Bring the Noise

The Jürgen Klopp Story


By Raphael Honigstein

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JüKlopp’s coaching career began in the German second tier at the unfashionable club of FSV Mainz 05, whom he steered to the Bundesliga for the first time in forty-one years. In 2008, he joined Borussia Dortmund, where he achieved back-to-back league titles and took the club to the UEFA Champions League final. He left Germany for one of the England’s most challenging jobs: to manage Liverpool, a once-mighty club that had not managed sustained success since the 1980s.

It was not a task for the fainthearted. Anfield, Liverpool’s home, is a temple to flamboyant attacking soccer powered by passion. In Klopp, Liverpool finally found a manager who embodied the essence of the club. Klopp is dynamic, expressive, restless, driven-he feels every move and play, every tactical shift, every contact on the field. His eyes betray a wild ecstasy and agony as his team thrives or falls. His game plan demands relentless commitment-the famous gegenpress-and he is one of the great personal motivators in all sport.

Raphael Honigstein, author of Das Reboot and Budesliga correspondent for the Guardian, has interviewed Klopp and followed his career since his early years, and better than anyone knows how to “bring the noise” to his subject.



Glatten 1967

The Black Forest isn’t black. It’s not even a forest. Not any more. Eighteen hundred years ago, the wild Germanic tribes of the Alemanni first tore through the massed gloom that had so scared the Romans, to make space for cattle and villages. Celtic missionaries from Scotland and Ireland, armed with axes and faith, kept pushing inward until nature was bested, iniquity contained. Today, the remnants of the darkness mostly serve as raw material for children’s nightmares and cuckoo clocks, as well as a magnificent tourism brand.

From all over the country and beyond, they flock to the low mountain range in Germany’s south-westerly corner, to clear their lungs and hearts of all urban squalor. After the war, the Black Forest became a favourite of a film industry searching for an unsoiled backdrop, an idyllic setting for health clinics real and imagined, one of those places where fantasy and reality could blend into one another to enchanting effect.

Cynics beware, because it is, of course, all true–in the picture-perfect town of Glatten. The neat white houses with their gingerbread rooftops and wooden balconies, unpretentiously pushed up against the hills, keeping watch over endless slopes of green. ‘Others build on top of the hill, to show off their splendour. But Swabians build their houses into the hill, to hide how big they truly are,’ explains former Green party politician Rezzo Schlauch about the modest mindset of the local inhabitants, his kinsmen. ‘They will keep the Mercedes in the garage and put the VW in the driveway.’

The river Glatt (Old High German for bright or smooth) flows down from the north into the tiny town that borrowed its name, past the steel-clad J. Schmalz GmbH vacuum technology factory. The river is a discreet chaperon to the high street (car dealership, bank, bakery, butcher, florist, a doner kebab stand) and hesitant supplier to the natural swimming pool, flowing out again next to the sports ground past Böffingen, a village that’s been absorbed by Glatten proper.

A difficult climate–there’s a lot of rain–makes this a paradise won, not given. They grow grass, corn, piglets and people of fearsome resolve and frugality here; an extreme type of Germans, harder than hard-working, unwilling to give themselves an inch. ‘Schaffe, schaffe, Häusle baue’: you work, work, then build a house; that’s how the famous saying in this region goes.

‘To toil day and night is a big part of being Swabian,’ says Schlauch. ‘That has its roots in history, as has the Swabians’ reputation for being innovative. In other regions, the first-born would inherit their parents’ farms. But in Swabia, the land was partitioned equitably among the children. The farmland got smaller and smaller until it was no longer viable, so the descendants were forced to take up other jobs. Many of them became inventors and Tüftler, people looking to find new solutions to old problems.’

Local custom demands that everything must be done studiously, seriously. Including fun. One of the fourteen active social clubs in Glatten is dedicated to ‘Carnival’. Another one brings together friends of the German Shepherd Dog.

Barns line a little street dotted with lumps of clay left behind by tractors, and then it’s here, right next to a field: Isolde Reich’s ‘Haarstüble’, a petite hair salon, discreet meeting place, outlet for charity socks hand-knitted by one of Reich’s friends. The proceeds go towards buying shoes for the homeless.

