Jurgen Klopp interview: People in England love or hate Liverpool – I fell in love

Jurgen Klopp after his final away game in charge of Liverpool at Aston Villa

Jurgen Klopp is recalling when he was first offered the chance to become Liverpool’s modern-day Bill Shankly. It turns out that one of the great football romances was not a case of love at first sight.

“Liverpool?” says Klopp. “Nah, no chance. Three years before I came here, Ian Ayre [the former LFC chief executives] called me up when I was at Dortmund and asked if I was interested.

“At that moment I thought, ‘eh?’ Dortmund were flying, maybe champions again.

“Liverpool was not in a great place. It was not a place you go and say ‘yeah Liverpool is calling, yeah come on let’s go’.”

This feels like quite the myth-busting revelation as Klopp approaches the final minute of his Anfield reign, puncturing the image of the football loving, beer drinking, cigarette puffing, hyper emotional hipster coach who possessed such a deep-rooted interest in the city’s football, political and cultural landscape, his motivation bordered on the spiritual.

“In the 15 years before I arrived here I watched loads of football, but did I watch a lot of Liverpool? No,” says Klopp.

Fortunately for Liverpool and football’s romantics, the plot lines knitted from 2015. Nine years on, Klopp is fully on board with the idea a higher power may have been at work, the ‘perfect fit’ fulfilling the prophecies of being in tune with those he affectionately describes as ‘the lefties educated by Shankly’.

“It changed three years later. For me it was No 1 choice, for whatever reason. It’s not really explainable. I just thought that is the one I want to have.”

Among his many revered observations, Shankly once said, “Liverpool is made for me and I was made for Liverpool.”

This feels like the overriding sentiment of Klopp’s farewell interview, too.

“Bill Shankly didn’t do it alone. It’s about the people and the city. You couldn’t have done what Bill did in each city in the world,” says Klopp.

“You cannot do it in London, where there are 25 clubs. If you went to that street you might support Crystal Palace or Fulham, and in the next street you’re a bit closer to Chelsea or whatever. Here, it’s red or blue, so this is the place you can do it.

“People enjoy winning, of course, but fighting for it especially. It is part of our history here that we really get hit hard, punched hard and get up again.

“The general view on life in Liverpool is very similar to mine. 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 [the political left] and I understand life like that. I fitted so well. I didn’t have to change a bit. That was the biggest blessing. Just be myself and go from there. That’s why it worked out. The rest of the world doesn’t like it, but Liverpool rather likes it.

“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.”

Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool's players after reaching the Champions League final
Klopp connected with the emotions of Liverpool supporters and revived the club's fortunes - PA/Peter Byrne

Having updated the textbook for the prototype Liverpool manager, Klopp will be forever quoted as much as Shankly.

Over what will be 491 Liverpool games, Klopp has been obliged, at a conservative estimate, to attend 982 ‘official’ press conferences, and conduct at least 3500 broadcast interviews.

On this glorious Kirkby day, he smiles enthusiastically before his final engagement with the daily newspapers, energetically reminiscing.

Klopp is demob happy, his yearning for a fuller, healthier life away from the strains of the label ‘Liverpool manager’ the real reason for his exit.

He will attend the Champions League final hoping to see his beloved Borussia Dortmund beat Real Madrid, watch the Euros, head to the Paralympics in August, spend more time at his Majorca villa, and relish the spontaneity of being able to just say yes to attending his favourite pop artists’ gigs, free from the fixture schedule’s handcuffs.

“I love what I do but it’s super intense and there is no space for anything else,” says Klopp.

“I was not a coach in the sense of you plan a session, go home and have a shower. Especially not here. I turn 57 in a month. I want to have a proper break and figure out what that does for me.”

He stresses his job is incomparable to surgeons ‘cutting a body open’, but there are aspects of management he will not miss.

When reminded of a quote attributed to Diego Simeone about being unsure if winning makes him happy, or more relieved that the responsibility of winning is over for another week, Klopp agreeably nods.

