telling them where to go, where to run and what to do. Klopp is not quite that manager. He concentrates more on the system, but a system that works also brings out the best of players.
I think Liverpool, as a team collectively, do not work quite well as a City do and that is why at City you know they now have the perfect blend between individual coaching and a system that works. Klopp is on a decent path towards achieving the same goal.
However, if you want to talk about the best manager in that respect, you have to mention Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino, who has done something very similar to Klopp, which is take a team and a club that are really not special and turn them around completely, changing the mentality and making everyone improve and take notice.
He is a little bit ahead of Klopp because he’s been there for a bit longer, but Klopp can achieve similar things given a bit more time and a bit more backing.
We published an article on the site early last week, comparing Klopp’s reign so far to that of Brendan Rodgers. Do you think, now, with the squad he has at his disposal, that the German is closer to a Premier League title than his predecessor?
We don’t really know. Last year he started so well and they were top of the table before Christmas, and we said, ‘OK, maybe they have a chance”. I think it was a bit unrealistic then to really look at his team and think they could win the title, and it is still unrealistic now.
When Rodgers nearly did it, he benefited from other sides not quite being there. Manchester United were a mess. Chelsea we’re not quite firing on all cylinders after Jose Mourinho’s return. Manchester City were on the last legs of the Manuel Pellegrini era. You have to be in a position to take advantage.
Liverpool, that year, very nearly did, but couldn’t quite get over the line. They need to get themselves into a position where they can take advantage, just like Leicester City did two years ago.
They have to ensure that when there is weakness ahead of them with the clubs who have much more money at their disposal and have better squads, that they can capitalise.
The question is, for me, will Liverpool fans be patient enough to think, you know, this is not going to happen overnight? Even by spending another £150 million in the next transfer window, the club will get closer, but they will also have to spend another £250 million to keep the distance the same again.
That is when a little bit more patience is needed and, of course, it helps if you have some success and some kind of defined form to keep people’s belief in you alive.
Whether that is through going deep in the Champions League and maybe knocking out a big side, or winning one of the lesser trophies. Klopp needs to do all these things and regularly qualify for the Champions League, which is no mean feat in itself.
Final question, and I poignant one to end our discussion on, can you see Jürgen Klopp winning a Premier League title with Liverpool?
I think it will be possible. His dream and Liverpool’s dream is for him to be there for seven years. He signed for 2022. That would keep him for just over seven years. He stayed seven years at Mainz and the same period at Dortmund.
I think if they keep progressing and FSG keep backing him, and if they can get a little bit smarter in the transfer market – a club like Liverpool cannot afford to get things wrong – it is possible.
However, it is going to be hard because his position is a much weaker one as a starting point. You know, if you are Liverpool you really need things for other to go wrong, first of all, and then you need to be in the position to take advantage.
That is his role. That is his job and he has shown in the past that he can do it. I’m looking forward to seeing if he can be the guy who makes himself Liverpool’s savior. It would be an amazing achievement.
Klopp: Bring the Noise by Raphael Honigstein is published by Yellow Jersey Press on Thursday 16th November.