Jurgen Klopp has changed how Germans are viewed in England


Jurgen Klopp is the most successful German manager ever in English football CREDIT: Getty Images/James Baylis

For a nation of its standing, size and proximity to ours, Germany is under-represented in modern British football. Since the beginning of the Premier League there have been more minutes played by footballers from Norway and Belgium than Germans.

Fewer have appeared in the league than Danes, Argentinians and Portuguese and only six managers from the country have taken charge of Premier League games, fewer than Italy (14), the Netherlands (9) and France (8). These days three of the 44 teams in the top two divisions are managed by Germans, but only Daniel Farke (Leeds) and Danny Rohl (Sheffield Wednesday) will remain after Sunday.

Jurgen Klopp leaves Liverpool a hero to their fans but has also changed attitudes about German imports, although there have been previous successes. Jurgen Klinsmann mocked his reputation as a diver with his celebration, performative proof of his nation’s oft-doubted sense of humour (watch video below). Michael Ballack and Ilkay Gundogan won a good deal of trophies, Didi Hamann and Emre Can won friends on Merseyside. Mesut Ozil represented a national team breaking free of its shackles. None has a legacy to rival Klopp’s.

“We’re sad to see him go because he’s such a good ambassador for Germany in Great Britain, we really appreciate what he’s done here,” says a spokesperson for the German embassy. “He has projected a very likeable image of a German.”

“He’s been a ray of sunshine on Match of the Day,” says comedian and self-appointed German comedy ambassador Henning Wehn. “When he starts smiling a dark day turns sunny, because of his reflective teeth.”

The laughs, or perhaps Klopp’s laugh – the distinctive “heh-heh ha-Ha, HA!” – have gone a long way. “He’s definitely more funny than the average German,” says Ralf Lehmann, chairman of the German Reds Liverpool supporter group. “I know the view of Germans from the UK in general. I can say in general that they are right.”

Kit Holden, a British-German author disagrees. “I’d argue that’s a misconception about Germans, they are a lot funnier than they sometimes give themselves credit for. They have a wry and dark humour which often doesn’t come through. But Klopp is able to do that at his best, getting people laughing and relaxed in a way that is very understandable for a British audience.”

It takes more than a GSOH to achieve what Klopp has at Liverpool. He has an ability to channel the emotion of supporters authentically, both euphoric after victories and prickly following defeats. He does this wearing the clothes of a working man, the tracksuit and baseball cap which also played well in the German industrial cities where he made his name.

Jurgen Klopp wearing a tracksuit and baseball cap
Klopp feels most comfortable wearing a tracksuit and baseball cap CREDIT: Getty Images/Andrew Powell

His style of play marks him out too. “It’s not a dour defensive football, he does want to play in the most exhilarating way possible,” says Holden. “That goes against the traditional Lothar Matthaus, Oliver Kahn, Stefan Effenberg, efficient, grumpy, nasty Germans.”

Yet as Klopp’s spiky side emerged more over the past eight years, some fans of other clubs began to sour towards him, beyond those predisposed to dislike Liverpool. This mirrors the attitudes he encountered in Germany, where Mainz or Borussia Dortmund supporters loved him and others regarded him as sometimes grumpy, occasionally pompous.

Thankfully his nationality has been no barrier to his standing among English fans. “I think fans of not only Liverpool but others in the UK realise that he’s a great guy,” says Lehmann. “Of course that can have a positive impact on the view from some people in the UK to Germany.”

Here there is less work to do than might be imagined. A German embassy survey last year found that nearly seven in 10 UK residents have a positive impression of Germany, with only 16 per cent saying their view of the country is negative. “To a certain extent he has ridden a wave,” says Holden. “Joachim Low’s Germany team played nice football. Angela Merkel was pretty well-regarded towards the end of her chancellorship. A lot of those old-fashioned stereotypes and preconceptions were being eroded anyway and Klopp has accelerated that process and benefited from it too.”

“I’ve never encountered anti-German sentiment and I’ve lived here for 20 years,” says Wehn. “I wasn’t here in the bad old days of 1996 when German cars got smashed up. Certainly there was a sea change in 2006 with the World Cup and so many Brits coming over to Germany when it presented itself as what it is: A beautiful country full of decent people.

“Now there is a certain folklore element to it. It comes out in football with ‘10 German bombers’ and all of that, but it’s panto. In real life, if anything, it’s positive stereotypes, efficiency. Because of my passport people credit me with a level of efficiency I just don’t possess.”

Even if you are going into his final game as a Klopp sceptic, in time the negative marks against him will fade. There have been terse interviews, some feel he should have won more and watching his team swarm over yours could be traumatic. Memories of his effusiveness and emotion will linger for longer.

Arne Slot seems a sensible appointment, but a Liverpool regression is highly possible. So Klopp’s legend will grow and his true impact may only become clear in the decades to come. For now it is enough to recognise him for what he is, comfortably the most successful German manager ever in English football.

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