How Jurgen Klopp Gets the Fan Connection

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In November 2022, Jurgen Klopp was given the Freedom of the City of Liverpool. This civic honour was the highest that could be awarded and was gratefully received. It spoke volumes about how the German had bonded with the club and its citizens. “We love living here,” Klopp said as he was joined by his wife for the ceremony. “We will not live forever here because at one point we will go back to Germany, whenever that will be, but it was always clear we will stay connected. “

As the 56-year-old walks away from Anfield as a legend, the words in his first-ever press conference at the club resonate. He said: “It’s not important what people think when you come in, it’s much more important what people think when you leave.”  From the moment Klopp arrived at Liverpool in October 2015, it was clear that he immediately changed the mood of the team’s most vital resource: the supporters.

Brendan Rodgers had lost control of the fanbase, and his football had become stodgy and tired. This had a mute button effect on the crowd. As soon as the German claimed to be “The Normal One” in his first speaking engagement, he had everyone’s attention.

The key was to turn “doubters into believers” and activate the crowd. Part of Klopp’s vision was to use the heritage of Anfield and ensure that any visit to the stadium would be an uncomfortable one for the opposition. When he lost at home against Crystal Palace in 2015, the former Dortmund manager was crestfallen that people had decided to leave when Scott Dann scored late on.

“After the goal on 82 minutes, with 12 minutes to go, I saw many people leaving the stadium. I felt pretty alone at this moment. We decide when it is over.” The fans must have been listening as a few weeks later they were there to see Divock Origi salvage a late point at Anfield against West Brom. Klopp got the team to link hands and acknowledge the spectators who roared them on. It was frowned upon by some as rather embarrassing, but it was part of relationship building.

Klopp sees the team and spectators as one entity. He reignited the mood among Dortmund fans who had been starved of success. He also fell in love with the spirit of the club and the Yellow Wall swayed with the energy he created. This synergy elevated the team performance to slay the beast of Munich twice in the Bundesliga. Football fans fell in love with the rock star image of Klopp as he brought Dortmund to Wembley against Bayern in the 2013 Champions League final. He described his team as ‘like Robin Hood.’ “He loves the underdog label and fans can relate to that.”

Liverpool may exist to win trophies as Kop legend Bill Shankly once exclaimed, but Klopp moved the dial on that even further. He connected the fans even in loss, despair and confusion. Just days after being knocked out of their Champions League defence by Atletico Madrid in March 2020, Klopp spoke like a leader to all football fans as COVID-19 took the sport away for three months when Liverpool were 25 points ahead in the title race. Any wagers or sport betting on who would be champions had been replaced by whether the season would be completed.

Whatever his fears, Klopp’s message was for everyone although initially directed at Liverpool supporters. “If it’s a choice between football and the good of the wider society, it’s no contest. Really, it isn’t,” he said. Every fan could relate to those words in uncertain times.

While Klopp has a love affair with Reds fans that is generally reciprocated, other fans also appreciate the German for his boundless energy and personality. There aren’t many who would deny that the passion and sheer force of character would be equally well-received at their club.

There’s a sharp and rather rude side to his nature that disturbs fans as much as delights them. The Reds manager has a history of complaining about schedules, but his sour words in disappointment towards broadcasters show the attributes of a very sore and sour loser at times. His treatment of fourth officials, albeit in the heat of the moment, is highly dubious too.

There are also rival fans who don’t care much for Klopp’s claim that football “means more” to Liverpool, as if their story is more valuable in its narrative.

The streets of Liverpool have just seen a mural go up of the man himself with that famous German beer he advertises. It’s an image of a beaming smile that will resonate for a very long time after Klopp departs L4. The world will still spin on its axis, but football supporters will feel a disconnect without him.

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