“I hope everybody can recognise that I’m a little bit different to him! But I recognise what he is saying, absolutely,” he says.

“Besides Ulla [Klopp’s wife] meeting me for everyone pretty much means talking about football. I am for people like Google - ‘why do you do that? why do you do that?’

“Friends visit, watch the game and it’s for me work and for them a holiday.

“I listen to a lot of audio books. I love to read but when I read everyone gets to talk to me, so when I have the headphones on people realise I’m obviously not listening!”

Jurgen Klopp remonstrating on the touchline
Klopp's trademark intensity on the touchline takes an emotional toll - PA/Richard Sellers

They say the weight of the Liverpool shirt is heavy for the players. It is featherlike compared to the burden carried by a coach of Klopp’s persona.

“It is probably one of my strongest characteristics to feel responsible for an incredible amount of things,” he says.

“It was a big thing when I said that I would step aside here, because I know what it means to a lot of other people. There is a really great mood in here, a really good relationship. Bad days or good days, there is a really nice vibe in this building. We like each other. The reason for that is because if I don’t feel great when I enter the building, I don’t let them feel that.

“I had to overcome that. I had to think of myself first, which doesn’t happen a lot actually.”

There is only so much heavy lifting one person can take. Klopp set the tone in that first, improvised introduction when vowing to turn doubters into believers, and claiming he would be managing in Switzerland if he failed to win a trophy within four years.

“That went down really well in Switzerland. My skiing holiday will not be in Switzerland!” he says, bellowing out another laugh.

“I am pretty sure people think I planned to say those things. I just wanted to survive the press conference. My English was not that great. My best skill in English was to take three words and make a phrase out of it. Now if there is a chance to misunderstand, I do it!

“In the few days [before the first press conference] I had been talking to people about why they changed from Brendan [Rodgers] to me and what happened in not becoming champions in 2014 and what it meant being so close. I realised everyone was doubting what Liverpool does and no-one liked the team. Even the team didn’t like the team! You could see it. The players were not comfortable in their skin. They had signed for Liverpool and found it difficult to catch-up with the expectation of the people.

“The four years comment was not exactly to buy time, but I know how football works. If you do not go where people want you to go early enough then it will not happen. What I actually meant to say was [if we do not win a trophy] you will need a coach from Switzerland. Either way, it was b-------! It was more you will have to try with somebody else.”

Jurgen Klopp is unveiled as Liverpool manager in 2015
Klopp on the day he was unveiled as Liverpool manager in October 2015 - Reuters/Craig Brough

The Champions League, Premier League, World Club Cup, FA Cup and two League Cups barely scratch the surface of the transformation.

The title near misses in 2019 and 2022 still burn.

“We were unlucky or maybe in moments not good enough to win three Premier Leagues, three Champions League. We all know with a little bit better decision here or there we were that close. Minutes, millimetres, inches decided things for us,” he says.

“Is it Sky TV that always shows Vinny’s screamer [Vincent Kompany’s goal versus Leicester in 2019]? From time to time you see and think, ‘Are you kidding me? Are you really kidding me?

“Seconds before that goal I was thinking: ‘Come on Brendan, take 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.”

The pain of 2018 and 2022 Champions League final defeats to Real Madrid has not subsided, either, most obvious when Klopp references the match winning performance of ‘that f----- Courtois’.

Jordan Henderson and Jurgen Klopp after the 2022 Champions League final
Klopp's Liverpool lost two Champions League finals against Real Madrid - Shutterstock/Ronald Wittek

“Could it have been more successful? Yes,” he says, having paused and then laughed for maximum dramatic impact.

“With me? I don’t know. We did absolutely everything. I am very self-critical but I do not reflect in a critical way. We had really good times with super football moments, real development, tough moments, overcoming them. I look back with a smile.

“I am so happy that we can leave a club in that position where it is healthy. I don’t expect a cleanout, but it is not mine anymore. It is not an emergency case and you hear that beep beep beep and it is close to a long beep [pretends to be a life support machine].