Isolde was born in Glatten in 1962, the younger of two sisters. Her father Norbert, a talented goalkeeper, was a sport fanatic. Thwarted by a serious-minded father–‘he insisted Norbert should have a proper vocation, not try his hand at becoming a football pro,’ Reich says–his career was over before it had really begun. His sporting ambitions, however, were undiminished. He played amateur football, handball and tennis, and tried to pass on his passion to his family. When his wife Elisabeth and eldest daughter Stefanie showed no inclination to take up any game, Norbert’s hopes centred on Isolde. Before her birth (‘In my album of baby photos, he wrote “Isolde, you should have been a boy, actually,”’ she smiles), and after. ‘I was the first girl in all of Glatten to go to football training.’

Norbert was her coach, his methods exacting and demanding. He took five-year-old Isolde to practise heading on the Riedwiesen football pitch next to the river, where an old heavy ball on a rope hung from a green iron bar. If her body positioning wasn’t right or her arms were too high, Norbert sent her to run a lap around the pitch for punishment. ‘He was tough but just. A man of principle, full of passion,’ Reich says.

In the summer of 1967, her mother left the family home for a month. Elisabeth was heavily pregnant, and the risk of complications made it necessary to check into a clinic in Stuttgart, 80 minutes away to the north-west. The local hospital at Freudenstadt, just 8.5km up the road, wasn’t equipped to perform caesareans. It was hard for Stefanie and Isolde to be without their mother for such a long time. ‘We were promised: “Mum will bring something amazing for you when she comes back.”’

When Norbert and Elisabeth arrived at the house, however, they had a tiny baby in their arms, screaming its head off. After an hour or so, the sisters wondered whether it couldn’t be taken back and exchanged for something different. A small, shrieking brother–what a lousy surprise! But Isolde soon realised that she had been given much more than a second, annoyingly loud sibling that day. ‘All of my dad’s sporting focus shifted immediately on to the boy. I was relieved from practising headers with the pendulum, allowed to take up ballet and athletics instead. Jürgen’s birth was my good fortune really. He set me free.’


Mainz 2001

Christian Heidel loves the story so much, he’s beginning to wonder if it’s actually true. ‘As a Mainzer, I could say: let’s make this up. But it really happened,’ he insists, readying himself for a mental hyper-jump: from the corporate blandness of his Schalke 04 office to a city lustily singing and dancing in a confetti rain, and a tiny, hopeless second-division team banished to a distinctly unsexy, provincial exile forty minutes away by car.

The day before, on 25 February 2001, FSV Mainz 05 had played their bogey side SpvGG Greuther Fürth and lost 3-1 at the Playmobil-Stadion. ‘Klopp was a little bit injured and the worst man on the pitch, he had to come off twenty minutes before the end,’ Heidel says. The defeat plunged Mainz deep into the relegation zone. ‘We were am Arsch,’ the former FSV general manager smiles. Quite literally in the bottom of the table, with no discernible light at the, ahem, end of the tunnel. ‘We had 3,000 people at games on average, nobody cared about us any more. Everybody was sure we were going down.’

His colleagues on the Mainz board were all in the city centre, revelling in the Rose Monday carnival festivities for which the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate is famous in Germany. Half a million people dress up in silly costumes, get a little tipsy and a little flirty. State broadcasters ARD and ZDF devote an entire evening to the four-hour meeting of the city’s carnival clubs at the Electoral Palace, a potpourri of beer-soaked gags and political satire.

Eckhart Krautzun, the well-travelled Mainz coach (nickname: ‘Weltenbummler’, globetrotter), deemed the temptations of the carnival too great for the team ahead of a very big game at Duisburg on Ash Wednesday. ‘After losing in Fürth, the shit had hit the fan in Mainz. We knew that they would either axe the coach or set light to our backsides. We were secluded in a hotel in Bad Kreuznach for three days, so that no one got out and about,’ says FSV midfielder Jürgen Kramny, Jürgen Klopp’s roommate at the time.

