When Mainz’s sporting director Christian Heidel revealed the club’s new manager in an understated and hurriedly arranged press conference in February 2001, the confusion among the smattering of local journalists swiftly turned into derision.
“The whole table roared with laughter,” Heidel told Raphael Honigstein in his biography of the then rookie coach Jurgen Klopp, Bring the Noise. “They all cracked up. They took the piss out of us the next day in the papers.”
Almost 22 years on, Klopp has enjoyed a supremely successful management career which has brought plenty of support, success and interesting stats.
Saturday, 21 January 2023 will be indelibly inked in the record books across all sources (see the headline) as Jurgen Klopp’s 1,000th game in management. However, Neil Critchley may have something to say about that.
The former Liverpool youth-team coach was at the helm for two of Klopp’s first 999 games in management, taking charge of an embryonic squad for a pair of cup games during the 2019/20 season. The 5-0 defeat to Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals and the FA Cup fourth-round replay win over Shrewsbury Town will go down on Klopp’s record but the German boss wasn’t in the stadium for either match.
Liverpool’s involvement in the Club World Cup explained his absence against Villa – he led the Reds to victory in Doha the following day – but Klopp gave his first team (and himself) the night off against the Shrews as the replay fell during the Premier League’s winter break. Even James Milner made it to Anfield that night, watching from behind a home dugout devoid of his boss.
When Mainz were consigned to fourth spot in 2003, one position below the three promotion places, after their fate had been decided on a tragic final day for a second season in a row, Klopp’s side was mockingly branded: “The Unpromotables”.
The curse was finally broken in 2004 as Klopp became the first manager in the club’s history to steer Mainz into the Bundesliga. It came down to the last game again but the banner which Klopp put in his team’s dressing room before kick-off proved prescient. It read: “Jaaaaaaa!”
With just 54 points, Mainz recorded the lowest tally of any team to be promoted in Bundesliga history at the time. Few cared as just two years earlier their record of 64 points was the most of any team that failed to secure top-flight promotion.
Borussia Dortmund’s Bundesliga crown in 2011/12 was remarkable for a vast number of reasons.
Ilkay Gundogan succinctly summarised Borussia’s strengths during a campaign in which they not only nabbed a consecutive league title but earned the club’s first-ever domestic double: “We dominated the opposition, Klopp-style.”
Despite mathematically securing the league crown before the season’s conclusion, Klopp demanded his side keep their foot on the throttle, inspiring a remorselessness which earned Borussia 81 points, the highest tally in the history of the Bundesliga at the time according to The Analyst.
Bayern Munich have since surpassed that record but the fact that Klopp could inspire a Dortmund team competing on a fraction of the Bavarians’ budget to such lofty heights ensures that the achievement continues to resonate.
Repeatedly failing on the grandest of stages is a privilege few have the honour of achieving. Liverpool’s defeat in the 2022 Champions League final to Real Madrid was the third time Klopp had collected a runners-up medal in the European showpiece, equalling the record set by Marcello Lippi with Juventus. Klopp’s opposite number in 2022, Carlo Ancelotti, is the only coach to have ever reached the Champions League final more often than the self-proclaimed “Normal One”.
His Liverpool side had already been bested by Los Blancos in 2018, five years after Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund were undone by an 89th-minute winner from Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben at Wembley.
Klopp did wrap his hands around the famous big-eared trophy in 2019, steering Liverpool past Tottenham Hotspur at the end of a sensational season which still carried a tinge of disappointment from their league exploits.
In 2018/19, Liverpool finished with an unbelievable 97 points. At the time, the highest tally in the club’s history. Yet, it wasn’t enough to topple Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, who racked up 98.
In the 119 seasons of English top-flight football which took place before 2018/19, Klopp’s Liverpool would have won the title with that tally 117 times, when adjusted to three points for a win per game.
In 2017/18, Guardiola’s City clocked in at 100 points and all the way back in 1888/89 Preston North End’s Invincibles won 18 of their 22 matches, drawing four.
Fortunately for Klopp’s nearly men, they only had to wait 12 months before snatching the crown themselves, racking up 99 points just to make sure of a 19th top-flight title for the club.
It’s become a familiar touchstone in the search to quantify Klopp’s otherworldly success that his Liverpool side equalled the longest winning run in English top-flight history, racking up 18 consecutive victories between October 2019 and February 2020.
However, what goes forgotten is the sequence that led to this history book bothering run. Before drawing 1-1 with Manchester United, Liverpool had won their previous 17 matches in a row. Therefore, between March 2019 and February 2020, Liverpool won 35 of their 36 Premier League matches, dropping just two points from a possible 108.
John McKenna’s 69% win record during his time at the helm between 1895 and 1896 ensures that Klopp (61%) can’t lay claim to the all-time honour of Liverpool’s most-winningest manager. However, even if we discount the fact that he was operating in an era when the halfway line didn’t exist and the crossbar was a new-fangled addition, McKenna only took charge of just 36 matches (W25 D3 L8).
Klopp has taken charge of a great deal more, winning hearts, minds and trophies in a career which is no longer laughed at, but lauded.