“That is what I am most proud of. That we could manage that, with all the things that happened in crazy times. We never overdid it.”

Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool's players celebrate winning the Champions League final

‘Never overdid it’? It’s an interesting, deliberately careful choice of words, Klopp being acutely aware his legacy will be enhanced in the, albeit unlikely, event of Manchester City’s 115 charges leading to retrospective action.

“We never tried too hard and then you don’t get the guarantee to reach it then and then you get punished years later, these points deductions and stuff like that,” says Klopp.

“It’s horrible, I am not sure (those found guilty) cheated on purpose but somehow they knew. Mmm. It’s probably not 100 percent right, but (they thought), ‘maybe we can get through that’ and obviously they couldn’t, and I really like the way we did it.”

So how about these efforts being immortalised by a statue, Klopp permanently and symbolically alongside Shankly at the Kop end?

“I don’t need it,” says Klopp. “I am not sure what Bill or all the other guys thought about that.”

Shankly, sadly, had passed away before he was granted that honour.

“Well then, they have another 40 years to think about that!” Klopp suggests.

Statue or not, they don’t yearn for a new Shankly at Liverpool anymore. That’s the real triumph of the last nine years. Future generations will want to serenade their own Jurgen Klopp.

Klopp on the Liverpool squad he inherited ...

“Phil Coutinho - that is good. The last line, no offence to the boys, but a bit too slow to play a high line with Kolo Tore and the other fella [Mamadou Sakho]! But the quality was there, it was just not for the way you wanted to play.

“We played in Sion on a frozen pitch. I learned a day before that we had Brad Smith and he stood right next to me in training and it was too embarrassing to ask him who he was.”

On FSG’s transfer policy ...

“People say, ‘they didn’t back him enough’ and stuff like that but I never saw it that way. If my son asked me for fifty euros and I only had 25, what can I do besides just give him the 25? I didn’t want to bring this feeling to the outside world that we are not united.

“If we had an argument it was internal and on the outside we say it’s our way and that is how we do it. I don’t know any other way. I understood that it was our way. The Liverpool way.”

On the 2019 and 2022 near-misses against Man City ...

“In those seasons we had 364 days, really enjoyable, when we had 90 odd points and were nearly there. Then in the one moment it is awful, horrible; the block at City [John Stones in 2019], the handball of Rodri [versus Everton in 2022], so many little things where you thought, ‘Oh my god.’”

John Stones' goal-line clearance for Man City vs Liverpool in 2019
Liverpool came this close to scoring in a title-deciding game at the Etihad in 2019, with John Stones clearing off the line for City - Sky Sports

On the 2018 and 2022 near-misses against Real Madrid ...

“Hitting the post (2022). Ramos (2018). Was it a red card? I am not sure, but it was harsh.

“We play that game in 2022 and we shoot every three minutes on their goal but their keeper 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.”

Real Madrid's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois saves from Mohamed Salah in the 2022 Champions League final
Thibaut Courtois repeatedly denied Liverpool in the 2022 Champions League final - AP/Christophe Ena

On what’s next …

“Obviously the world is crazy. If I leave the door a little bit open, I could sign a contract today for next season or probably to start in two years. I just don’t want that at all. I want to have a proper break and figure out what that does for me.”

On dealing with the media ...

“You know how many interviews we have after a game? Why should I have a personal problem with you, but if you deliver the s--- message when I’m not in my best moment, that’s where we clash. Like the poor guy from Denmark. I had already had seven or eight interviews before, and then he hits that [button] where he says it’s usually you who has intensity.

“Oh my God, I actually thought I dealt really well with it. If I would have said what I was really thinking, I would have killed him... in that specific moment!”

On the team he leaves for Arne Slot ...

“It is really healthy, a very vital club with a wonderful training ground, sensational stadium, financially not bad. On roses? We never were but solid, on a high level. Let’s go from there. That gives me the best feeling. Arsenal are young. They can go again, Pep will not stay at City forever, and even De Bruyne gets older. So there is a good chance to stay in that group.”