Pints, Pub Quizzes, Personality—How Jurgen Klopp Has Embraced Liverpool Life

Simon HughesContributor IAugust 10, 2017

Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp reacts after the end of the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield, in Liverpool, England, Saturday, March 4, 2017. Liverpool won the game 3-1. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
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The Tuesday night quiz at the Freshfield public house on Massams Lane in Formby, England, is a popular affair. Teams of five or six huddle around wooden tables and hush descends upon the bar, with its award-winning selection of 14 cask ales, as a quizmaster clearly enjoying his authority reads out teasers. On busy nights at the 'Freshie,' as it is known locally, up to 100 residents pack this space. Bowls of curry, mini-hamburger platters and nacho sharers wait uneaten. Mobile phones are forbidden; concentration is absolute.

And then Jurgen Klopp walks in.

Liverpool's manager lives just around the corner in Victoria Road, a three-minute stagger from home to pub. If Liverpool aren't playing—if there isn't a game to prepare for later in the week—this is where he sometimes spends his evenings. He's sometimes with his wife Ulla, sometimes with other members of Liverpool's coaching staff, but he sometimes comes alone as well. He doesn't just sit there quietly sipping a pint, collecting his thoughts. He politely asks to join one of the quiz teams at random, whoever happens to be congregated closest. One quiz regular revealed he is good at answering questions about music, geography and politics. He buys a round of drinks, not to say thanks but because this is the cultural norm where groups are concerned.

Klopp has reached the point where he is now accepted as a member of the community. Neighbours like to speak to him, but they respect his privacy. They respect his humility, that he hasn't tried to be different to anyone else. At the beginning, though, when Klopp appeared on the boundaries at the nearby Formby Cricket Club with his pet dog Emma, a seven-year-old retriever cross named after former Borussia Dortmund striker Lothar Emmerich, word quickly spread across the town. It had been his first public sighting. Crowds did not surround him; rather, they watched him from a healthy distance, as if a prophet had appeared on their land. That was how it widely felt when Liverpool appointed him as manager: Klopp had come to save a fallen club.

"He's very tall and striking," recalls one onlooker who was watching cricket that day but asks not to be named here. Formby, 14 miles or so north of Anfield, where Liverpool play their home games, is small enough for everybody to think they know everyone else's business. However, conservatism (with a small "c") exists emphatically, so being seen to shout about it is about frowned upon on a social level.

"I've seen him a lot around Formby since," the onlooker adds. "He's usually with his dog on long walks. He hasn't kept himself away from anyone. He's always very relaxed and approachable. He'll talk about football. But he has other interests too. He's worldly."

Victoria Road is known as millionaires' row. In 2016, Land Registry data named the boulevard as the most expensive in Merseyside, according to Josh Perry of the Echo. During The Open in July, eventual champion Jordan Spieth rented the property next door to Klopp's family home while he was away in Hong Kong conducting Liverpool's pre-season schedule. This is a private area, where mansions have names rather than numbers—where beautiful willow trees overhang entire streets, where there are high walls and big cars.

Klopp had considered settling in Sefton Park, south of Liverpool's city centre—the bohemian enclave where Gerard Houllier used to live until his reign ended in 2004. While Liverpool's other foreign manager, Rafael Benitez, had set up base in prosperous Caldy across the river Mersey where the views are of north Wales, Klopp ended up moving into the home of his predecessor, Brendan Rodgers. Steven Gerrard, Liverpool's former captain, had sold the property to Rodgers in 2015 after signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Since returning to Merseyside, Gerrard has bought a plot of land further up Victoria Road, closer to the coastline where the pinewoods meet the Irish Sea.

"Formby has been a popular place to live for Liverpool players since the 1970s," says David Fairclough, the ex-Liverpool forward who is famous for his goal against French champions Saint-Etienne in 1977. That goal added to the lore of Anfield, as many believe that moment injected Liverpool with the confidence to become European champions for the first time in the club's history a few months later.

