Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp: Meeting the 'normal one'
Normal was not the word that came to mind after half an hour in the presence of Jurgen Klopp.
Deep in the bowels of Anfield's Centenary Stand, a room heaving with the world's media had been utterly captivated, charmed by Liverpool's charismatic new manager.
Outside the stadium gates, crowds of fans craned their necks for a glimpse. "Where is he?" "What's he doing now?" "What did he say?," they asked. Some held children, others scarves, red shirts and flags - this was love at first sight.
An hour or so earlier Klopp had walked into the room, sporting turned-up jeans and a smile that barely left his face throughout this opening news conference. He began by apologising for his English. By the time this performance had drawn to a close, he had delivered insights into football and life, recalled his childhood, discussed tactics and players, and delivered it all with an honesty, originality and charm that is all too rare.
He turned the tables on his inquisitors with questions of his own, joking with the British press about their fearsome reputation, but the theme throughout was that all of this fuss, all of this fanfare, was not really about him.
"I am not a genius," he said. "I am just a normal guy from the Black Forest, I would not dream of comparing myself to the geniuses who have managed this great football club in the past. It is not who I am."
Liverpool's co-owner Tom Werner watched on from the front row of the press benches, taking it all in like a child at the cinema. Chief executive Ian Ayre wore a similar look of delight. Klopp demonstrated an understanding of the city, delivered lines that instantly chimed with the fans and accepted the expectation that had been placed upon his shoulders.
"It's the biggest honour I can imagine, one of the biggest clubs in the world," he said. "It's not a normal, usual club, it's a special club. Of course it is surreal. I have to accept it. I woke up this morning and I was manager of Liverpool FC. But I am prepared."
The German's feet have barely touched the ground since he arrived by private jet on Wednesday. The photographers were waiting as he sped into the back entrance of Liverpool's Hope Street Hotel. His first night was spent there dining with senior members of Fenway Sports Club, including Werner, as well as Liverpool top brass.
News of Klopp's whereabouts spread quickly on Thursday night. Crowds of fans and photographers gathered outside. At one stage a Klopp look-a-like walked through the hotel bar and out towards a waiting car. The hysteria was such that the look-a-like, who was sporting a yellow and black tie, was swamped by fans wanting selfies while the real Klopp was tucking into his main course down the stairs. It was that kind of night.
Klopp chose Liverpool because of how much football means there. This was an immediate introduction to a job that in this city can often be much more than just being a manager.
"It would be good to focus on the football and not take so many photographs," he said. "In my hotel room I can't walk from one side to the other because of all the cameras. If I walk one side, pictures. If I walk the other side, pictures. I can only stay in one place."
|Born: 16 June 1967, Stuttgart|
|Playing career: Mainz (1989-2001)|
|Managerial career: Mainz (2001-08), Borussia Dortmund (2008-15), Liverpool (2015- )|
|Honours: (all with Dortmund) Bundesliga 2010-11, 2011-12, German Cup 2011-12, German Supercup 2008, 2013, 2014|
|Individual honours: German manager of the year 2011, 2012|
That firm line was there when he needed it. At one stage he leant forward to chastise a particularly enthusiastic photographer when he was trying to listen to a question. There were hints too that he believes his Liverpool squad is better than many believe and a confidence that he can deliver a title this club last won a quarter of a century ago. And, of course, there was a plea for fans to find hope, belief and let doubt drift away.
In return, Klopp promised them "full-throttle football" and with it joy and escapism.
The arrival of Klopp signals a change at Liverpool. Whatever happens on the field, things will not be the same. The romance will take time to subside, the expectation will only grow between now and his first game in charge on 17 October. The touch paper has been lit.
Klopp will put that to one side now. On his first night with club staff he expressed a desire to watch a Liverpool youth game in his first week on Merseyside. The players will begin to return from international duty and the real work, the work on which he will be judged, will begin in earnest.
The challenge is clear. Take Liverpool back into the Champions League, deliver silverware and win that first league title since 1990. Great managers, great talkers, have come and gone in the 25 years since and but none has delivered the ultimate prize.
It remains to be seen whether Klopp can be the exception. "When I left Dortmund, my last sentence was: 'It is not so important what people think when you come in, it is much more important what they think what you leave,'" he said.
"History is only the base for us. You cannot carry it in your backpack every day."