Jurgen Klopp’s secret trip to New York set Liverpool up for years of success
Jurgen Klopp pulled his baseball cap down further and set about on his journey.
As one of the world’s most recognisable football managers, Klopp cannot operate in public for too long before he is inevitably spotted, and on this afternoon, that was something he was acutely aware of when his walk began.
It was October 1, 2015, and Klopp was in New York, without a job and enjoying life away from the intense glare as the boss of a huge European club.
After seven years in charge of Borussia Dortmund, he had developed a reputation as one of the finest tacticians in the game.
Back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 12 had cemented Klopp as the most up-and-coming on the continent before a march to the Champions League final in 2013 saw his star rise higher to those outside of Germany.
But as Klopp had started his walk along Lexington Avenue, he was a manager out of work and on sabbatical. Being spotted on his stroll might have generated some tough questions about just what business he had in Manhattan.
In fact, such concerns had already been realised when he was recognised by the receptionist at the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue, who also just happened to hail from Mainz, the club Klopp managed for seven years before Dortmund.
Klopp’s attempt at a smokescreen for his New York journey was that he was there to watch a basketball game. A plausible reason, perhaps, but the season didn’t start for another month.
As the former Dortmund boss left his agent, Marc Kosicke, to discuss personal terms with his would-be employers, he began to roam the streets, taking in the sights and sounds as thoughts began to turn to his next career move.
Klopp was in the Big Apple to discuss taking over from Brendan Rodgers at Anfield.
A near six-hour meeting with Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, inside the offices of law firm Shearman and Sterling, was enough for the German to convince FSG that he was the man to take on Liverpool’s great restoration project.
Three days later, Rodgers was relieved of his duties and Liverpool were officially on the lookout for a new manager.
Only those inside the meeting room knew that the race was already won, however. Klopp’s clandestine talks with FSG had somehow remained free of public consumption.
Bookmakers drew up odds for the shortlist of potential next managers, but those hours in Manhattan had sealed it. Klopp – whose charisma and charm merged perfectly with an analytical mind, in the eyes of FSG – was waiting in the wings to take on the biggest job of his career.
It was also his most sizable task too. One that had proven beyond the seven other managers who had preceded him since 1990.
But if Klopp was to turn an underachieving Liverpool team on its knees into all-conquering champions of England once more, a lot had to change. Even for a football manager as accomplished as the Reds’ incoming boss, this would be no easy feat. No overnight success. No quick-fix.
“We had to change the atmosphere at the club, that was the most important thing,” says Klopp of his formative days on the job. “It wasn’t one game and people thought ‘Klopp is in and things will change’ instantly or whatever, that is of course not the case.
“It’s always like this. The person you don’t know that well is the perfect fit but the guy you know pretty well has no chance.
“Brendan Rodgers is an outstanding manager which he shows not only now [at Leicester] but also at Celtic as well and here at Liverpool, but it didn’t work out.
“Then it’s like ‘Ah we’re done’. But it was only we hope he is the right fit, and with these players you can do anything. That was pretty much the message I got.”
With Liverpool floundering in the middle of the Premier League and counting the cost of a string of big-money failures in the transfer market that stemmed from an uncoordinated approach to recruitment, many thought a huge revamp was needed before Klopp would see his results.
Links to his former players, some of Dortmund’s biggest names, inevitably appeared in the gossip columns, but that was never going to be Klopp’s modus operandi at Anfield.
“I didn’t see it that way because each development needs a start and this was a start,” Klopp says. “For a start this team was exceptional but it was always clear it would not be the team for five years later but it was exceptional.
“From a character point of view these boys wanted to carry the expectation on their shoulders, the first thing I had to tell them was ‘Thank you very much for trying but that’s not possible so we have to get rid of that’.
“If you can start running with joy, working with joy and all of that stuff because I saw that was not there. That was the most important thing we had to change. We had to bring the people onside.”
Before any major surgery was undertaken in the transfer market, Klopp witnessed how unease and anxiety had the power to cripple Anfield.
This, prior to any significant overhaul of the playing staff, needed to be addressed first. Any player was set up to fail while such worry and concern continued to spread down from the stands.
Klopp adds: “Don’t forget it’s not that long since we played a back pass and the whole stadium was like ‘Ah, oh my god’.
“The back pass is not my favourite pass but it is a proper opportunity to keep the ball from time to time. That’s absolutely OK. But here it was not allowed.
“It’s not too long ago that if we are only 1-0 up there will come a set piece and it was clear it would either be a goal or a chance for the opponent which can change the momentum of the game.
“You cannot change it by saying something. We had to earn the trust and faith of the people. That is what we tried to do with effort. That in my view is the way to do it. You cannot get brilliant overnight but you can change the effort overnight.
“That’s possible. That’s what we tried and that’s what we did. It was most important for the start. Our work rate was not bad before but the reason for the work rate was different.
“The reason before was ‘we had to do it otherwise we lose’. We changed it to ‘We want to do it so we can win’. It is exactly the same amount of yards but one is much more positive and gives you a much better chance to achieve what you want.”