Come to United, we are an adult Dis­ney­world!

Red Devils’ bizarre pitch to Klopp — weeks BE­FORE the club sacked Moyes

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - SPORTS - By Raphael Honig­stein

A new bi­og­ra­phy of Liver­pool man­ager Jur­gen Klopp called

Bring the Noise re­veals fas­ci­nat­ing new de­tails of how the Borus­sia Dort­mund boss was wanted by both Manch­ester clubs and Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur

ON April 11, 2014 at 10pm, Jur­gen Klopp met Han­sJoachim Watzke for a drink at Mu­nich’s Park Hil­ton Ho­tel and told him that he had made up his mind. He was stay­ing put. Ear­lier that day, be­fore the team’s de­par­ture for an away game at Bay­ern’s Al­lianz Arena, the Borus­sia Dort­mund coach had still been un­de­cided. He’d re­ceived a tempt­ing, hugely lu­cra­tive of­fer from the North-West of Eng­land, a chance to take over and rev­o­lu­tionise one of the big­gest clubs in the world.

‘We first met in my kitchen,’ says Dort­mund’s CEO. ‘It was an in­ter­est­ing talk. I think it made a dif­fer­ence be­cause he said to me on the plane that we needed to talk again in the evening.

‘I was due to have din­ner with my daugh­ter, who lived in Mu­nich, so I could only see him at 10pm. He straight­away said: “I can’t deal with this pres­sure any more. I’ve turned them down.” ’

Not long be­fore, Manch­ester United ex­ec­u­tive vice chair­man Ed Wood­ward had flown out to see Klopp in Ger­many. David Moyes’s short ten­ure at Old Traf­ford was com­ing to an end, and Klopp was United’s favourite to re­place him, to bring back a sense of ad­ven­ture to the Red Devils’ game. Wood­ward told Klopp that the The­atre of Dreams was ‘like an adult ver­sion of Dis­ney­land’, a myth­i­cal place where, as the nick­name sug­gested, the en­ter­tain­ment was world class and dreams came true.

Klopp wasn’t en­tirely con­vinced by that sales pitch — he found it a bit ‘un­sexy’, he told a friend — but he didn’t dis­miss the propo­si­tion out of hand either. Af­ter al­most six years in the job at Dort­mund, per­haps the time was ripe for a change of scenery.

Aware of United’s in­ter­est, Watzke had in­tended to in­sist that Klopp hon­our his con­tract, which had been ex­tended to 2018 only the pre­ced­ing au­tumn. Sens­ing that the 46-year-old was quite con­flicted, Watzke changed tack and opted for a very risky strat­egy.

If Klopp wanted to go to Manch­ester United, he wouldn’t stand in his way, he told him, play­ing on their mu­tual trust and a con­nec­tion that had long since crossed from busi­ness into friend­ship. Af­ter some de­lib­er­a­tion — and the con­ver­sa­tion at Watzke’s kitchen ta­ble — the Borus­sia Dort­mund man­ager came to the con­clu­sion that his work at the Sig­nal Iduna Park was not yet done.

United, how­ever, felt there was still a pos­si­bil­ity of lur­ing him away. When Moyes re­ceived his in­evitable march­ing or­ders on April 22, Klopp was quickly in­stalled as the book­mak­ers’ favourite to suc­ceed the Scot.

In­ces­sant me­dia spec­u­la­tion in the UK prompted the man from Swabia in south-west Ger­many to re­lease a state­ment via the Guardian the next day to kill the ru­mour. ‘Man Utd is a great club and I feel very fa­mil­iar with their won­der­ful fans,’ it read, ‘but my com­mit­ment to Borus­sia Dort­mund and the peo­ple is un­break­able.’

Klopp con­tin­ued to at­tract in­ter­est from the Pre­mier League, re­gard­less. Six months af­ter he had turned down Wood­ward, Manch­ester United’s lo­cal ri­vals Manch­ester City made an ap­proach. Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur, too, in­quired about his ser­vices.

Al­most ex­actly a year af­ter Klopp had said no to United, his bond with Dort­mund turned out to be break­able af­ter all. He an­nounced he would re­sign at the end of the 2014–15 sea­son, adding that he didn’t in­tend to take a sab­bat­i­cal.

In a villa in Bre­men’s leafy Schwach­hausen quar­ter, the phone started ring­ing a few weeks into the new Pre­mier League sea­son.

As Brendan Rodgers’s time at An­field came to a slow end, a num­ber of peo­ple con­tacted Klopp’s agent, Marc Kosicke, promis­ing to make an in­tro­duc­tion to Liver­pool. One, a Ger­man foot­ball agent, said he knew Kenny Dal­glish really well. Kosicke pre­ferred to wait. Even­tu­ally, some­body pur­port­ing to be Liver­pool chief ex­ec­u­tive Ian Ayre called. Could they have a con­ver­sa­tion about Klopp com­ing to An­field? They could, Kosicke replied, but only via a video Skype call. While Ayre hung up, be­fore call­ing again over the app, Kosicke did a quick im­age search of the Liver­pool of­fi­cial. Just to be sure.

Too many pranksters and time wasters out there.

‘Once you’ve been at Dort­mund, where can you go as a coach?’ Mar­tin Quast, a friend of Klopp since the early Nineties, asks.

‘In Ger­many, there’s only the na­tional team left, ev­ery­thing else would be a step down, even Bay­ern. Kloppo gets off on emo­tions, on em­pa­thy, on rock­ing the house, on be­ing a part of some­thing really big. I could only imag­ine him tak­ing on a club abroad, a club like Liver­pool.’

Chris­tian Hei­del says Klopp had only one reser­va­tion: his English. ‘He asked me: “Should I do it?” I said: “The spo­ken word is your weapon. You have to de­cide if you can get across what’s im­por­tant in English. You need to be sure.”

‘And then he said: “I’ll man­age it. I’ll study now, and I’ll get there.” And since he’s very in­tel­li­gent, he got there, very quickly.

‘At the time [of LFC’s ap­proach], no other club would have stood a chance. He’d al­ways been keen on them, he was ex­cited by the emo­tional di­men­sion of the job. I don’t think he’d have gone to Manch­ester City or a club like that — even though they really wanted him.’

TURN-OFF: Jur­gen Klopp found sales pitch ‘un­sexy’

© Raphael Honig­stein, 2017. Klopp: Bring the Noise by Raphael Honig­stein is pub­lished by Yel­low Jersey Press on Thurs­day, priced £12.99. Of­fer price £10.39 (20% dis­count) un­til Nov 24. Or­der at mail­shop.co. uk/books or call 0844 571 0640, p&p is free on or­ders over £15.

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