For­get the ‘clone’ idea, Klopp’s just my friend

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE TWO - By Chris Dunlavy

DAVID Wag­ner was once asked by a re­porter from the Daily Mail if he was merely a clone of his friend and men­tor Jur­gen Klopp.

“Who is telling you this?” said the Ger­man. “You should sue them. He is 1.93 me­tres tall, I am 1.83. He is fairskinned, I am dark-skinned. He has blond hair, I have black hair. If each spec­ta­cle wearer with a three-day beard is a Klopp clone, we have 49 mil­lion of them in Ger­many!”

Wag­ner takes all such com­par­isons with good grace. His re­la­tion­ship with Klopp – and the debt he owes the Liver­pool boss – en­sures that.

Friends since they played to­gether at Mainz in the nineties, Wag­ner would try to per­suade his lanky room-mate to stop smok­ing dur­ing long-dis­tance runs. “The an­noy­ing thing was, he could still run for­ever,” said Wag­ner.

When Klopp got mar­ried, Wag­ner was best man. When Wag­ner had a daugh­ter, he asked Klopp to be God­fa­ther.

The pair bounced off each other. Wag­ner more stu­dious and thought­ful, Klopp ex­tro­vert and dy­namic. “We would go to par­ties and, at the start no­body there would know him,” Wag­ner once said. “Af­ter­wards, ev­ery­body would be like ‘Wow, Jur­gen is great’.”

Over time, their qual­i­ties would rub off on each other.

In 2011, af­ter both jour­ney­men had gone the dis­tance, it was Klopp’s turn to of­fer ad­vice, per­suad­ing his old team-mate to join him as Un­der-23 coach at Dort­mund, in­stead of com­plet­ing his train­ing as a teacher.

“I spoke to David,” said Klopp. “I said ‘You played as a pro­fes­sional. Now you stud­ied two sub­jects at univer­sity.

“If you get your pro-li­cence, who else will be as uniquely qual­i­fied as you? Give me one name’. He couldn’t think of one.”

But for that meet­ing, Wag­ner hap­pily ad­mits he’d be teach­ing in a Ger­man school, not manag­ing Hud­der­s­field in the Cham­pi­onship.

Yet, if Klopp pro­vided the spring­board, the raw ma­te­ri­als – a sharp wit, an­a­lyt­i­cal mind and ‘greed’ for knowl­edge – were al­ways there. Dur­ing the 90s, when Wag­ner was play­ing for Schalke in the Bun­desliga, he won eight caps for the USA.


The son of an Amer­i­can fa­ther and Ger­man mother, he was born in Ger­many, lived in Los An­ge­les and re­turned to Frank­furt when his par­ents di­vorced. He has since lost touch with his fa­ther. “I have no pic­ture of him in my mind, only in pho­to­graphs,” he said in 1998. Eric Wy­nalda, the former USA striker, says Wag­ner was never truly trusted by coach Steve Sampson. “David re­ally didn’t get a fair shake un­der Steve,” he said. “It was a tricky time for him. He was a good striker, very mo­bile. We had some good in­ter­ac­tions and I en­joyed hang­ing out with him.

“It’s kind of funny be­cause I don’t think we were ever in­tro­duced to the real David Wag­ner.

“We got the other ver­sion of a guy who didn’t know what the hell was go­ing on or if this was go­ing to work out for him. He was a lit­tle more re­served than he re­ally is.”

But talk about the game, re­calls Wy­nalda, and ev­ery­thing changed.

“We had a con­ver­sa­tion dur­ing din­ner and he wanted to know ev­ery­thing about the CONCACAF re­gion,” he said. “He was ask­ing ques­tion af­ter ques­tion.

“He looked at the game in the kind of way where it was very clear this guy was go­ing to take the man­age­rial route.

“He was just a big sponge who wanted to learn and un­der­stand ev­ery­thing about his sur­round­ings. The real lead­ers are the ones that never stop learn­ing. He def­i­nitely fell into that cat­e­gory.”

And, af­ter his play­ing ca­reer pe­tered out in the Ger­man lower leagues, Wag­ner did learn.

First, a de­gree in sports science and bi­ol­ogy, then coach­ing the Un­der-17s at Mainz and Hof­fen­heim. Next came that teach­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion and, finally, Dort­mund.

Dur­ing five years in charge of the sec­ond string, Wag­ner won pro­mo­tion to the third tier and ush­ered the likes of Erik Durm, Jonas Hof­man and Mario Gotze into the first team. Along­side Klopp, he also de­vel­oped the ‘full-throt­tle’ foot­ball that cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of Hud­der­s­field owner Dean Hoyle in 2015.

Since then, he has over­hauled the Ter­ri­ers, al­ter­ing train­ing times, im­ple­ment­ing dou­ble ses­sions, trans­form­ing the club from es­cape artists to pro­mo­tion con­tenders. So im­pres­sive has he been that Hoyle fended off an ap­proach from Wolfs­burg this sea­son.

The Klopp phi­los­o­phy is ap­par­ent. High press­ing, swift coun­ters, po­si­tional flu­id­ity.

But so, too, is Wag­ner’s own ethos: an ob­ses­sive at­ten­tion to de­tail and prepa­ra­tion that breeds a bul­let-proof con­fi­dence.

“The way he pre­pares you for a game, you feel you can­not know any more about the op­po­nent,” says Chris Lowe, the Ter­ri­ers left-back. “He finds tiny de­tails that make a big dif­fer­ence.”


Those thoughts are echoed by striker Elias Kachunga, 24.

“Be­fore ev­ery match, the man­ager gives us the right tac­tics,” he said. “We go on to the pitch with ev­ery­one know­ing what he has to do – and we have seen that, most of the time, he is right.”

Nahki Wells, who was at the club when Wag­ner ar­rived, goes even fur­ther. “His prepa­ra­tion is metic­u­lous,” said the Ber­mu­dan in­ter­na­tional. “But it’s more than that.

“When he ar­rived, I was very hit and miss. We all were. But he be­lieves in us and tells us ‘You make mis­takes, you keep go­ing’. We are not afraid to try stuff, and sud­denly we’re all more con­fi­dent and con­sis­tent.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

EYE FOR DE­TAIL: Wag­ner is said to be ob­ses­sive with his prepa­ra­tion

JOY: David Wag­ner holds aloft the UEFA Cup in 1997 af­ter vic­tory for Schalke ver­sus Inter Mi­lan

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