After nearly a decade at Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp has transformed skeptics into believers with 10 trophies and nearly 500 games under his belt. It’s time for him to relax, says LEWIS STEELE.

After nearly a decade at Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp has transformed skeptics into believers with 10 trophies and nearly 500 games under his belt. It’s time for him to relax, says LEWIS STEELE.

Jurgen Klopp is slouching in a chair in a room overlooking the plush, bright green pitches at Liverpool’s Kirkby training base. He is laid back in a casual adidas tracksuit, reflecting on what he calls a ‘super special story’ of how he fell in love with the club and the city.

He is happy to recall the glorious nights and the days where, in his own words, he felt like he ‘had a stroke’ such was the weight of disappointment. He relishes the chance to aim a couple of tongue-in-cheek jibes at broadcasters, referees and ‘that f***er’ Thibaut Courtois.

That is Klopp the manager. We are sitting next to Klopp the man. During the course of an hour or so in his company – his final sit-down chat before he sails off into the sun – we get a window into what life will be like on the other side for the new full-time family man.

‘If you meet me, besides my wife Ulla, it means talking about football,’ says Klopp. ‘For people, I am like Google, “Why do you do this? Why do you do that? Blah blah blah”. Friends come over to visit and watch the game… for me it’s work, for them a holiday.’

Soon, his life will be one big holiday. He will spend more quality time with his young grandson, splitting his days between Germany and a house he is building in Mallorca. But his plans for what is next can wait for a couple more days – now he is in the mood to reminisce.

Jurgen Klopp is set to have his last ever game in the Liverpool dugout on Sunday afternoon

The German boss departs with a Carabao Cup title in hand to add to his Anfield trophy haul

The German boss departs with a Carabao Cup title in hand to add to his Anfield trophy haul

Klopp has managed a total of 488 games at Liverpool since arriving from Borussia Dortmund

Klopp has managed a total of 488 games at Liverpool since arriving from Borussia Dortmund

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‘In this industry, it is so rare that you can create this kind of relationship to a club and to a city,’ he says. ‘Because in the beginning, what did we really know? So coming here and living the life I did, dedicating everything to it – which is what I had to do for the people – is really special.

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‘The way people in England see it, you have to either love Liverpool or hate Liverpool. Obviously it was very easy for me to fall in love with the club and the people. It is a super special story. Could it have been more successful? Yes.’

That is the first time during this hour that Klopp breaks into a fit of bellowing laughter that seems to get louder every second. On a Friday at the AXA Training Centre, the media know when to switch on cameras and tapes because you can hear his laugh reverberating down the corridors.

‘We did absolutely everything,’ he continues. ‘I am very self-critical but I do not reflect on this in a critical way. I do not see where we could have done this, or that. I am super happy with my time here. If you do not like it… who cares? I look back with a smile.’

Not every moment of his glorious nine years and just shy of 500 matches in charge have prompted him to smile, though. ‘Minutes, millimetres, inches decided things for us,’ he says. ‘I know for people it makes a massive difference if I won more.

‘But I couldn’t care less, (there were) 364 really enjoyable days in these seasons when we had 90 odd points and were nearly there. Then in the one moment it is awful, horrible, the block at Manchester City, the handball of Rodri, so many little things where you thought, “Oh my god”.

‘The screamer from Vinnie (Kompany, against Leicester in 2019). That ball, 999 of 1,000 goes everywhere in the stadium – and that night for (City) it is meant to be. Is it Sky that has Vinnie’s screamer on adverts? From time to time you see and think, “Are you kidding me?”

‘Seconds before that goal I was thinking, “Come on Brendan (Rodgers), take (James) Maddison off, he’s tired”. He was five yards away and just had to move to block the shot. I was lying on my sofa with my hands in my pockets and a second later I felt like I’d had a stroke!’

Klopp joked that when he watched Vincent Kompany's thunderbolt against Leicester in 2019 he felt like he'd had a stroke

Klopp joked that when he watched Vincent Kompany’s thunderbolt against Leicester in 2019 he felt like he’d had a stroke

He freely admits that not every one of his nine glorious years in charge have given him cause to smile

Klopp is animating lying flat on his sofa as if he was in a coffin. But he says: ‘If my career didn’t teach me how to deal with setbacks, then there is no career. And it goes for all of us. Don’t win the league for a point but win it the next year – this period is a complete comeback.

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‘We were just going (his hand imitates a race car zooming on). We could have given up but it is just not in my DNA. I suffer like crazy after these things, just not for long. I decided before the last Champions League final we lost: if it doesn’t happen, I will not waste a lifetime on suffering.

‘We play that game (against Real Madrid) and we shoot every three minutes on their goal but their keeper Thibaut Courtois has 12 hands! And then they score that goal and we talk afterwards about the one mistake where we could have defended that goal better.

‘Could they have defended the situations we had to finish better? Definitely. You have pundits going, “He has to stay there!” – I hate that so much. The other guys were in the wrong position 23 times and we didn’t punish them. Nothing to do with defending, just that f***er Courtois!’

