Jürgen Klopp Liverpool Coach Back in the Heimat

After saying auf wiedersehen to the Bundesliga at the end of last season, Jürgen Klopp, the former Borussia Dortmund trainer, returns to the homeland Thursday for the first time as coach of Liverpool FC in England’s Premier League. He needs to head back with a win.
Mr. Klopp likes to be close to his players.

This article was originally published on February 17, 2016, and republished without changes in February 2018.

Jürgen Klopp has had a bad couple of weeks.

The German coach of soccer club Liverpool FC was rushed to hospital with appendicitis. Then he weathered an ugly fan protest over ticket price increases, only to see his former arch-rival Pep Guardiola, the coach of Bayern Munich, announce he will be following him to England from Germany this summer as coach of Manchester City.

But those are the least of his current worries. The coach is under intense pressure on the field. After taking over Liverpool in October, he has seen his side kicked out of Britain's FA Cup and able to win only one in its last five matches.

The surprise 6-0 win over lowly Aston Villa on Sunday helped stem the flow of losses. But now Mr. Klopp faces a real challenge: a must-win European game that will mark his first return to Germany since joining Liverpool.

His team meets German team FC Augsburg on Thursday evening in the first of two encounters in the knock-out stage of the UEFA Europa League soccer tournament.

German soccer fans can hardly wait to see him again.

This is not a wish concert. Jürgen Klopp, Coach of Liverpool FC

One of the country’s prized exports, the former Borussia Dortmund coach is now embedded in the hotbed of English soccer as boss of famed premier league team Liverpool FC.

His homecoming is generating plenty of buzz in Germany. The “Kloppmania” that once engulfed fans in the 81,350-seat Dortmund stadium and on television hasn’t faded. In fact, the 48-year-old coach has made Liverpool the most-followed English club of German fans, according to German pundits.

Supporters in both Germany and Britain thrive on his charisma, his fighting spirit and his wit.

They love it when he jumps in the air, fists clenched, when his team scores. They laugh when he barks at line referees, with his huge mouth full of shiny teeth ready to chew their heads off. They listen closely to his post-game analysis of opponents, of a great play or a bad call, showing more skills behind the microphone than many of the trained sports commentators in front of it.

 

And Liverpudlian’s are being entertained – and occasionally puzzled – by his language creations, derived from thinking in German and speaking in English.

Two recent examples: “This is not a wish concert” (“Das ist kein Wunschkonzert,” meaning you can’t always have it your way) and “I was on the tree” (“auf die Palme bringen,” meaning to make someone mad).

His “Denglish,” jokes and smile as well as his animated coaching style have made him so popular that Liverpool has seen a merchandising opportunity to plaster his image on T-shirts, beer cups and scarfs.

Ahead of Thursday's match, Augsburg soccer club got in on the act too, in a tweet offering Liverpool fans a little help with the German language should they be making the trip over.

Mr. Klopp is only the second German coach to venture across the North Sea. Felix Magath, the former coach of German clubs including Bayern Munich and VfL Wolfsburg, had a dismal spell at London-side Fulham in 2014, ending with the team’s relegation from the top tier.

But Mr. Klopp, too, has had a tough start in the Premier League since taking over Liverpool from Brendan Rodgers in October. The club was 10th in the league at the time he joined and is now 8th. At one point the club climbed to 3rd place, before dropping back down after a series of losses.

Liverpool hasn’t won a league title since 1990 and last lifted the Champions League trophy in 2005. But in terms of history, the club still boasts some pulling power.

Mr. Klopp insists it will take some time to rebuild the team and is moving to sign up players who can adapt to his playing style, based on high-octane pressing and plenty of pace. Last week, he secured the services of Joel Matip, the Cameroonian midfielder whose contract with the German team FC Schalke 04 expires at the end of the season.

Nor would you want to be on the wrong side of this English fan.

 

The German travels to Augsburg full of confidence after the headline-grabbing Aston Villa shooting match. “That was good for the soul,” he told reporters after the game. But it was a rare win in what has been difficult few weeks for Mr. Klopp.

His team’s patchy form, a fans’ protest over high ticket prices and the just-announced summer move of his coaching rival Mr. Guardiola to Man City have all conspired to turn the screw. The game in the southern German city could be a turning point.

For Augsburg, the Liverpool match, in the round of the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League cup, puts the German minnows on the map.

“Nobody in Europe knows us,” Augsburg coach Markus Weinzierl conceded in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

The club fought its way into the top tier Bundesliga league in 2011 and finished fifth last season, but is currently struggling in the bottom five. It has never advanced this far in a European tournament or ever played an English team, especially one as popular as Liverpool.

Despite losing to Bayern Munich at the weekend and slipping further in the rankings, Augsburg believes it has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“For the club, Liverpool is a dream,” Mr. Weinzierl said in the interview. “It crowns our development of the past few years.”

Bayern Munich Pep Guardiola is headed for Manchester City. 

 

For Liverpool, a win in Augsburg is a must. The Reds have made it to the final of England’s league cup competition but have already been booted out of the more prestigious FA Cup, and their current mid-table position is hardly a threat to the teams above it.

So the team needs a strong performance in the Europa League to keep its notoriously demanding fans happy – and Mr. Klopp on track to pursue a larger goal. He hopes to return the club to the Champions League, the top level of competition in European football, next year.

Liverpool has two chances to qualify for it. The first is to fight its way up to secure one of the Premier League’s top four spots. That’s a tall order, considering the team’s current ranking.

The second is to win Europa League, which would automatically qualify Liverpool for the Champions League. That, too, is no cup of tea, as the Reds are five fixtures from doing so.

Mr. Klopp feels the pressure, especially back on his home turf. “I’ve only been away for four months and don’t really have the feeling that I absolutely need to return,” he joked with reporters in a pre-game television interview. “I haven’t been waiting for this.”

If his track record as a coach against Augsburg means anything, Mr. Klopp shouldn’t have much to worry about. In the ten times he has faced the Bavarians with Borussia Dortmund, he has won five games, drawn four and lost one.

 

John Blau and David Reay are editors at Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the authors: [email protected] and [email protected]