David Fairclough was a star turn for Liverpool in the 1970s.
David Fairclough was a star turn for Liverpool in the 1970s.Tony Duffy/Getty Images

"Emlyn Hughes was here back then," recalls Fairclough, who has lived in Formby for 28 years. "Phil Neal's still here—has been ever since he moved to Liverpool from Northampton Town. Ray Clemence was another back in the day, along with John Toshack. Tosh has got his name on winners' board at Formby Tennis Club. He won the singles' tournament one year."

In the 1980s, Liverpool's players started moving further up the coast to Southport, Ainsdale, Hillside and Birkdale. Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen are still there, on Selworthy Road. Hansen's home is particularly striking, an art deco design which overlooks the town's aforementioned famous golf course. The shift from Formby began after Dalglish signed from Celtic.

"Players are like penguins in that sense," Fairclough adds. "When new players join the club, they ask other players about nice areas to live. Before you know it, a honeypot develops."

Until recently, Adam Lallana had lived closest to Klopp—directly across the road, in fact. The midfielder tells an amusing story about his young son, Arthur and how he would react whenever he saw Liverpool's manager.

"Arthur, from the landing, would shout, 'Klopp, Klopp!' and give it the fist pump [like Klopp on the touchline during matches]," he says. "Jurgen looked back smiling and gave him a wave. Arthur was delighted."

Lallana has since moved some 50 miles away to Cheshire—along with captain Jordan Henderson, his closest friend in the Liverpool squad, who also lived on Victoria Road—because it had been decided that Arthur and Henderson's daughter Elexa should start school in that area.

Fairclough is ideally positioned to speak about the personality of Klopp, his suitability as a Liverpool manager and how he is fitting into Formby life. Fairclough's professional football career began just after Bill Shankly's retirement as manager, but having grown up closer to Anfield than any other player in the club's history just at the time Liverpool's fame was growing under his guidance, he understands more than most the impact Shankly had. It is Shankly's personality and skills, of course, that every Liverpool manager since has been measured against.

"There is a certain Shankly-ness about Jurgen," Fairclough believes. "I didn't play under Shankly, but he was still around the club when I was breaking into the team, and I encountered him at Melwood on the training field. Hearing the players from the 1960s speak about him in this way says to me that there is something in the comparison because they knew him so well. He was a father figure to many of them.

"There's a magnetism to Jurgen because when he says something, you listen. Steven Gerrard said that when he played for Liverpool in Australia in an end-of-season friendly, he couldn't believe the atmosphere inside the dressing room before the game. It was a friendly, but he said that Jurgen had the players focused and pumped up as if they were playing an FA Cup final. He reminded the players that 80,000 people had paid a lot of money to see Liverpool play all the way over in Australia. Bob Paisley would never have said something like that. Joe Fagan would never have acknowledged it either. Perhaps Kenny Dalglish might. But I know for certain, Shankly would.

"As much as Shankly wanted to make the players feel that they were the greatest, he wanted the fans to feel like they were the greatest as well. He had a deep conviction that Liverpool people were smart and understanding. His doctrine was about the fans feeling a part of everything he was doing. He really was a man of the people. Kenny [Dalglish] comes close to Shankly in terms of his relationship with the fans because of the support he gave in the aftermath of Hillsborough. But nobody has been as natural as Klopp has been.

"I remember reading an interview with the president of Mainz, and he was saying that appointing Jurgen as manager even though he had no experience at the time seemed like the perfectly natural thing to do. That says to me that he's not an average individual. Some people are natural leaders, like [Horatio] Nelson or Napoleon [Bonaparte]."

It is not uncommon for Liverpool supporters to speak about the team's players and managers on first-name terms even if they have never met them. Shankly created a marriage between those standing on the terraces, those chasing about on the pitch and the person directing this way and that from the dugout.