Christian Heidel had stayed at home in Mainz. He wasn’t in the mood for partying; the team’s situation was too dire to act the fool. It was obvious that the coach had to go. Krautzun was a very pleasant man, no doubt, an experienced operator who had once coached Diego Maradona in a game for Al-Ahli FC in Saudi Arabia, the national teams of Kenya and Canada, as well as a raft of clubs around the world, but six points in nine games since he had taken over in November was the kind of run that was heading straight for relegation. Heidel also felt that Krautzun had somewhat tricked him into getting appointed in the first place.

His predecessor, the former Belgian international René Vandereycken, had been a gruff, monosyllabic coach whose refusal to communicate with players, board members and officials was matched only by his reluctance to put forward a coherent playing system. He was fired twelve games and a meagre twelve points into the 2000–01 season, with Mainz in the relegation zone once more. Heidel wanted someone in charge next who could re-implement the successful back four/zonal marking system that the former Mainz coach Wolfgang Frank had introduced six years earlier, a tactic seen as so modern and advanced at the time by Bundesliga standards that almost no one knew how to make it work.

Heidel: ‘I told everybody that I wanted a coach with a sense of understanding of a back four. Somebody who could practise it, who could teach the players. All of a sudden, I get a call from Krautzun. I have to be honest, I hadn’t thought of him at all. He’d been at Kaiserslautern before, it hadn’t really worked out for him there, and I had the feeling there was no point. But he kept on talking and talking until he convinced me to meet him. So I went to see him in Wiesbaden. He proceeded to explain everything about the back four in great detail to me and I thought, “Fuck me, he really does know his stuff after all!” I had seen so much of Frank’s training that I knew exactly what the specific exercises had looked like. So I appointed him coach. About two weeks later, Klopp came up to me and said that Krautzun had called him a month before. “He wanted to know how the back four works, we spoke for three hours.” And that’s what it looked like on the pitch. We won one game in the beginning and then it all went tits up.’

Getting rid of Krautzun was the sensible, easy decision. Finding the right successor proved much harder. Heidel tore through a mountain of Kicker yearbooks, hoping to excavate a suitable candidate. ‘There was no World Wide Web then. You didn’t know who coached at Brugge, for example. In any case, these types of teams were five times our size. Different times. There were almost no foreign coaches in the Bundesliga either. You were fishing in the same pond the whole time.’ After a while, Heidel closed all the books and admitted defeat: ‘I thought the only chance left for us was to somehow get to the point where we played like we had under Wolfgang Frank. But I couldn’t find anyone. I had no idea who could do this job.’

Maybe Heidel found inspiration in the jesters parading through the Mainz streets on the day when normal rules didn’t apply. He was out of sensible answers. The only logical move left was to plump for the downright absurd. If there was no right coach to be found, maybe the answer… was to go without one?

‘I thought “Let’s do something spectacular. We should coach ourselves.”’ There were ‘enough really good guys and intelligent players in the squad’, he says, to make that crazy idea work, they could teach those who had arrived after Frank’s time at the Bruchwegstadion. But football being football, someone still had to be in charge. Heidel chewed over putting himself up. ‘I could have told them how the system works after attending so many of Wolfgang’s sessions, but I had never played a single game in the Bundesliga, not even in the Oberliga [fourth division]. That would have looked stupid. That’s why I gave Klopp a call in his hotel room in Bad Kreuznach. He had no clue what was coming.’

Heidel informed the veteran right-back that they couldn’t carry on with Krautzun, that they had to make a change. ‘I said to him: “I think you are uncoachable. The stuff we play here–or want to play–to be successful, nobody in Germany understands. You, the team, understand it. But it doesn’t work out with any of the coaches.” Klopp still didn’t know what I was getting at. Then I said: “What do you think about us coaching ourselves? Someone has to front it, and that should be you.” There was silence on the other side of the line, for maybe three, four seconds. Then he said: “Great idea. Let’s do it.”’

