Jürgen Klopp: The Player

Jürgen Klopp: ‘Attitude More Than Talent’

| Learning The Game |

When reflecting on a trial his younger, 19-year old self had attended at Eintracht Frankfurt, Jürgen Klopp recalls coming up against Andreas Möller; a German International who would go on to win a Champions League medal as a player:

“… if that’s football, I’m playing a completely different game. He was world-class. I was not even class.”

Jürgen Klopp on his own playing ability.

Now 23, Klopp had achieved what he had begun to think impossible, he was a professional footballer at Mainz 05; one of Germany’s three prominent carnival cities after Cologne and Düsseldorf.

It was the 1990/91 season, Klopp’s first as a professional player, Mainz had been promoted back into the second division of professional football in Germany, the 2. Bundesliga.

klopp 1990
Jürgen Klopp in 1990.

Jürgen would begin his playing career as a striker; surprisingly fast for a 6’4″ frame, Klopp was able to combine his undoubted aerial ability with a turn of speed which was well-suited to the physically, if not technically demanding brand of football that was being played in the league at the time.

However, it was Klopp’s intelligence as a player that gave him the chance to make it as a professional. When quizzed about his own ability as a player and why he never made it to the Bundesliga, Klopp retorted:

“I had fourth-division talent and a first-division head. That resulted in the second division.”

Jürgen Klopp’s response to a journalist during his time at BVB.

Mainz were consistently battling relegation in the early 1990s, Klopp, however, was regularly scoring goals for the club; his hard work, tenacity and determination firmly establishing himself as a fan-favourite for years to come.

Klopp’s final foray as a forward would be the 1994/95 season, Mainz had been cycling through managers in recent times, they finally settled on Wolfgang Frank: a German ex-player who was bringing new ideas to German football.

| A New Way |

Wolfgang Frank’s arrival signalled a new dawn for both player and club. Frank was a huge admirer of Arrigo Sacchi and his all-conquering Milan side of the late 1980s, now, Frank was looking to bring those ideas to Mainz.

Sacchi had revolutionised Italian football, introducing a flat back four that played a high line; compressing the pitch and allowing his fluid front three of Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit to run riot. A trio blessed with an absolutely devastating combination of pace, power as well as individual skill.

Sacchi’s Milan was far more than individual skill though; the zonal game that saw the team look to cover space rather than traditional man-marking systems of the time was its true genius. Sacchi was able to completely do away with the traditional ‘sweeper’ or ‘libero’ role of the time.

Sacchi’s high pressing game was a key influence on Frank, the Milan side being known for its defensive uses of the offside trap as well as its high line; squeezing the distance between defence and attack to 25 metres.

Jürgen Klopp: Top 5 Goals

Frank now brought those same ideas to Germany, his revolutionary 4-4-2 saw a change of position for Klopp who was now moved to right-back. Klopp’s unique skillset of pace, aerial ability and an exceptional technical understanding of the game allowed him to read pressing situations and crucially, organise Frank’s defensive system.

During this time, Klopp was becoming increasingly aware that his own shelf-life as a footballer was dwindling. He started to travel on a weekly basis to Cologne, studying with the then assistant manager to the German national side, Erich Rutemöller, to gain his coaching badges.

Klopp had also recently achieved his Masters in Sports Science from the nearby Goethe University of Frankfurt. On the pitch, Klopp was becoming ever more important to the team. He was now a key figure in the dressing room, often lending advice to teammates on how they could improve individually or collectively.

“… everybody had to go where the ball was. The aim was to create numerical superiority to win the ball, then sprawl out, like a fist that opens.”

Jürgen Klopp on Wolfgang Frank’s tactics.

Mainz would flirt with promotion in 1996/97 before Wolfgang Frank left the club only to return again a year later in 1998. In 2000, Frank would depart the club again, leading to a period of instability and regular manager changes for the carnival club.

Eckhard Krautzun was brought in as manager after impressing the club chairman with his intricate knowledge of Wolfgang Frank’s system. After a series of poor results, as well as the revelation that Krautzun had actually had a three-hour phone call with Klopp on the subject of Frank’s tactics prior to his interview with Mainz, he was swiftly fired.

The very next day, Jürgen Klopp would be announced as the new manager of Mainz 05. Overnight, Klopp had gone from professional player to manager, he was now officially at the helm of a club he had led in so many ways on the pitch.

He retired as Mainz’s record goal-scorer at that time with 56 goals for the club and is, at the time of writing, 3rd on their all-time goalscorer list. Despite his self-confessed technical limitations, he was a highly effective player wherever he played on the pitch. Klopp’s tactical perception and high work-rate making him an extremely valuable team player and an absolute fan-favourite.

Klopp Dribble

LFC Australia covered the events that led up to Jürgen Klopp becoming a professional footballer here: Jürgen Klopp: The Making of

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