Plenty in the game’s personalities live and breathe football, but if there is one man whose passion and exuberance seemingly outdoes the rest it would be Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp.
The 46-year-old first took charge of BVB in July 2008. He has guided them to two Bundeliga championships, one German cup and to the final of the 2013 UEFA Champions League. Small wonder that the loyal fans in yellow and black practically worship him, even though European club football’s most prestigious trophy ended up in Bayern Munich’s hands last season. Klopp previously spent several years at the helm of Mainz, leading them from the second division into the Bundesliga in 2004.
The affection and deep admiration shown for Klopp is not only based on trophy success but also his palpable love for football. As the ball is to the game, so are emotions and enthusiasm to Klopp. "At the present time German football has Jurgen Klopp, whose passion is an inspiration to us all,” declared Porto boss Paulo Fonseca last year.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com Klopp discussed his coaching philosophy, his personal career highlights and one potentially attractive future option.
FIFA.com: You were on the shortlist for FIFA World Coach of the Year with Jupp Heynckes and Alex Ferguson. What do you think of your two counterparts?
Jurgen Klopp: Both are true greats and I admire them. It feels as though Alex Ferguson was Manchester United coach for as long as I’ve been alive. I’ve come to know Jupp Heynckes over the last few years and can honestly say I’m really, really delighted he won it. It would have been absolutely fine by me if he’d bowed out with just the two trophies. but the way it turned out is totally OK.
Do you think you could learn anything from the pair?
Lots of hopeful young coaches think they can learn by watching, and that includes watching me. I always recommend they try copying as little as possible. At the end of the day it all boils down to how you deal with players, and to get that right, you have to feel it for yourself. I’m never going to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do. I also want to keep growing as a coach but not by just watching how others do it.
How we do so obviously matters to the people there, and I really like that. There’s basically nothing more important in Dortmund than football.
How would you describe yourself as a coach and what role do strong emotions play?
[Laughs] I’m a genuine team player actually. In the course of a day I do take a relatively large number of decisions, but fortunately I’ve assembled a team around me and I’m no longer forced to take all the decisions myself. Lots of expert eyes see more than just the two of mine. I don’t care much for being thought of as a hero. I like to treat my players as co-workers. Provided the team accepts this approach, it can work well. However, if any of my players was to start thinking he now had the right to debate line-ups or training drills with me he’d be making a fundamental error. What I say goes. But outside of training you can deal with me as you would with anyone else. I don’t want to come across as remote or distant towards other people and definitely not to my players. For all that. I’m not the kind of lovely bloke people looking in from the outside seem to think.
What’s been the highlight of your coaching career so far?
The most emotionally moving was the 2012 DFB Cup final [against Bayern]. I honestly didn’t care about the margin of victory. It really was because of what rested on the match. Everything was building towards this one single game. Then it all came to a head and we were playing Bayern Munich in a final with absolutely everything at stake. The Champions League final was a magnificent experience too. We proved ourselves Bayern’s equals. I don’t know how I would have felt if it had ended up going our way. And I have to admit winning promotion in 2004 with Mainz was a massive day. I’ve been lucky enough to experience a couple of sporting highlights as a coach.
Once you’ve been to the Champions League final for the first time as a coach, it must increase your desire to make it there again.
Some clubs are under pressure to make the final every year, but at other clubs everything has to come together just to get there in the first place. We’re somewhere in between. My priority for 2014 is to have my team complete the second half of the season in better physical shape. We’ve been hardly recognisable due to all our injuries. We needn’t bother talking about the [German] championship. Bayern Munich are the best team in the world at the moment, and unfortunately they play in the Bundesliga, so we’re up against them all the time. We don’t have a chance in the league any more. But why would we write off our chances in the other two competitions [German cup and Champions League] before we’ve been knocked out? We’re strong when we have everyone fit, and even when we don’t have everyone fit we still have the desire. We’ve proved that and that’s why we’re in a relatively good position. We want to make the most of it.
If you could pick one of the players who featured at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala and put him in your team, who would it be?
Lionel Messi. I love his game. I like the way Franck Ribery plays, and I like Cristiano Ronaldo. But when I watch Messi, I think what he does is just magnificent. It gets even better as time goes on.
Why is Jurgen Klopp so obviously the right man for Dortmund?
Actually I think the decisive factor is this: why does the club fit me so well? Why do I like working there so much? It’s an emotional thing. How we do so obviously matters to the people there, and I really like that. There’s basically nothing more important in Dortmund than football. Munich is just too nice a city to restrict yourself to football, you’re halfway to your holidays when you go there. Hamburg has the coast, Cologne has [annual street festival] Karneval, and Dortmund has football, end of. I think that’s cool, and it all fits together. That’s why I’ve been doing it for quite a while.
Where will you watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup™?
I don’t yet know but I definitely won’t be in Brazil. I can watch it on TV. And if a player really stands out I’ll be told anyway. I don’t have to be there in person. It would be better if I went to a U-21 World Cup or EURO. My face is too well-known these days for me to just turn up at a football event and hang out. If that was still possible I’d be there.
Who are your favourites for the Trophy?
Germany and Brazil. And we should hardly ignore the fact it takes place in Brazil. They were very good back at the Confederations Cup.
Could you imagine taking charge of a national team at some point?
Not yet, but obviously it’s basically a very attractive proposition. I’m very happy living in Germany, I think it’s a fantastic country and the people are pretty cool. If they were enthusiastic about me taking on the national team at some point I’d obviously think it over, although quite a lot of things would have to come together for that to happen. But joking aside we have a fantastic national coach and I have a terrific job with Borussia Dortmund, so everything’s fine.