Jurgen Klopp is the very epitome of engaging. With his winning smile and healthy dose of openness and humour, he generally manages to get people on his side sooner rather than later.
That is also the case in the changing rooms, which is certainly an advantage for his chosen profession. Almost 30 years ago, Klopp found a friend in David Wagner, former Huddersfield Town and now Schalke 04 coach. The two were playing for 1. FSV Mainz 05 at the time, and in 1991 “someone stuck us in a room together and that was the beginning of a life-long friendship”, as Klopp himself explains.
“He’s my best friend. I’ve known him for longer than my wife, and I’ve known her for 25 years. Yes, it’s Jurgen Klopp, coach of Liverpool, one of the biggest clubs in the world, but to me he’s just Jurgen Klopp my friend”, says the new Schalke boss of their relationship. In 2005, Wagner was even Klopp’s best man. “It’s as if we’re family. Even though we aren’t brothers, our relationship is similar to that.”
In 2011, Klopp was named head coach at Borussia Dortmund with Wagner taking the reins of the second team. Then in the autumn of 2015, Wagner moved across to Huddersfield Town and took the West Yorkshire team into the Premier League, where he got to cross swords with his best friend. “That was probably the only time that I could tell the analysis department more about our opponents than they could. I know him inside out,” said Wagner before a Premier League stand-off between the two that Liverpool won 1-0, but which Klopp described as a result that they did not deserve.
“He’s got a great personality and is simply a nice guy. In private he’s exactly how you see him on TV,” the 47-year-old Schalke coach says of the man four years his senior and who won the UEFA Champions League earlier this year with Liverpool in what was one of the highlights of his career, and worthy of nomination for The Best FIFA Men’s Coach.
“Sometimes you need a little bit of luck to win a title, but he absolutely deserved this. He lives and breathes this job 100 per cent, he thinks about football or his team every minute of every day. That’s the way good coaches are, you can’t simply switch off from what might happen to the team tomorrow, next week or in an hour’s time.”
“What he’s already achieved in the time he’s had with Liverpool is incredible,” said an admiring Wagner of the near-legend status that Klopp has acquired at Anfield.
And should Wagner’s wishes for ‘Kloppo’, as he is known in Germany, come true, then his star will only continue to rise. “I hope that he goes one better this year and takes the Premier League title, even though we all know that that’s easier said than done. He and his lads will work incredibly hard for it, but that league is such a tight one… He’s really put on a show with them up until now though. I hope he wins the title with them this season.”