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I have this helping syndrome
Jürgen Klopp is calm and serene. His face lights up, of course, at the prospect of “the mighty battle” which awaits Liverpool on Tuesday when Roma arrive at Anfield for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final. He also leans forward animatedly when assessing the intriguing challenge the Italians will pose. Yet, beyond the cliche of Klopp as a madly gurning cheerleader on the touchline, the 50-year-old German proved, again, his tactical nous and inspirational management while guiding Liverpool to three victories this season over the feted Premier League champions Manchester City. The 5-1 aggregate defeat of City in the quarter-finals was exhilarating and resilient.
It is striking how, at Liverpool’s training ground, Klopp is also stimulated when discussing real life and tangled politics, Brexit and Angela Merkel. There are moments in a free-wheeling conversation when the hilarity feels unstoppable as Klopp considers a claim that he would win an election to become German chancellor because of his attention to detail, communication skills and empathy. But there are many more thoughtful moments – particularly when Klopp addresses the vexed issue of Brexit and his belief that British people should have the chance to vote again on their future in or outside the EU.
We start, however, with Klopp reminiscing about his youthful desire to become a doctor. That teenage ambition chimes with his persistent interest in helping people
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“get better every day” and his work with players, from Mo Salah to Dejan Lovren, who improve in contrasting ways.
“I was young when I thought about becoming a doctor,”
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Klopp says with a smile as he remembers growing up in the Black Forest village of Glatten. “I had the idea three
years before my A-level. But to study medicine your A-level results had to be fantastic. So it was good for all the people who would have been under my knife that I didn’t make it. But it was close to be honest.”
That wistful sentence is swamped by his laughter. But the idea of Dr Klopp is not outlandish. He exudes a warmth and intelligence we would all want to see in a doctor. “I have this helping syndrome,” Klopp says. “I really care about people and I feel responsible for pretty much everything.”
Klopp’s inclusive leadership, ensuring everyone feels nurtured and needed, is at the root of his success. Is he also becoming a scouser as his immersion in Liverpool runs so deep? Klopp grins, brandishing his cup: “There’s this tea, for example. When we come somewhere new my family like to adapt. We want to live like people here. I’m not a guy who says: ‘By the way, I want to tell you in Germany we do it like this or that.’ We look so similar but we are very different too. It’s really interesting. My boys both work in Germany but they are football maniacs so they’re very often here. They tell me about the nightlife and I experience the country in the daytime.”
Does life on this small island seem insular, particularly when the political landscape has shifted dramatically since he arrived? “I’ve heard it said that English people are not looking outwards but I don’t see it. I live in Formby and work in Liverpool. I drive from here to there and sometimes I’m in different cities for games. So I don’t know enough about the country but many people come to Britain because English is the language the world speaks.
“I can’t say Germany is more open. If you ask the wrong people in Germany they would say: ‘Yes, we want a fence to keep foreigners out and, by the way, could you make is as high as the [Berlin] Wall.’ Europe has been strange the last few years. I like to go to Austria for skiing but they only push [immigrants] through to Mrs Merkel. Being a leader in this situation is not a joy. There is no easy solution.”
The option favoured by the Brexiteers, however, seems misguided and dispiriting. “I understand,” Klopp says. “I’m not the best-informed person but I’m very interested in it. When Mr Cameron had the idea [of a referendum] you thought: ‘This is not something people should decide in a moment.’
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We are all influenced by the way only some of the argument is given, and once the decision is taken nobody gives you a real opportunity to change it again. The
choice was either you stay in Europe, which is not perfect, or you go out into something nobody has any idea how it will work.
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