Klopp is soon asked if he thinks he deserves a statue outside Anfield, alongside the bust of the great Bill Shankly which says, ‘He made the people happy’. He straight-bats the question: ‘I am German, we don’t do that! Bill Shankly didn’t do it alone.

‘You couldn’t do what Bill did in every city in the world. You cannot do it in London where there are 25 clubs. Here, it’s red or blue. The way Bill understood it, you need someone that understands it is the power of unity and togetherness.

‘We give our all, we see what we get for it, we overcome obstacles and difficulties. Bill was obviously the right man to do that. What we did, together with the people, we restored belief and togetherness. It is part of our history here that we really get punched hard and get up again.

‘From his Boot Room, the guys who supported him in that time they all took over… boom, boom, boom. They were all there before but it was all about Bill in the city. It’s all about me now, so who spoke about Pep Lijnders?

He jokingly called Real Madrid Thibaut Courtois 'that f***er' for his numerous saves in the Champions League final in 2022

He jokingly called Real Madrid Thibaut Courtois ‘that f***er’ for his numerous saves in the Champions League final in 2022

The Reds ended their wait for a Premier League title under the German boss, who enjoyed a great rivalry with Man City at the top of the English game

The Reds ended their wait for a Premier League title under the German boss, who enjoyed a great rivalry with Man City at the top of the English game

‘They spoke about Pep when his book (Intensity, which was accused of spilling secrets) came out and we didn’t play well. And they said, “Why did he write a book?” Wow, are you all crazy? Now he goes out and will conquer the world and people will realise, “Ah!”.’

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There have always been rumours that Klopp has been at odds with Fenway Sports Group over finances but the German likens the transfer approach to when his son asks him for £50 and he settles with giving £25. ‘The Liverpool way,’ he says. ‘We do things properly, the right way.

‘Other clubs with massive money, they try things… but we need to do it this way because that is what the people believe in, historically. They are lefties, rather educated by Bill Shankly. The general view on life in Liverpool to mine is very similar.

‘I’m ready to fight for the right things, do I think I deserve everything? No… it’s fine for others to have as well. I’m not a socialist but I come from there but I understand life like that. I fitted so well. I did not have to change a bit, that was the biggest blessing.’

He later adds: ‘That is what I am most proud of, with all the things that happen over the years, in crazy times, we never overdid. We never tried too hard and then you don’t get the guarantee to reach it – and then you get punished years later, these points deductions and stuff like that.

‘I am not sure they cheated on purpose but somehow they knew, “Mmmm, it’s probably not 100 per cent right but maybe we can get through that” and obviously they couldn’t and I really like the way we did it.

‘(The club) is not an emergency case and you hear that “beep, beep, beep” and it is close to (pretends to be a life support machine) “beeeeeeeep”. It is really healthy, a very vital club with a wonderful training ground, sensational stadium, financially not bad.

‘On roses? We never were. But (we are) solid, on a high level. That gives me the best feeling.’

Such is the demand, intensity and pressure of high-level management, Klopp has barely had a moment of peace since leaving Borussia Dortmund. He likes to read but cannot as he is often interrupted – so has turned to audio books.

He says: ‘When I have the headphones on then people realise I’m obviously not listening! I didn’t miss anything in the short break I had after Dortmund. But it’s my life so I might miss it. But I need to have a look on the other side because it makes absolutely no sense.

‘I love what I do but it’s super intense and there is no space for anything else. There is just not. I know (there are people) who work 24 hours and in the end they cut skin and open up a complete body.

‘If you look at my three clubs, we always built a training ground, we always extended a stadium or built a stadium. I was not a coach in the sense of you plan a session, go home and have a shower. I want to have a proper break and figure out what that does for me.’

Klopp suggested his assistant Pep Lijnders (left) will 'go out and conquer the world' as a manager

Klopp suggested his assistant Pep Lijnders (left) will ‘go out and conquer the world’ as a manager

Klopp admitted he is looking forward to going to the Champions League as nothing other than a fan

Klopp admitted he is looking forward to going to the Champions League as nothing other than a fan

Under Klopp the Reds won their sixth Champions League title, beating Tottenham 2-0 in the final

Under Klopp the Reds won their sixth Champions League title, beating Tottenham 2-0 in the final

In making this decision to leave, Klopp has put himself first – possibly for the first time in his career. So, what is next? ‘Not planning a pre-season, not being involved in any transfer talks,’ he says, laughing.

‘I have got an invitation now for the Champions League final. They said, “I don’t think he will come” but of course I will come, it’s the Champions League final and I have nothing to do really! It’s the first time in my life I’m asking for tickets – normally it’s me who is always being asked!

‘At the Euros we will watch games and have tickets for a few. Being in Germany for a long time, meeting friends, nothing spectacular. Just easy-going. That’s exactly what I wanted to do, being flexible. I think I will be at the Paralympics. Watching football… not being responsible.’

For 23 years he has been responsible. Responsible for taking Mainz to the Bundesliga, responsible for back-to-back titles at Dortmund and a Champions League final, responsible for turning doubters into believers in Liverpool. He deserves to put his feet up.

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