Dog-walking is a popular pastime for the Klopps.
Dog-walking is a popular pastime for the Klopps.Getty Images/Getty Images

"Jurgen waved at me a couple of times, and I didn't know absolutely for certain whether he knew I played for Liverpool," Fairclough admits. "I've got a pug and I take it for a walk a couple of times a day. So our first conversations were about dogsthe best walks to take around Formby. That's the first thing he usually asked, 'How's the dog?'

"In fact, I was walking the dog the other night, and he was just there outside the Freshie enjoying a pint, eating fish and chips in the sun with his wife and dog, of course. I know him reasonably enough to say hello now, to go and shake his hand and talk about other things as well as dogs. I asked him about fish and chips, what he thought. 'I love it!' he told me with a great deal of enthusiasm, as if they were the greatest portion of fish and chips he'd ever eaten."

Fairclough believes Klopp's friendliness amongst strangers has endeared him to the public the most. It's what makes supporters that encounter him believe he could be the next Shankly if his results as well as longevity end up matching his charisma and warmth.

"A friend of mine was walking his dog and the rain came down really heavily," Fairclough suddenly remembers. "He decided to take shelter under an old oak tree until the rain stopped. A few minutes later, a figure appeared, running towards him. The figure was also walking a dog. It was Jurgen Klopp. For the next 15 minutes or so, the two of them stood under the tree talking about dogs." 


One of the first decisions Bill Shankly made as Liverpool's manager after his appointment in 1959 was to alter the team's training pattern. He insisted the players assemble at Anfield in the mornings for breakfast before boarding a bus to Melwood, as the short journey would engender camaraderie. The facility, three-and-a-half miles to the east of Anfield, will be sold in a couple of years when Liverpool's training base moves further east to Kirkby, where the youth academy has been since 1998.

Klopp realised the need for change during his earliest days in charge at Liverpool. Expanding Melwood to accommodate the academy's 170 youngsters wasn't an option, though. The West Derby complex is surrounded by houses, while the academy is located on the edge of a council estate, with green-belt land on three sides.

Presently, first-team development coach Pep Lijnders is the key figure between the two bases. The Dutchman oversees the progression of what he calls the 'Futures Group,' which features the best players in the academy aged 15 and upwards. These players are invited to Melwood for one session a week, giving them the opportunity to impress Klopp.

Bill Shankly's bond with the Liverpool fans was unbreakable.
Bill Shankly's bond with the Liverpool fans was unbreakable.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Klopp, however, wants quick access to all of Liverpool's players. For the development of Liverpool's youngest, he believes it is necessary for them to witness the elite professionals, who set the standards that everyone else should follow. With all of Liverpool's players on the same site, he believes it will create the 'one-club' mentality that was present at Mainz and Borussia Dortmund.

Leaving Melwood would be a historical moment for Liverpool, considering it has been home since the 1950s when the land was bought from St Francis Xavier, a nearby school. After Shankly's achievements led to it being regarded as sacred ground, coaches from across Europe visited and studied Liverpool's methods, particularly during Paisley's era. Houllierone of those earlier studentsbrought it into the 21st century when he oversaw a major redevelopment in 2001.

Klopp gets frustrated—as were his predecessors—that his team selections have been leaked due to the low walls that protect Melwood, which have allowed fans to use bins, cars and ladders to prop themselves up and watch. Though Brendan Rodgers had a 4.5-metre privacy screen installed in 2015 in a bid to stop people spying—which Klopp uses for closed sessionsinformation still occasionally gets out.

What happens at Melwood, though, is not always easy to explain to the untrained eye. It's where Klopp trains his players to master his legendary gegenpressing tactic, where mannequins are placed at equal distances on pitches split into thirds. It's where Liverpool's players are taught the difference between high, medium and low pressing.

Before games, Klopp might target a pressing victim. If an opponent is considered vulnerable in possession of a ball, Klopp wants five or even six of his team to hunt down the prey.

