In November, esteemed football journalist Raphael Honigstein—of ESPN FC and Guardian fame among other outlets—published a biography on former Borussia Dortmund and Mainz 05 coach, Jürgen Klopp entitled Klopp: Bring the Noise (Yellow Jersey Press, Penguin Random House, 336 pages). Honigstein combines his deep knowledge of German Fußball history and culture, as well as his skills in finding insightful sources, to document the life of one of world football’s most beloved coaches. The book has grabbed the attention of German Fußball lovers, as well as English football lover, given the coach’s current tenure at the iconic FC Liverpool.
Prior to Klopp, Honigstein published Das Reboot, which documented Germany’s attempts at football redemption after failing out of the 2000 Euros to the nation winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. There are few other English language voices as important as Honigstein’s in covering German Fußball. So it is with great excitement that the Bundesliga Fanatic shares this excerpt from Klopp, which was generously provided by Penguin Random House.
Klopp’s coaching career began suddenly. Honigstein recounts this fascinating episode in the excerpt we are sharing below. At the time he began coaching, Klopp was playing centerback for Mainz 05. And the club was floundering, cycling through coaches, trying to recover the playing philosophy instilled by footballing eccentric, and probable genius, Wolfgang Frank, the man who Klopp now calls his mentor and who also earns an entire chapter in Honigstein’s book. In this excerpt, Honigstein relies on then-M05 sporting director Christian Heidel (now at Schalke 04) to share the tale of Klopp’s first coaching gig, as he took over from Ekhard Krautzun at Mainz 05.
Heidel wanted someone in charge next who could re-implement the successful back four/zonal marking system that the former Mainz coach Wolfgang Frank had introduced six years earlier, a tactic seen as so modern and advanced at the time by Bundesliga standards that almost no one knew how to make it work.
Heidel: “I told everybody that I wanted a coach with a sense of understanding of a back four. Somebody who could practise it, who could teach the players. All of a sudden, I get a call from [Ekhard] Krautzun. I have to be honest, I hadn’t thought of him at all. He’d been at Kaiserslautern before, it hadn’t really worked out for him there, and I had the feeling there was no point. But he kept on talking and talking until he convinced me to meet him. So I went to see him in Wiesbaden. He proceeded to explain everything about the back four in great detail to me and I thought, ‘Fuck me, he really does know his stuff after all!’ I had seen so much of Frank’s training that I knew exactly what the specific exercises had looked like. So I appointed him coach. About two weeks later, Klopp came up to me and said that Krautzun had called him a month before. ‘He wanted to know how the back four works, we spoke for three hours.’ And that’s what it looked like on the pitch. We won one game in the beginning and then it all went tits up.”
Getting rid of Krautzun was the sensible, easy decision. Finding the right successor proved much harder. […] “There was no World Wide Web then. You didn’t know who coached at Brugge, for example. In any case, these types of teams were five times our size. Different times. There were almost no foreign coaches in the Bundesliga either. You were fishing in the same pond the whole time.” After a while, Heidel closed all the books and admitted defeat: “I thought the only chance left for us was to somehow get to the point where we played like we had under Wolfgang Frank. But I couldn’t find anyone. I had no idea who could do this job.”
Maybe Heidel found inspiration in the jesters parading through the Mainz streets on the day when normal rules didn’t apply. He was out of sensible answers. The only logical move left was to plump for the downright absurd. If there was no right coach to be found, maybe the answer . . . was to go without one?
“I thought ‘Let’s do something spectacular. We should coach ourselves.'” There were “enough really good guys and intelligent players in the squad,” he says, to make that crazy idea work, they could teach those who had arrived after Frank’s time at the Bruchwegstadion. But football being football, someone still had to be in charge. Heidel chewed over putting himself up. “I could have told them how the system works after attending so many of Wolfgang’s sessions, but I had never played a single game in the Bundesliga, not even in the Oberliga [fourth division]. That would have looked stupid. That’s why I gave Klopp a call in his hotel room in Bad Kreuznach. He had no clue what was coming.” Heidel informed the veteran right-back that they couldn’t carry on with Krautzun, that they had to make a change. “I said to him: ‘I think you are uncoachable. The stuff we play here – or want to play – to be successful, nobody in Germany understands. You, the team, understand it. But it doesn’t work out with any of the coaches.’ Klopp still didn’t know what I was getting at. Then I said: ‘What do you think about us coaching ourselves? Someone has to front it, and that should be you.’ There was silence on the other side of the line, for maybe three, four seconds. Then he said: ‘Great idea. Let’s do it.'”
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