Heidel called captain Dimo Wache, the goalkeeper. ‘Kloppo was the real captain, but Dimo had the armband. Dietmar Constantini [the coach prior to Krautzun] had taken it off Klopp, because he always complained about tactics. He was into tactics unlike any other player, he spent a lot of time thinking about it. Constantini had also taken him out of the team for a spell. Kloppo on the bench, that doesn’t work at all. It’s funny when he complains about players complaining today, you should have seen him then…

Harald Strutz, the debonair Mainz president, was busy fulfilling carnivalistic duties as a leading member of the Ranzengarde, a nineteenth-century guard of faux soldiers mocking Prussian militarism. ‘Heidel called me and said: “We have to sack the manager, urgently,”’ Strutz says, sitting in his neat office at Mainz’s administrative headquarters in a corporate block outside the city. In the lobby, there’s a glass cabinet with FSV merchandise, including a special version of Monopoly with Klopp and Heidel on the cover. ‘Krautzun was very proper. He wanted to stay in the job but we told him it’s over. So I took off my Ranzengarde uniform and drove to Bad Kreuznach. Everyone’s partying on Rose Monday in Mainz but that doesn’t mean everyone’s drunk. Well, I wasn’t, otherwise I wouldn’t have driven there. We asked Kloppo: “Do you think you’re up to it?” He didn’t hesitate for a second: “Yes, absolutely. Yes, of course.”’

Strutz pauses for a moment, taken aback by the incongruity of the most important decision he’s ever presided over at Mainz. He’s a local politician for the Liberal Democrats and works as a lawyer, there’s a copy of the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, the German civil code, on his conference table. Strutz is, in summary, a pretty serious man. Not the kind of club boss you’d expect to get swept up by the Schnapsidee (flight of fancy) of his general manager. ‘It’s a very special story,’ he continues. ‘That was the beginning. Why should we change that? If you knew what it looked like here then… It was an extraordinary achievement to keep the whole team together. An extraordinary start to such a coaching career. This extraordinariness still fizzes in the mind.’

The ten local journalists who arrived for the FSV press conference at Bad Kreuznach the next day weren’t as elated. Heidel: ‘They already knew that Krautzun was gone. We confirmed it. Then this one journalist, Reinhard Rehberg, who still works today, said, “What is Klopp doing here?” They all thought we would appoint the assistant coach as caretaker manager but I don’t think we even had an assistant manager at the time. So I said, “Kloppo will be the coach here.” The whole table roared with laughter. They all cracked up. They took the piss out of us the next day in the papers. People believe that everybody cheers Klopp all the time but he wasn’t the Klopp of today, he was the Klopp of then. He was a player, he didn’t have a professional coaching badge, he had studied sport science.’

Klopp knew that the reporters didn’t believe he was in any way qualified to save Mainz from the drop. He made a joke about his own inexperience, pretending he didn’t know the script. ‘You have to tell me what I have to say here,’ he commanded the press corps with a broad smile.

‘The next thing, I’ll never forget this,’ Heidel says. ‘The journalists left and Klopp said: “We’re off to train now.” We boarded a couple of buses and drove to Friedrich-Moebus-Stadion. And I got there and I saw something that made me think: “Ah, there’s life here.” There were these poles on the pitch everywhere. The team were practising moving side to side in formation again. That’s when I knew: we had returned to the times of Wolfgang Frank.’

The squad was as surprised as the journalists that Klopp was the new boss. ‘All of a sudden, there’s Kloppo in the meeting room addressing us as coach,’ former FSV midfielder Sandro Schwarz remembers. ‘He was still one of us, really, you didn’t have to address him formally or keep your distance. He had a natural authority but we were still close, and he followed through on things. The team didn’t mind because we were in such difficulties in the relegation fight. Nobody believed in us any more. The boys who had been there for a while longed to play the 4-4-2 system again, the system that had made us strong. With his positive demeanour, he got us to adopt the old behavioural patterns once more.’

The first-ever team meeting left a lasting impression on Heidel. ‘I still remember how that room looked. This guy had never addressed a team before. Never. I was a bit leaner then, fitter. If somebody had given me a pair of boots right then, I would have dashed out to play against Duisburg after hearing him talk. I had witnessed ten, eleven coaches before. But nothing like that. You wanted to go out and play straight away. I left the room and encountered many doubters. They said, “He’s only a player…” I told Strutz and my colleagues on the board that we would win, 100 per cent. If the team were as sure as I was, we had to win, we would win. I can’t tell you the exact words but it was a mixture of tactics and motivation, more of a lecture. We could have played immediately. He talked and talked until the team believed they were good.’

