‘A memory for a lifetime’: Jürgen Klopp leaves a football legacy far greater than silverware


A few days before Liverpool’s final game of the English Premier League season, there was a story that went viral on social media of a local restaurant owner in Liverpool and his chance encounter with the club’s departing manager, Jürgen Klopp. 

It was 2015, the German’s first summer at the club, and all the players and staff went out for a pre-season meal at an Italian joint in the middle of the city. Towards the end of the evening, Klopp and his wife, Ulla, were looking for a secret spot to smoke a cigarette, but the only place available was the owner’s office at the back of the restaurant.

As the owner led them down the hallway and the door to the office swung open, they discovered the owner’s teenage son, Ben, halfway through a graveyard shift, with a huge slice of pizza in his hand. The teenager stopped mid-bite, cartoonishly, as he realised who had just walked into the room.

A man wearing a black jacket and glasses waves.

Jürgen Klopp joined Liverpool in 2015 and turned a fading club into one now trembling with life.(Reuters: Jon Nazca)

“I thought it would be rude to leave them with my lad, so I grabbed a seat and we started chatting,” said the owner, Paddy.

“As they finished their [cigarettes], Ulla says she’d better get back to the party, and I’m thinking, ‘wow! That was amazing chatting to them!’ But Jürgen doesn’t move…

“We spend the next 20 minutes talking footy. He tells us James Milner will play left-back next season, Manchester United wanted him to manage them (‘why would I go there!? Ha!’) asked us about games we went to and we told him we’d missed the Dortmund game (‘Oh my god! How can you miss that game!?’)

“We felt like naughty little school kids. Fair to say, it was brilliant: in some ways just three lads talking footy, but for me and my lad, a memory for a lifetime.”

There has been a lot written about Jürgen Klopp’s exit from Liverpool after almost 10 years in charge. Having overseen one of the most successful periods in the club’s long history, becoming Liverpool’s fourth-longest-serving manager with 491 games, there have been plenty of stories to tell after the 56-year-old announced that this season would be his last.

But among the reflections and dissections that have emerged over the past few months, which have touched on everything from the evolution of Klopp’s playing style to his trophy haul to deep dives into his character and biographical history, perhaps the most touching stories of all have been the ones like Paddy’s: the personal, the intimate, the small acts of kindness and connection that he showed to all who met him.

Maya Angelou once wrote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And that is what makes Klopp’s departure from Liverpool so moving: it is the end of an era defined by deep and profound feeling.

This feeling, this heat and light, was evident even before Klopp took over from Brendan Rodgers in 2015, when he was still the charismatic, bespeckled manager of Borussia Dortmund in Germany, leaping and flailing along the touchline, as though the atoms of his body were attached by invisible threads to every action that took place on the field. You could not help but love a man who loved his club that much.

It was exactly this white-hot spark that the dusty, fading light bulb of Liverpool needed, having flickered away into the background of English football since the mid-2000s.

The team’s first game under Klopp — a 0-0 draw against Tottenham — showed the early symbols of the emotion-filled, heavy-metal side they would become, running more than they had ever in the previous season and then running some more, filled with the same electricity that their new manager seemed to contain within him wherever he went.

In the nine seasons that followed, each version of his team played as a kind of incarnation of the man himself: the same raw muscularity, the same relentlessness, the same clarity of purpose, the same surge of feeling and intention like a fist to the jaw.

Combined with the steely tactical nous of one of the world’s most progressive strategists, Klopp created teams that could do all that the modern game required, and then wrenched them into something beyond that. No wonder they always looked tired by the end.

Over time, the crackling energy that emanated from Klopp spilled out beyond the white lines of the pitch to somewhere that doesn’t quite have a border or an end-point.

Looking back, it is hard to imagine the Premier League without this slapstick routine of a man as one of its protagonists: him sprinting down the touchline with his big white teeth clenched, him leaping up and punching the air with his closed right hand, him slapping the left side of his chest where the club crest always sat.

He disrupted the merry-go-round of managers coming in for a second or third try, breaking the monotony of seeing the same man but a little bit older and in a different tracksuit. In doing so, he gave new force to the role of the coach as not just brains of the operation, but its heart as well: a kind of emotional wormhole through which fans and players and history and feeling can touch.