As noted in the Independent, "Klopp will halt training and detail exactly where he wants each of his players to be when gegenpressing is employed, because he knows the risk is great. His team has to be compact, because if gaps are left it becomes easier for the opposition to break, leaving the defence light in numbers. If five go and one is not quite at the same level of concentration, then Liverpool are in real trouble."

"It is not easy to explain in words but very easy to understand in practice," says Georginio Wijnaldum, the Liverpool midfielder signed from Newcastle United in the summer of 2016, as he sits in Melwood's bright foyer one early summer's afternoon.

Wijnaldum speaks with a smooth assurance about his own responsibilities within the framework of Klopp's Liverpool's team, reflecting that he knows exactly what is expected of him.

"Jurgen wants me to penetrate the spaces between the opposition defenders and midfielders," he continues. "It is very important in the home games when teams play with four defenders and five midfielders. If you find the space, you might score the goal that influences the result."

This happened when Liverpool defeated Middlesbrough 3-0 on the final day of the 2016/17 Premier League season. Wijnaldum's opener, thumped past Brad Guzan in front of the Kop, eased the tension inside Anfield during a fixture Liverpool had to win to qualify for the Champions League.

The way Wijnaldum talks about Liverpool's style of football under Klopp, you would think a Dutchman is in charge at Anfield. The basic requirement for players to "appreciate space" was at the root of the Total Football which the great Dutch sides of the 1970s displayed. And yet, there is always the reminder of the physical requirements—the typically German levels of power and energy involved. Two days after a game, Liverpool's squad rest, but sessions thereafter are expected to take place at match speed. Wijnaldum denies that being a Klopp player can lead to exhaustion.

Georginio Wijnaldum likes how Klopp relates to his players.
Georginio Wijnaldum likes how Klopp relates to his players.PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

"The mind is free, and that is the most important thing," Wijnaldum believes. "The manager does not overload the players with information. Every game is different because opponents have different qualities and different threats, but the consistent element to our approach is, we do not man-mark. It would be difficult to counter-press if we man marked. This means we mark spaces."

Wijnaldum says Klopp is "the only manager in recent years that has regularly played me in my best position. Despite starting in a deeper area of the pitch now, he says there is an expectation to "play in front of the goalchoosing the moments when to attack according to the opportunities."

He also insists Klopp is more technical in his coaching than many observers might appreciate, but he agrees Klopp's personalityhis straightforward honestymakes players want to perform for him.

"A friend, but not a best friend; I think that is the easiest way to describe him," Wijnaldum says. "He really cares about the welfare of a player and wants to know you away from football. His memory is very long as well. One of my first goals as a professional footballer came for Feyenoord against Borussia Dortmund during a friendly match in Rotterdam 10 years ago. I think Jurgen told me it was his first season as a trainer at Dortmund. This was the thing we spoke about when I came to sign for Liverpool. He remembered me from that day and had followed my career ever since. He could describe the goalwho passed to me—every detail. It showed me that this guy is really serious.

"When I met with Jurgen, we had a good conversation, not just about my football but my life away from football as well. I liked him. It was clear he wanted to sign the person as well as the football player. This was important for me because these conversations do not always happen between manager and player. Jurgen is a manager that wants to have a connection with the players. If you only talk about football, it can become too professional, and then sometimes you can have problems. If you have a problem, if something is on your mind, you can go to him and speak.

"His strength is his ability to read a situation and react in the best way. When I made the mistake against Bournemouth [passing the ball backwards, allowing Joshua King to score] in the locker room at half time, he said, 'Hey, it's over. We cannot change this. Let's just focus on the things we can do to change the game for the better.' He will only be mad if you do not use your quality or you do not try 100 per cent. When this happens, he will say things to you. Otherwise, he is always trying to help. As a player, he makes you feel as though he has your back." 


The grainy black-and-white images from 1973 make the thousands of small faces in the Kop seem like one mush. Liverpool had won the old First Division title for the first time in seven seasons. The architect of the achievement, Bill Shankly, was greeting his people, who were desperate to get as close as possible to him. When a teenager threw a scarf in Shankly's direction, a policeman kicked it away only to be admonished by the figure standing like a head of state in front of him.

