Belfast Telegraph

Jurgen Klopp: I could have been boss of Manchester United

By Ian Herbert

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has confirmed that Manchester United did speak to him when appointing Sir Alex Ferguson's successor but rejected the idea because he was already committed to Borussia Dortmund.

Ferguson revealed last year that Klopp - one of a number of "very desirable candidates," as he described him - had been sounded out in 2013, along with Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti before David Moyes was appointed.

But ahead of a first ever encounter with United in his 15-year managerial career, Klopp said he could not have accepted a job offer, even though the approach was a "big honour".

Klopp (below), whom Ferguson said last month could conceivably establish Liverpool as a superior side to United, while praising the German's "class" in defeat to Newcastle United, said there was no firm offer whereby United said "come in March, (or come in) May". But he could not have accepted one had it been tabled.

"We spoke. We didn't speak a lot but, for me, it was a lot," he said, in response to a question about Ferguson's disclosure, made in his management book 'Leading'.

"It was a big honour, the whole talk, to be honest. But in life it is always important… There was a time but I could not leave Dortmund. That is it. It was the same at Mainz (where Klopp managed for seven years until 2008). We decided 'thanks' and that was a good deal."

Klopp, who is again without Daniel Sturridge for United's visit to Anfield tomorrow, said he could not say when the forward would be available.

Klopp did not rule out going into the transfer market for a striker this month. "But… you are two weeks without a player so you think 'OK we take another one' but in two weeks you have one too much or two too much. They all come back."

Klopp knows that the early days of wine and roses run out soon enough, when a new football manager's novelty value has gone. 'There but for the grace of God go I,' was his sentiment yesterday when he discussed Louis van Gaal's travails.

"I think in life it is important sometimes to think about how it would be on the other side," he said, asking us to stand in Van Gaal's not inconsiderable shoes.

"OK, fine, you would have all this money, but also all this pressure so it is not nice. If you want to change things in football it is not OK that you think 'Bad, bad, bad - Go'. That is not a change. If that was the solution I think Man United would have done it."

Every Premier League manager knows the unspoken truth about his relationship with the reporters who gather around him twice weekly. Klopp is rare - perhaps unique - in pointing to the elephant in the room.

"It's like with you with me when I came here," he said. "First it's 'yeah!' (thumbs up) then it's 'erm' (thumbs to the side) then it might be 'ooh' (thumbs down); so then I am alone and you will feel completely different…"

It's an immense sense of conviction about who he is and what he is attempting to achieve which allows Klopp to talk in this way, and which makes the recruitment by Liverpool such a scoop.

Brendan Rodgers, his predecessor, could turn a phrase, too, but he always seemed to be striving to project an image of the modern, thinking manager.

Klopp, with the trophies and accomplishments Rodgers lacked, actually is the modern, thinking manager.

It was why Klopp also felt able to make one of the most extraordinary statements to have tumbled from the lips of a Liverpool manager on the threshold of a Manchester United match: his description of Sir Alex Ferguson as "the John Lennon of football and maybe… the greatest ever".

Some Liverpudlian eyes certainly rolled when they heard that, but the words demonstrated how Klopp is able to park the enmity and the weight of history.

The same breezy self-belief allowed him to ask aloud last autumn why supporters had left Liverpool's Southampton home match early, when the team needed encouragement.

Van Gaal has a steepling self-confidence, too, though where Klopp scores more highly is a capacity to take the players with him - more significant in the 21st-century game - and arguably a greater tactical flexibility.

For the Dutchman, memories will linger of how Klopp's Borussia Dortmund players did for his own Bayern side five years ago - recording their first win over the so-called FC Hollywood in 20 years, presaging the end of Van Gaal's tenure.

Bayern's midfield was simply overwhelmed that day - "like driftwood on a sea of yellow and black" as one German newspaper described it. Bayern's 64 per cent possession stats were as meaningless as they have been in recent months for United.

Klopp was asked if he empathised with what rebuilding entailed for United after 26 years of one manager. "What can I say?" he replied.

"Things have to change. The football has to go on.

"Why should I think that much about Man United? If I have time and capacity to think about Manchester United, I will call you. I have enough to do here."

Belfast Telegraph


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