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What is padel? Jürgen Klopp's 'big passion' that Virgil van Dijk and Lionel Messi love

Jürgen Klopp emerges for an open training session last summer.
-Credit: (Image: Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)


Jürgen Klopp is no longer the Liverpool manager. That's going to take some getting used to, isn't it? In the meantime, the German has been playing his other favorite sport: padel. While it hasn't taken off in the UK yet, it will do soon. Last summer, Liverpool.com editor Matt Addison explained exactly why, and we've revisited that piece because of Klopp's love for it...

Jürgen Klopp is a regular player of the sport and Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk is backing a scheme intending to generate plenty more interest in it over the next few years off the back of his own experiences playing.

It is surely only a matter of time before padel — played on a slightly smaller court than a doubles tennis court, and using the same scoring system as tennis — fully takes off in the US, UK, and other countries around the world.

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Originating in Mexico, padel is a cross between tennis and squash, where the ball can bounce off or be played off the walls around the court. Klopp is such a fan (he admits that he is 'addicted') that he has even teamed up with racket producer Wilson to create his own range of equipment.

At Liverpool's AXA Training Centre, there is a court that gets regular use, and Mohamed Salah and Thiago Alcântara even took on Klopp and Pep Lijnders in a game filmed for Liverpool's social channels during last December's mid-season trip to Dubai.

"The coaches, we play in our spare time — we love it, we just love the game and play it pretty much all the time," Klopp told Liverpool's official website last year. "We have our average level.

"Mo saw us from time to time playing and wanted to play against us desperately, so we now gave him the chance to play. But I'm not sure he'll want to play again! That's not true actually — he asked all the time when we can play again. But it's a wonderful game, we love it.

"When you saw the pictures, it's obviously not high-intense at our level. There are levels where it's incredibly intense but we cannot play that. It was good fun."

Because of its generally easy-going nature (at a grassroots level, at least), padel lends itself to being a sociable sport that allows for leisurely discussion at the same time, rather than something more intense like tennis, squash or badminton.

"The game has been a nice ­distraction from our daily routine," Klopp’s assistant coach, Lijnders, says. "And yet, sometimes we come up with the best ideas to solve issues during these games.

"We sit down on a bench in between two sets and we discuss solutions for football problems. In fact, we do that a lot. When you are constantly playing matches or doing top-level training sessions every day, there is no time to wind down. So these games are the perfect moments to relax."

The only court in Liverpool until late in 2023 was at the Reds' training ground, where one was installed following a trip to Tenerife where the Reds' players and staff discovered that they loved the game. Since then, one has been erected at Aigburth cricket club, with funding coming from a Van Dijk-backed initiative.

"I first played padel in the Netherlands and really enjoyed it," Van Dijk said in May when the council gave the green light to the proposals. "It’s fast-paced, fun, and a good way to relax off the football pitch. We have padel courts at the Liverpool training ground and I’m really pleased there are more coming to the city for everyone to enjoy."

Courts are coming in Port Sunlight in the Wirral as well. A company backed by Van Dijk and Andy Murray expects to put up at least 50 courts in the UK before the end of the year. Lionel Messi and David Beckham are among those to have championed the sport so far too, with the Inter Miami superstar describing the sport as his 'secret passion' in an interview with Argentinean outlet Olé.

It has already exploded in Sweden, the Netherlands and Spain thanks to its ease of being able to play. Portugal and the UAE are also high up on the list of countries where it is played the most. As well as it being a good leisure activity, all ages can get involved and there is minimal risk of injury.

There were 240 courts in the UK (four times as many as in 2019), The Guardian reported in October of last year, and the Lawn Tennis Association says there are 89,000 players. By the end of 2023, it is predicted that the number of courts will have doubled on the number in 2022. Minter Dial says that 10 million people in the US could be playing by 2029.

To date, most courts are located in affluent typically tennis-playing regions of the country in the UK. Lower impact than tennis on the body, though, and easier to pick up so therefore more accessible, it is set to take off. Sports Direct already stocks the necessary equipment and more courts are on their way.

Indeed, Game4Padel predicts that more than one million people in the UK could be playing padel within five years. After all, Klopp, Van Dijk, Messi and Murray can't all be wrong.

An original version of this story was first published on 7 August 2023. It has since been updated.