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Klopp Shoot Klopp: Why the German Coach Isn't Destined for FC Barcelona

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Jurgen Klopp is linked to FC Barcelona, at least through rumors. Does it make any sense?

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Jurgen Klopp is an iconoclast who made a name as a football manager by doing a lot with a little, something that caught the eye of top clubs.  Indeed, many teams were salivating when he announced his resignation from Dortmund, most notably in the English Premier League.  An interesting and unexpected subplot was his link to Barcelona and rumors that at least one of the candidates running for the board presidency was going to stake his campaign on bringing in the German coach.  Personally, I think it’s a ridiculous premise and I seriously hope that this rumor is unfounded, and not just because the current coach has a winning percentage of 84.62 and a goal differential of +120.

Klopp made over 300 appearances and scored over 50 goals as a long-time player for the small German club Mainz.  He started coaching Mainz without much for resources, so he looked for players that were cheap, but young, easily malleable, and that could run.  Mainz made it to the first division for the first time in team history and qualified for a UEFA Cup.  It was a tremendous success for the club.  After being relegated and failing to reach promotion, Klopp left for Dortmund.  He had a bigger budget, but was still expected to be shrewd and build through the youth ranks.  His success at Dortmund made him a famous coach, specifically the run to the final of the Champions League during the 2012-2013 season, which featured several clashes (and victories) over Mourinho’s Real Madrid.  Dortmund has fought relegation for most of this season, with large clubs circling like vultures waiting for his best players to jump ship.

The reasons that many believe Klopp would work at Barcelona tend to do with things that don’t have much to do with Barcelona.  His ability to make a team competitive without much of a budget does not really apply to Barcelona.  Also, I can’t see much of a tactical connection besides, "hey, dude’s a tactical genius!  I think Pep was one of those!".   That is an oversimplification, but one does have to get a little creative to see how Klopp fits this club, despite being linked to Barca with some enthusiasm from fans and board members over the last few years.  Funny enough, the biggest proponent of why Klopp would work here would be how Luis Enrique has added more verticality to the attack.  Klopp’s pressing techniques are not far off from Barcelona’s philosophy, but it’s what he instructs his team to do after winning the ball back that couldn’t be more different.  Instead of patiently passing and building the attack, the midfielders on Klopp’s teams look to get the ball to the advanced players as quickly as possible and push downfield.  Many cules find Luis Enrique adding certain similar aspects to Barca’s attack to be a breath of fresh air, feeling that Pep was too tactically rigid and that other coaches had "caught-on" to tiki-taka.  So for those who are big Klopp fans or big Enrique bashers (or both), you can kind of see how Klopp’s tactics might be adaptable to Barcelona.  Pep’s possession football from FCB is oft replicated but never duplicated, and with Xavi and Iniesta fading out while the attacking trident establishes itself as the best in the world, could a change to a more counter-based style help the club adapt to its players and its future?

Aside from the very good point that, "well Enrique kind of did that already and the team is doing great so…", Klopp’s tactics in general don’t fit Barcelona, and he has not shown much flexibility in his career, either.  Klopp is on record as saying that if he grew up watching Barcelona win matches 5-0 he would have played Tennis instead.  He finds it boring, apparently, saying it was more like classical music whereas he was more into heavy metal.  Could Klopp make Barca’s beautiful but stodgy classical music into something more modern?  Something faster and more urgent?

This reader does not think so.  From what I can see from Klopp, he is as married to gelgenpressing as much as Pep is to tiki-taka.  The difference is that tiki-taka was born from total football and the culmination of a more modern approach to the philosophy by someone who certainly is one of the best tacticians in football.  It’s a system that Barca has developed within its own ranks and built its whole structure around.  Certain parts of his philosophy work with Barca’s structure and current players (technical defenders who can start attacks, pressing, getting the ball to the forwards, compressing space, attacking fullbacks), but others really do not (the double pivot, mostly bypassing midfield, always having a "destroyer" type midfielder, the structure of the attacking players and how they link, etc.).  One of the big attractions to Klopp is that we don’t really know what he would do.  Sure, evidence points to one very specific playing style, but he also never had the budget of FCB, as he was mostly trying to find players who could fit a system that would win without being expensive.  Who is to say that he wouldn’t adapt his tactics and make them better with more resources?  No one can say for sure, but at the moment his Dortmund side look absolutely "figured out" and there have been little adaptations to fix it, with Hummels flying into tackles incredibly high up the pitch while opposing players run into acres of space behind him a common sight.

What really seems to set Klopp apart is his ability to inspire his players.  The heavy metal comment from before is part of his mystique.  He’s the cool coach, the cool dad.  He will put himself on his player’s level and get every ounce of energy he can from them.  This would be the biggest hurdle if he came to Barcelona.  He would not be coaching young players who look up to him or a club that looks at him as its savior.  He would have to go from inspiring passion in kids to managing massive egos of established global stars.  He would go from a club grateful for the results to a club that just presumes they will happen.  No one knows for sure what would happen, again not taking into account any kind of ability to adapt, but tactics aren’t even the biggest reason why this marriage makes no sense.

Even in trying to adapt Klopp has not done too well, and I am not so generous to chalk it all up to the "realities of modern football" (i.e. Klopp just doesn’t have enough money to compete).  When gegenpressing was getting figured out by other coaches the changes he  made were essentially topical, just trying not to press too hard, or saving some energy by trying to score quick goals and then maintain more possession.  It’s a simple fix, but it doesn’t show a brilliant tactician or someone with a lot of flexibility.   This is what makes it even more unlikely that he would join Barcelona.  Tactics aren’t just football, they are philosophy, and part of Klopp’s philosophy is that players need to run until they are ragged, fans have to cheer their brains out for him/the team, and the media and club need to respect his "genius" and leave him alone to operate.  Think about instituting such a philosophy at Barcelona.  The players aren’t likely to buy into the rhetoric as much, the media is more likely to go on the attack when he fails, and the club will never look at him as the best thing that has ever happened to it like Mainz and Dortmund did.  He has also stated that he needs to coach somewhere that he can fluently speak the language.  It makes sense, as one of the biggest aspects to his coach is inspiring speeches and adroit man management.  As far as I know this would preclude him from going anywhere besides England or Germany.  I don’t see the Barca players looking at him lovingly as a father figure, just call it a hunch.

All that being said, Luis Enrique is doing a great job and deserves to keep coaching here.  This is a whole other article and debate, but I think at the least it is very myopic and knee-jerk to try to put any great coach who comes into the market as a possible replacement when the current coach is proving his worth, especially when the prospective coach is such an awkward fit.  Aside from all the logistical issues of the switch, Klopp has simply stated that he doesn’t like Barcelona’s style, and in a similar vein described Arsenal’s beautiful passing as an orchestra.  None of it makes any sense outside of wanting to sign a "big name".  We all know Klopp like heavy metal.  It all fits into his the "cool dad in the hoodie" persona.  In the end, Klopp is too much of an ideologue to see that heavy metal is basically just classical music with electric guitars, lyrics, thematic imagery and pop music structure.  You can play with the structure all you want, and you can follow the trends, but it’s what is at the heart of the philosophy that makes the machine tick.  We have our own (mostly) humble, flexible maestro, and he’s pulling all the right strings.  Why replace him with the lead guitarist who seems to know one note?