Come to United, we are an adult Disneyworld!
Red Devils’ bizarre pitch to Klopp — weeks BEFORE the club sacked Moyes
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.