‘Taking the job felt like a kamikaze mission,’ Klopp admitted to a decade later. ‘There was only one question I asked myself: what can we do to stop losing? I didn’t think about winning the game at all. The first session was all about running across the pitch tactically. I put up these poles and wondered what the right distances between the lines had been under Wolfgang Frank. Most players still had the right moves lodged in their long-term memory from the days they had practised it under him until they had been blue in the face. We wanted to play a game that was independent of the opposition.’ As far as the motivational part of his pep talk was concerned, it too echoed one of Frank’s themes: that ‘investing the final 5 per cent’ (Klopp) would make the difference.

Klopp made ‘simple decisions’, Kramny says. ‘I moved from right midfield into the centre. One or two more changes. Heidel told us that we all had to pull together after giving previous coaches such a hard time. We all felt responsible. There wasn’t much time to do a lot, so the idea was to inject a bit of fun, to practise our shape and dead balls. And then we said: Okay, let’s go. Run, run, run. It was pissing down on matchday.’

Heidel: ‘There were 4,500 people in the ground. Playing on Ash Wednesday is something special in Mainz. Duisburg were the much better side, a hot contender for promotion. I have to honestly say we played them off the park. We won 1-0 but they never got near our goal. They couldn’t deal with our system at all. The people in the stadium went berserk.’

Those in the main stand had a particularly good time. They saw a Mainz coach ‘behaving like the twelfth man, effectively playing the game on the touchline’, Heidel adds. ‘The stand only held 1,000 people at the time but they were in stitches laughing about that guy down below. I don’t even know where he ran to when we scored. Maybe he was even sent off by the referee?’ (He wasn’t, on this occasion.) ‘It was all very, very special. But you have to say this: that was his birth. And then he was on his way.’


Dortmund 2008

It’s a sharp winter’s night in Marbella in January 2017, and the Don Pepe Gran Meliá Hotel lobby is a Dynasty set designer’s dream: white marble, gold-cased pillars, potted palm trees. And a man playing the saxophone.

Borussia Dortmund staffers in shorts are pushing crates of dirty apparel from the evening’s training session past the vacant hotel bar. Sitting on a cream-coloured sofa, Hans-Joachim Watzke takes in the scene with a contented nod. The 58-year-old BVB CEO is a successful entrepreneur; his workwear company, Watex, turns over €250m annually. He’s the man who saved the club from bankruptcy in 2005, the man who brought back the good football, the excitement and the trophies to the Westfalenstadion by hiring Jürgen Klopp in 2008. But, like any true supporter, he seems to find the most happiness and pride in just being here, on a ten-day winter break trip to Andalusia with the team. He’s wearing a training suit with his initials on the chest.

‘Why Klopp? It’s an easy question to answer,’ he says, setting down his espresso cup. ‘In 2007, it was clear that we would survive as a club, but also clear that we had no money to put into the team.’

Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e.V Dortmund, Bundesliga champions in 1995 and 1996, Champions League winners in 1997 and champions again in 2002, had done a ‘Leeds’. A cash injection of €130m from floating the club on the Frankfurt stock exchange in 2000 had been spent on hugely expensive players in an unsustainable arms race with Bayern Munich. When the team failed to qualify for the Champions League in 2005 for the second time in a row, the club almost collapsed under the weight of €240m worth of debt. ‘We were at the club HQ and didn’t know whether we would still have a job the next day,’ stadium announcer and former BVB striker Norbert ‘Nobby’ Dickel says. ‘Awful times.’

‘Dortmund is a city that lives with the club, that lives for the club,’ Sebastian Kehl says. The former captain remembers the whole town being on edge, extremely worried that Borussia could be wound up. ‘Taxi drivers, bakers, hotel employees–everybody feared for their livelihood. It was very tough to deal with for us players, knowing that winning or losing won’t make much of a difference.’

It was Watzke, the former treasurer of the club (not the plc), who saved BVB, by wresting control from the quite literally discredited duo of sporting director Michael Meier and president Gerd Niebaum. He negotiated a loan from Morgan Stanley and a capital increase, enabling Dortmund to buy back their stadium and end a crippling lease-back arrangement. But the radical cost-cutting plan left no funds to buy star names.

