Normal One aims to keep Reds special to fans

Juergen Klopp presented himself at Liverpool on Friday as a normal guy - a country bumpkin - from Germany's Black Forest.

He paused before adding: "Yes, I am the normal one, if you like to say."

The broad smile beneath the studious glasses gave his game away.

His grasp of English, and in particular of the English Premier League (EPL) nuance, was pretty darned perfect. The mass media were in effect trying to place him as the highest-profile manager from abroad since Jose Mourinho, and Klopp had that riposte ready in advance.

The Normal One versus The Special One will come around soon enough.

But for now, Klopp's task is to appeal to the Anfield faithful, to get them on his side in the way that he had the 80,000 Borussia Dortmund fans in a remarkable seven years, during which the team rose from bankruptcy to knock Bayern Munich off the top of the German Bundesliga for two seasons running.

Touching that nerve from his first moment as the Reds' £6 million (S$12.8 million) a season manager, even before he meets the players, has put this German closer to the soul of Anfield than Brendan Rodgers ever achieved.

It is unkind, but penetratingly true, to observe that Rodgers failed to win hearts and minds on Merseyside.

As a coach, maybe the people respected the Northern Irishman. But as a man of the people - essential to the ambience of the Kop where Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish were adored beyond measure - Rodgers was never on their wavelength.

It is more than language, more than results.

Shanks was a master of the one-liners, Paisley seldom finished a sentence, and Dalglish had such a thick Glaswegian brogue that Liverpudlians almost needed an interpreter to know what he said, and what he felt.

The boy from the Black Forest, in southern Germany, has no problems with his communication, and none with his CV.

In his half hour with the international media on Friday, he struggled for just one word.

"I looked in the dictionary," he said, "but help me, please. I didn't find the translation for umschauspielen. Maybe you don't have it?"

Clever. Herr Klopp, the proposed new King of the Kop, knew exactly what he was playing with.

The word loosely translates to the rapid change from defence to attack, though there is another German word, gegenagriff, for counter attack.

Explaining that he regards defence as the first priority on the field (maybe in life, he said), Klopp referred to the style of play that his Dortmund mastered, and that Germany are world champions at: Not simply holding fast at the back but pressing the opponents, squeezing them and then breaking at lightning speed.

It sounds cold and calculating but Klopp is warm and emotional.

He said he is attracted to Liverpool because of the intensity, the way that people there live football, just like in Dortmund.

He spoke of his own career as a fifth-grade player who, through intensity and work ethic, made himself into a second-division player at Mainz.

And as a big 1.93m man, he could impose himself on his teams.

There is maybe one other manager/coach in world football who communicates desire from the touchline with similar force of personality. That would be Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone.

Many might prefer Klopp because he also has communication skills, on the touchline and in the studio, that can soften the rough edges. He is not, like Simeone or Mourinho, a win-at-all-costs communicator.

Klopp can be ferocious in his darker moments but he means it when he says: "I saw against Sion (in the Europa League) the whole pressure on the team. The first chance missed, and everyone is going..."

He fidgeted in his seat. "You see it in their eyes, they are not free. Football is about creating chances, if you feel, 'Yes, can miss but the next chance can score', you are free and you stay confident."

Describing himself as not a dreamer, but a football romantic, Klopp is impatient for Liverpool's players to return from the international break so that he can work with them. He recognises that Liverpool's strength, though it has taken 25 years since the last English championship title, is the crowd and the team together.

"We have to entertain them," he said, "to make their lives better.

"Football is not so important, we don't save lives, we're not doctors. It's our job to help them forget their problems for 90 minutes, and to talk about us in the week."

The humility of saying he did not imagine himself to be compared to the legends of Liverpool's history, the laughter and the serious points all made without hesitation made the introduction of Klopp more entertaining than some of the deadpan, cautious and, yes, tactically straitjacketed football by Rodgers of the past three years.

One person nobody mentioned on Friday was Dr Steve Peters, the professor of psychiatry whom Rodgers employed to get into the players' minds. When the Reds seemed on the verge of winning the EPL 18 months ago, Peters was often mentioned as a positive influence.

It wasn't the professor's fault that one slip on a wet turf by Steven Gerrard led to a home loss to Chelsea and to missing out on the title.

Similarly, Peters could not be the reason why England, who hired him off the back of his work with Liverpool and Olympic cycling champions, flopped at the World Cup.

Germany had psychologists, nutritionists and trainers around the 2014 camp.

But Klopp arrived with a coaching assistant and an analyst who sifts through computer statistics.

Klopp didn't say it but one imagines that his answer to whether or not he needs a go- between to get into the players' minds would be along the lines of Arsene Wenger.

"I," the Frenchman once said, "am my own best psychologist."

This article was first published on Oct 11, 2015.
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