"It's only a scarf to you," Shankly said, "but it's the boy's life."

With that, Shankly responded by picking the scarf up, placing it around his neck and pulling tightly, as if he was never going to let go. The communion between supporter and manager was at a religious level.

"The moment had a massive effect on my life," reflects Peter Hooton, who later became the lead singer of a Liverpool band, The Farm, but then was nine years old. "The relief was enormous. I thought to myself, 'This fella is the messiah—he is the second coming.'"

Peter Hooton has been a fan of Liverpool since childhood.
Peter Hooton has been a fan of Liverpool since childhood.Jim Dyson/Getty Images

Hooton's first Liverpool game had been watching the reserves perched precariously on one of the Kop's crush barriers, from where he fell, cracking his head. Hooton's father knew the son of Albert Shelley, the legendary trainer who used to pose for team photographs at the start of every season wearing a distinctive white coat, making him seem like a mad scientist. The relationship resulted in tickets and a safer position higher in the southern corner of Anfield's main stand. It meant a prime view of the pandemonium elsewhere in the stadium.

"As a kid, I was obsessed with the Kop, looking at it as much as the game," Hooton continues. "The pitch looked magnificent, and the all-red kit looked fantastic, but what was happening to the right of us in the Kop was even more interesting. Steam rising from the middle of the terraces, thousands of people swaying—and the noise, of course. I was fascinated by it. That was what I was looking forward to in my life: being able to stand in the Kop one day."

Hooton fulfilled his wish, as his path into adulthood coincided with Liverpool's greatest period of success. In the 17 years between 1973 and 1990, Liverpool won 11 First Division titles and four European Cups. Liverpool have not been champions in the Premier League era, which began a quarter of a century ago this August, partially explaining why the atmosphere on the Kop is different now.

"Hillsborough, all-seater stadiums, Sky television's investment, random kick-off times, high ticket demand, corporate ownership, commercialism and globalisation have all had an impact as well," Hooton says rapidly. "The problems run deeper than many would like to recognise, and that means the solutions are complex, too. Jurgen Klopp came here sold on the reputation of Anfield—and the Kop in particular. I suspect he was astounded by the lack of atmosphere."

Klopp may have made an impression on his neighbours in Formby. His power at Melwood might already be absolute. It is at Anfield, though, where his reputation and legacy as Liverpool's manager will ultimately be defined.

The old main stand is gone now, replaced by a new giant structure completed in the summer of 2016. If Hooton were to situate himself in the position where he used to gaze down at the Kop in awe as a child, what would he see in 2017?

"People sitting down," he says. "Unless it was a big European match or a key Premier League game against a rival when, as everyone knows, fans stand up. Against the West Broms or the Stokes, you see disengagement. The Kop is a twitching corpse. Only now and again, it springs to life."

When Klopp was appointed as Liverpool's manager, he spoke about his determination to turn "doubters into believers," as he was aware of the frustrations of Liverpool supporters after decades without a title. Over the years, the Kop's belligerence has been worth so many points to Liverpool, with noise seeming to rise from the bowels of the stand at crucial times, overwhelming the opposition, pushing Liverpool towards victory. And yet, the Kop has the ability to undermine the pursuit of glory as well, perhaps now more so than ever.

"I think the difference between a good atmosphere and a bad atmosphere is felt more acutely inside Anfield than anywhere else," believes Mike Nevin, a respected author and writer with the popular Anfield Wrap fanzine and podcast. "My season ticket is at the back of the Kop in Block 306—the singing section, which was created to try and make the mood a little bit more like it used to be. The fact that a singing section was created in the first place tells you that a problem was recognised. Yet the block is too high, and basic science tells you it's difficult to project noise downwards."

Anfield also has an ageing fan base.

