Non-negotiables with Jurgen Klopp

We sat down with the Liverpool manager to discuss the key coaching values and philosophies he won’t compromise on and how they influence his management style.

By Callum Rice-Coates Published: 2 September 2022 - 5.05pm

Ahead of this weekend’s Merseyside derby, BT Sport sat down with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp to discuss his key principles and ‘non-negotiables’ as a manager.

As part of a series delving deeper into each Premier League manager’s values, Klopp revealed the importance of character in the dressing room and the significance of instilling discipline in all areas of the club.

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The Reds have been revitalised since the German’s arrival in 2015, winning their first Premier League title and a sixth Champions League crown, as well as success in the FA Cup and Carabao Cup.

Now seven years into the job, Klopp has established himself as one of the greatest managers of his era, a coach with authority and charisma and an unmatched ability to motivate.

But his managerial talent didn’t appear overnight. Klopp, in over 20 years of management, has honed his skills and developed a set of principles and values that have led to success at the highest level and he reveals all.

What are your key values, things that are non-negotiable?

Respect, I would say. Honesty is of course important, that’s clear. I work together at the training ground with 50 to 60 people, and the key principle is that they all have to do exactly the same thing but in different roles.

Being open is very important to me. Wanting to improve - that’s probably summed up in character. That’s what I’ve been looking for my whole life. When I think about relationships they all start with character, but character is improvable. We are all educated in a certain way and then you meet other people in life, so we can improve using our own experiences.

Have your values changed from earlier in your career?

I learned a lot in the last 20-odd years about humankind. I had no time to think in the beginning about what kind of principles I had because I was a player and then became a manager overnight. I was always open and always interested in people, and dealing with other people’s issues is a hobby of mine.

Do you look for certain values in your players?

The most important thing is that the players share my principles. We sign in to a very close relationship when a player signs a contract at our club. And that means we spend a lot of time together and have to get along with each other. There’s one talk before we sign a player where I put all my personality on the table - not the face everybody knows from the television but the real face; maybe it’s the same, maybe it differs in some aspects. 

I expect the same from a player because when you know as much as possible about each other you work much better together. That’s why these talks are maybe the most important - because in that moment we find an agreement on how we treat each other.

Is finding out the values and character of a player an important part of the scouting process?

It’s pretty much the most important thing. All the players I talk to are brilliant football players, so then it’s about how you can make the difference. Whatever age a player is when you sign him, he has to be ready to improve. Whatever he did before is great because we want to bring him in, but the moment he arrives is not his last destination. We are maybe somewhere between start and end, so that means we really expect improvement. We expect from ourselves that we help the player to improve, but he needs to be ready to do so as well.

Would you say you’re a disciplined manager?

Very. I’m very relaxed, but sometimes things happen - not really bad things - and I ask ‘do we have a fine for that?’ And then they tell me ‘no, we don’t have a fine for that because it’s never happened before’. 

Discipline is very important to me, but the players are used to that - they grew up in the football environment and you can’t do team sport without discipline. 

It’s better not to sign really ‘difficult’ players. And if somebody develops into a ‘difficult’ player, you're better to bring him out of the building because he might help you in the short term but will always hurt you in the long term. So we never really have disciplinary issues.

Jurgen Klopp celebrates during Liverpool's win over Newcastle at Anfield

How do you balance being disciplined with players and having good relationships with them?

There is only one comparison I have and that’s the father role: as a son or a daughter you expect from your parents from time to time that they tell you off. But you also have a person around who will support you in all parts of life, and that’s my role as well. My players expect me to be strict in moments. 

I do this mostly for myself, because I like having good relationships. Life is serious enough that we don’t have to make problems we have each day bigger than they are. I have worked with some players now at Liverpool for seven years.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is now 23, which means he was 16 or 17 when I met him, so I saw him growing from a boy to a man. It’s a part of my job as well to help him find his way as a man. It’s never been difficult for me to find the right balance.

“Trent Alexander-Arnold is now 23, which means he was 16 or 17 when I met him, so I saw him growing from a boy to a man. It’s a part of my job as well to help him find his way as a man.”
- Jurgen Klopp

Have you ever had players who didn’t match your values?

Yes - and that’s when we parted ways! I’ve never signed a player like this, but from time to time there have been. But in 22 years as a manager it’s not even a handful, so I think that’s a pretty good number.

Who have been the biggest influences on your values and principles?

I cannot divide that from me as a human being, so it’s definitely my parents and because I’m a Christian I have to mention Jesus Christ. That’s my line which I try to follow through life. 

You never know exactly what other coaches are doing. How can you if you’re not around when they are acting in the role? I never thought about that - I never wanted to be like somebody else. Not because I think I am so outstanding, just because I have no idea how other people are, so I try to solve my problems myself.

What do you expect from yourself and your coaching staff?

Be busy, be ready, be open, show passion, show desire, go for it, be ready to make the next step. All these kinds of things. That’s what I expect and that’s what everybody knows. 

There are principles but we have rules as well. One rule is that everybody is responsible for everything, which means nobody can cut themselves out in specific moments. That says it all - we don’t give some players more jobs to do than other players. We share it, because we know it’s a team sport and everybody has the same importance.

Is character more important than ability?

It’s all the same importance in the end. If you have the best, nicest characters in the world on the team but they cannot play football, that wouldn’t be helpful. If they are fantastic footballers and great people, but they’re not coached well, that’s not helpful. So we need to mix it and it must be really balanced. 

In the world we are living in, we can make decisions when we put a team together and we can have a look for all of these things. Some have a good right foot, some have a good left foot, a smaller number are really good with both feet. They fight, they are fit, they run, all these kinds of things. The values you have as a human being make the difference and we try to find that out. 

With most of them, you can see it when they are playing. A hard-working player, for example, is pretty rarely a diva - it’s just not in his DNA. And the other way around: a fantastic footballer technically might misunderstand the luck they had with their skill set, but there are not a lot at the top, because you only make it if you understand the importance of team play. I cannot say what is more important because it’s the mix of everything.

Did your experience as a player and the attitude you had shape your values as a manager?

I learned pretty quickly that you make the difference by working harder. I might have been the best player in my small region, but once I crossed the border everybody was as good as me. If I look back now at the much more skilled players in my area, only one became a professional, and that was me. If I could knock on their doors today, they would say ‘oh my God, how could you make it?’, because they had better skills than I had. 

In the era we are living in, if you are healthy and you work extremely hard, you can make it in whichever area you work in. You can become the best builder in the world by just working extremely hard. As human beings we sometimes stop too early because we are happy with what we have achieved and don’t want to develop anymore. In football, that’s extremely difficult, because everyone around you develops constantly, so we have to stay on this path. I learned that early: without hard work you will go nowhere.

Is hard work what differentiates you from other managers at the top level?

I think we are all hard working. I was fortunate with my skill set - I’m not good at a lot of things but I obviously understand football quite well. In all other periods in history that would have led to nothing, but now we are in our times and it can make you a pretty successful person. 

I deal quite well with pressure and that’s very helpful in our business as well. I’m not too concerned with the opinions of others, which is also helpful. So I was pretty lucky with my skill set.