Jürgen Klopp thumps his chest with his left fist as he celebrates Liverpool defeating Newcastle United.

Jürgen Klopp’s passion for Liverpool was infectious.(Getty Images: Jan Kruger)

The players loved Klopp and Klopp loved the players and everybody else loved (or envied) how much they loved each other: the way he hugged each of them as they were substituted off the field or gripped their shoulders like a supportive dad before they went on.

Youngsters like Trent Alexander-Arnold, Harvey Elliott and Joe Gomez owe the starts of their glittering careers to this paternal figure, while older ones like James Milner, Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge owed him the revitalisation of theirs.

He made cult heroes out of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Alisson and Virgin van Dijk, Andy Robertson and Fabinho, and rebuilt the fortress of Anfield with not just bricks but with bodies, a wall of noise so heavy you felt it could flatten any opponent who dared to walk out beneath it.

His passion grew to encompass the entire city, a city built upon the same left-leaning collective principles that he and his teams have been the manifestations of, familiarising himself with countless local businesses, hospitals, grassroots clubs, pubs, charities, retirement homes and everything in between. He always made an effort to remember people’s names, to ask them about their stories, to find their shared connection through their shared love of this club and their shared hatred of The Sun newspaper.

It was that love that came beaming out of Anfield on Monday morning, his final game in charge, in a 2-0 win over Wolverhampton. Not that anyone will remember the scoreline, of course, just as they won’t remember every one of the almost 500 games and scorelines that Klopp has overseen from the touchline.

What they’ll remember, instead, is the banner reading “Danke Jürgen” running around two sides of the ground, leading to a love heart painted in the colours of the German flag. They’ll remember the five-minute chorus of fans singing “I’m so glad Jürgen is a red” that drowned out the final whistle. They’ll remember his players in tears, standing arm-in-arm in front of the Kop, as the whole stadium sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” for him for the final time.

They’ll remember those moments of deep and precious feeling, whether in the back room of an inner-city restaurant or in the stands after a magical 4-0 comeback against Barcelona in 2019 or from their homes when they lifted their first Premier League trophy in 30 years during lockdown.

All the time, he was there: grinning through an ever-greying beard, wiping tears from beneath his thick-rimmed glasses, writing letters and sending video messages and speaking on broadcasts to the whole world of Liverpool fans he’d created and connected with along the way.

Some have criticised Klopp for not winning more trophies, arguing that he has underachieved given the resources at his disposal. One league title and one Champions League are the biggest trophies with his name on it, though an FA Cup, a Community Shield, two Carabao Cups, a UEFA Super Cup and a Club World Cup aren’t just decorative tin pots, either.

But beneath the hard facts of history is a more convincing context: twice Liverpool have finished just a single point behind the cold machine of Manchester City, which has spent two times as much money on their squad in the same period, and twice they have lost to Champions League juggernauts Real Madrid in the continental final.

To have come so close to teams that have essentially purchased perfection (and who, it must be noted, are being actively investigated for it), having done it with far fewer superstars by comparison for such a sustained period of time, and to have been the sole interruption to what would have otherwise been almost a cold decade of City dominance, is a testament to a coach who found power in the other stuff that football is made from, the stuff that requires more than money, the stuff that Klopp has always embodied.

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Along with his staff, this tired German man helped resuscitate this once-pale club in a once-pale city, filling it with the same electricity that he has released everywhere he’s managed, sparking it into something that now trembles with life.

Whether standing on the touchline in his famous running shoes and baseball cap, or standing with his arms wrapped around fans at a community function, the memories that Liverpool’s fans will carry with them in the post-Klopp era are arguably more precious than whatever pieces of silverware he was able to hoist above his head throughout it.

Eight years after their first meeting, Paddy hosted the club at another of his restaurants for a celebration after Klopp received the key to the city.

At one point during the night, Paddy was standing in the restaurant making sure everything was going smoothly, when Klopp swayed up next to him and quipped with his iconic grin: “Do you own all the restaurants around here!?”

“Just a little throw-away comment to him, but it made me feel 10 feet tall,” Paddy said.

Fans and players may forget the games that Klopp won or lost, the trophies that were or weren’t lifted, the histories that were or were not made.

They may forget what he said.

They may forget what he did.

But they will never forget how he made them feel.





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