Watzke: ‘[Sporting director] Michael Zorc and I had agreed that we wanted to build a young team. [Left-back] Marcel Schmelzer was already there, and [midfielder Kevin] Großkreutz. We wanted to play different football as well. Under Bert van Marwijk and Thomas Doll, the ball would go from one end of the back four to the other and back again, ten times in a row. We had 57 per cent possession but there was no action. You can’t play like that in Dortmund. We wanted to promise people a team that ran so hard that bits would come off. That’s what we had encountered at Mainz when we played there in the prior two years. You always felt they weren’t that good but somehow made it very difficult for you and beat you sometimes. Because they had the mentality of murderers. And a very good set-up, tactically. That had to be down to their coach. Taking someone from the second division would have been difficult for Dortmund now. But back then, it was possible.’

Borussia weren’t entirely sure Klopp could make the transition from patron saint at Mainz to reviving a Bundesliga giant that had fallen on hard times, Christian Heidel reveals. ‘They had concerns,’ he says. Watzke first approached the Mainz general manager in October 2007, ahead of the German FA annual general meeting. Heidel: ‘He phoned and asked if we could go for a coffee. I didn’t know him then. We sat down and the talk quickly turned to Jürgen Klopp. His contract was up at the end of the season. Watzke asked: “How good is Klopp?” I said: “If I now say that he’s good, you’ll pinch him off me. I could also lie and tell you that he’s useless. But then you’ll tell that to Kloppo and he’ll be upset with me.” Then I said: “This guy is a Bundesliga coach.”’ Watzke probed further, without explicitly mentioning Dortmund. Was Klopp able to coach a big Bundesliga club? ‘I told him that Kloppo could coach any club in the world,’ Heidel says. ‘That’s because he’s got an advantage [over his peers]: he’s really intelligent. He will adjust at a big club. If you need someone in a suit and in a tie, don’t get Jürgen Klopp. But if you want a top coach, you’ll have to get him. It wasn’t a case of making an immediate decision but I know that Dortmund were looking at him a bit more closely from that day on. But they still weren’t entirely convinced. Watzke kept on calling me, I don’t know how many times. I always said: “Go for it, go for it. You will never regret the day you sign Jürgen Klopp.”’

Regrets over the hiring of Thomas Doll were growing all the time at Strobelallee. The former Germany midfielder, in the job since March 2007, failed to inspire the players or the public with the painfully dull brand of football his team played. Dortmund were closer to relegation than to the top of the table and ended up in thirteenth place, their worst league position in twenty years. A good run in the DFB Pokal, where in the final in April they were beaten only by Bayern Munich in extra-time (2-1), couldn’t deflect from the shortcomings. ‘Perhaps it was the most valuable final defeat in the club’s history,’ Sascha Fligge and Frank Fligge wrote in Echte Liebe, a chronicle of Dortmund’s comeback over the past decade. ‘In the case of a cup triumph, the club’s leadership would have had a hard time firing coach Thomas Doll, in whose qualities they had stopped believing. Jürgen Klopp might never have gone to Dortmund. History would have taken a very different turn.’ ‘The defeat [in Berlin] was part of the strategic plan to clear the path for Jürgen Klopp,’ Watzke joked later. Klopp, incidentally, had followed the match in Berlin as a TV pundit for state broadcaster ZDF and confided in programme editor Jan Doehling that he wanted to be ‘down there on the touchline one day’. Back at their Berlin hotel, Dortmund fans were serenading him with ‘Jürgen Klopp, you are the best man’ in the lobby. They wanted him to take over.


  • "Honigstein digs deep to reveal a competitive, charismatic, and thoughtful man who-though prone to apologizing for mercurial outbursts-has in many ways outperformed his own limitations through hard work and passionate determination. The jury's still out on his accomplishments at the legendary LFC, but fans of European soccer should love this page-turning take on one of the most fascinating figures in the sport."—Booklist

On Sale
Feb 6, 2018
Page Count
352 pages
Bold Type Books

Raphael Honigstein

About the Author

Raphael Honigstein is the author of Das Reboot and the top expert on German soccer. He is a columnist for the Guardian and ESPN, writes for Suddeutsche Zeitung and Sport 1 in Germany, and appears as a pundit for BT Sport and ESPN, as well as Sky Sports in Germany. He is also a regular fixture on the Guardian‘s award-winning podcast Football Weekly.

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