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Klopp and Wagner’s historic love affair beyond football

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Klopp

The photograph below was taken in Munich, around 1991. You can tell it was a long time ago, at any rate, because who still takes physical photographs? There are other giveaway period details: the smouldering cigar in Jurgen Klopp’s left hand, the hearty stein of beer in David Wagner’s right.

Klopp

Jurgen Klopp (R) and David Wagner (l) in 1991. Photo: liverpoolfc.com

Mainz have just earned a creditable 1-1 draw at 1860 Munich, and as Klopp remembers, they all went to Oktoberfest afterwards, so by all accounts, it was a fairly messy one all around.
Most of all, though, it’s the faces. Klopp, 24 years of age, already has his trademark beard and glasses. There’s a seriousness in his eyes, the look of someone older than his years, a leader ahead of his time. Wagner is only 19, unrecognisable from the Huddersfield Town manager with the greying chin and the baseball cap. It’s his first full season as a professional footballer, and the goofy grin on his chops is that of a kid who can barely believe his luck.
This is perhaps the earliest known photograph of Klopp and Wagner together. On Saturday, they will embrace in the Anfield dugout, and hundreds, perhaps even thousands, more will be taken. There is a natural interest in the first Premier League meeting between these two managers who, for more than a quarter of a century, have been both colleagues and companions.
“We hate it when our friends become successful,” Morrissey famously wrote. But for Klopp and Wagner, that sensation will last for only 90 minutes. They genuinely revel in each other’s triumphs: when Huddersfield clinched promotion at Wembley last May, Klopp remembers crumpling to the floor and crying like a baby. When Huddersfield beat Manchester United last weekend, one of the first congratulatory messages lighting up his phone was from Klopp. “More like a family member than a friend,” is how Wagner describes him. Independent said.
It is a bond that goes beyond football. Klopp is the godfather to Wagner’s daughter. Wagner was Klopp’s best man, and for the stag do, took his friend to Mainz’s famous Christmas market. In order to protect Klopp’s identity – for he was a club legend and Mainz, after all, is a small town – everybody was kitted out in Santa costumes and masks. Within minutes, a bystander pointed at one of the Santas and exclaimed: “That’s Klopp.”
This recollection and much more can be found in the exquisitely-titled ‘Hearts and Mainz’, the Sky Sports documentary that aired on Thursday night. One of the reasons the programme is so compelling is that it subtly recasts the established narrative of their relationship: of Wagner as a manager trying to escape Klopp’s shadow, trying to forge his own path in the wake of his trophy-laden superstar pal. Along the way, it suggests that the common perception of Wagner as a “mini-Klopp” or a “Klopp clone”, as one newspaper put it, is one that masks more than it reveals.
Naturally, the similarities are there. “Very similar, from the way they talk to the way they dress,” Neven Subotic, who worked with both at Borussia Dortmund, tells the programme. “Brothers that were separated at birth. They would throw each other, push each other, kick each other in the butt.”
Their management styles, too, are of a piece. Both speak intelligently and passionately, in the tasty morsels and catchy sound-bites so beloved of players and media. They both favour a harsh training regime; a highly athletic, highly aggressive style of football based on energetic pressing, quick transitions and forward rather than sideways movement.

 

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