CAPE TOWN – Jurgen Klopp is the antithesis of everything you’d expect from the manager of one of the biggest football clubs on the planet.
The Liverpool mentor occupies a job that demands mental acuity, deep and undivided concentration, supreme decision-making and the courage to carry the responsibility and consequences of his decisions.
And, yet, at the same time, he is as unpretentious, uncomplicated and down-to-earth as the quintessential good guy living next door.
Klopp was in Cape Town on Wednesday as a guest at a fund-raising event organised by the Hout Bay United Football Community – and he regaled the audience on football and life in general.
Not that there is any difference between the two – because it was abundantly evident, from his words, that he approaches his job as a football manager in much the same way as he approaches life.
His passion is unrestrained; he wears his heart on his sleeve and he makes no excuses for it; most of all, and probably key to his philosophy, he doesn’t “exist only for football”.
There are things outside the game, like his family, that are far more important to him.
“I may not be the smartest manager in the world, but I am the most passionate,” said Klopp.
“Yes, there is pressure in managing a club – one week you are a genius and the next you have no clue.
“For me, it’s easy to be nice, it’s easy to remain down to earth. I love my family, I enjoy time with them, and as long as my family is healthy, I am fine. I love what I do, but I don’t exist only for football.
“I don’t expect perfection from myself – I just always try to put the best 11 on the field. Those who don’t make the team or the squad, I tell them you have to do more, you have to do better. And if you do that, then life will change for you.”
It was at Mainz that the legend of Klopp the manager was to begin.
He spent seven years at the club – 2001 to 2008 – and got the team promoted to the German Bundesliga.
More success was to follow when joined Borussia Dortmund, where his unorthodox approach and exceptional managerial skill inspired the club to back-to-back Bundesliga title-wins in 2011 and 2012, the German Cup in 2012, the German Super Cup in 2013 and 2014, and the Uefa Champions League final in 2013, which they lost 2-1 to Bayern Munich.
In 2015, Klopp arrived at Liverpool – and, as he was quick to point out, it was a case of love at first sight.
“I had an offer from another historical English club two years before I came to Liverpool,” said Klopp.
“I won’t say the name of the club. I listened to them, but it didn’t feel right and I didn’t take it. When Liverpool came, it felt right, right from the first second - I can’t tell you why, it just was.
“For me, I don’t have to go anywhere else – if I stop coaching now, and have Mainz, Dortmund and Liverpool, I would be fine with that.”
As for his time with Mainz and Dortmund, Klopp says both clubs will always have a special place in his heart.
“At Mainz, it was not just a team promoted to the Bundesliga, a whole city was promoted,” he said.
“It starts with a dream, and then you have to be ready to work at it to make it possible. We started with a group of players who put their hearts on the pitch.
Jurgen Klopp indeed is here!!!
Pictured with Jeremy Elson event organiser & with @HoutBayUnited Football Club & the Community Outreach. #JurgenKlopp #KloppinCapeTown #EveningwithJurgenKlopp #LFC #CapeTown #HBUFC #YNWA pic.twitter.com/0bZaQEb5zk
“I believe that it is not important to be the best, you just have to beat the best. I’m also a believer in second chances – so I always give players sometimes three or four chances to prove themselves.
“Dortmund was a crazy ride. I was there for about seven years and had a wonderful time. When I left, it was the right time to go. I made great friends there, at both Mainz and Dortmund, and when I go back you won’t hear one bad word said about me.
"I’ve always said that it’s not so important what people say when you arrive, but rather more important what people say when you leave.”
Klopp is not someone who dwells on the past, he prefers to stay in the present and enjoy the moments. But, at the same time, he admits the Champions League loss to Bayern in 2013 still hurts.
“I would say that I am a bad loser, but after a night of sleep I wake up and I understand,” he said.
“But if there is one game I would love to have replayed, it’s the Champions League final against Bayern Munich. I can’t get rid of it. It was an intense game and I think we should have won.”
As for players he won’t forget from his time coaching in Germany, Klopp singled out two: “Mario Götze – I met him when he was 16, he was an unbelievable talent, just an outstanding player.
“And for a player when it comes to making improvement from scouting to when he left the club, it would be Robert Lewandowski. At the beginning, in shooting sessions, he just couldn’t score. He would have 40 shots and not score.
“We had a bet that if he scores, I would pay him, and if he missed, he would pay me. I had a pocket full of money, I tell you.
“But he was a mentality monster, he made rapid improvement, and made a big step in his game. Now, I am hoping that many of my Liverpool players can also make such big jumps of improvement.”