"When I look down, all I can see is row upon row of seated bald or grey heads," Nevin continues. "As much as I have loads of respect for those people—and I'm one of them, age-wise—you're not as energetic as you get older. You're not quite as positively passionate and are more cynical about the world. Other areas of life take overkids, marriages, jobs. Football was an escape as a 20-year-oldbecoming emotionally engaged in a football match, a distraction from realities. Later on, you see things differently. And in the modern game, the cost of going has become an extension of the financial concern.

"Everybody said that Klopp was a natural fit for Liverpool, but through no fault of his own, I'm not sure that he actually is. At Dortmund, he had the Yellow Wall, which predominantly was made up of young men with their tops off, a few beers inside them. Most of our crowd are in their mid-40s at youngest. They're driving to the game and having one pint before and shooting off straight after the game to meet their families. Liverpool isn't really the same as Dortmund."

Nevin and Hooton are not alone in believing there is a demographic issue inside Anfield, which ultimately does not help Klopp. In Shankly's era, football was affordable. Youngsters could stand together in big groups behind the goal and sing their way through the games, determining the mood on the terraces. In Klopp's era, friends are spread out in different sections of the ground, and Liverpool supporters, as Hooton puts it, "are still war-weary and suspicious" from the disastrous reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett as owners, which took the club close to administration.

John W Henry heads up Fenway Sports Group.
John W Henry heads up Fenway Sports Group.JOHN MACDOUGALL/Getty Images

Fenway Sports Group, which replaced the pair in 2010 in what Hicks then described as "an epic swindle," have since helped stabilise Liverpool's financial position, with the Massachusetts investment company leaning heavily upon statistics when it comes to decision-making. When Anfield's reputation is sold on its atmosphere, though—to new fans from across the globe, to commercial partners and even to Klopp—perhaps analysis goes too far when there are investigations into the average 'yield per seat,' which in basic terms translates as how much each supporter inside the stadium on a matchday is likely to spend in addition to their ticket. When wealthy tourists spend more on official merchandise than, say, working-class kids, is it a surprise that a generation of local youngsters find themselves marginalised from the ground?

"You do sense that some who turn up at Anfield for the day want to be entertained rather than get behind the team," Hooton says. "There's a fine balance to be found at Liverpool. Liverpool is a global brand now, and you can't stop tourism in football. I actually like that people from all over the world come to the city because of the Beatles and Liverpool FC. But you've still got to keep your heart and soul. When that goes, it's difficult to rediscover. And at the moment, a lot of people who might create the atmosphere Klopp craves are outside the ground."

To watch Klopp during a match is to watch a cross between a conductor at the Royal Albert Hall and a lion in a cage. He does not pay much attention to the restrictions of his technical area and often strays, usually when a goal goes in, proceeding to celebrate like he thinks it might be the last goal one of his teams will ever score. 

The Kop indeed loves him. "For the first time—as far back as I can remember—everyone is behind him," Nevin recognises. "He's got an unshakable belief amongst the fans, and he's got the track record that Brendan Rodgers never had, though he is still calling on that record because he hasn't won anything yet despite the progress that's been made."

And yet, it does not always feel like Klopp loves the Kop. When the Kop sings his name, he tries to ignore it, believing it is the team that needs support. When they sing his name in the final minutes of a game, it visibly riles him, particularly if a game is not yet won. He thinks it might encourage Liverpool's players to drop their concentration levels.

He was mocked, in fact, for celebrating with the Kop during his first months in charge following a 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion. Liverpool had not won, but Klopp believed a mental obstacle had been hurdled in the form of Tony Pulis' notoriously obdurate side, and so he engaged in a communion that not everybody understood.

"Since then, he's become reticent to get too close to the Kop," Nevin thinks. "There seems to be an invisible line around the 18-yard box where the players nor the manager will pass after games. Why not come a bit closer? Players are such mythical creatures these days, you can't touch them. Perhaps it would be an idea, after a good win, at least, to embrace with the fans. Perhaps he's waiting to win a trophy. Then nobody will be able to argue with him."

           

All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated.

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