What we should learn from Klopp’s football philosophy?

Let me introduce you to the one of the best football managers in the history – Jurgen Klopp. He is a modest, down to earth person, without an oversized ego and is characterised by his amazing, and extremely successful, winning philosophy. In this article, we will analyse Jurgen’s winning philosophy and we’ll discuss its business implications. Get ready fo some fresh thinking and a new perspective.

Jurgen was an average footballer. During his professional career, he played in a small German football club – Mainz. No big successes, not many goals scored, really nothing spectacular. As a player, he retired in 2001 and this year he became Mainz’s manager. In 2005, Mainz was promoted to the Bundesliga which, at the time, was a success. Mainz was able to play with clubs like Bayern Munich, Schalke, Werder Bremen and VfB Stuttgart. In 2008, he moved to Borussia Dortmund and, just after three years in the role, Borussia had won the Bundesliga in 2011. A vast improvement after placing 6th during Borussia’s first season under Klopp. Of course this was a big success, but what was more spectacular was that they had won it again the following year, in 2012. Borussia had qualified to the UEFA Champions League final in 2013, however they lost against Bayern Munich. In 2015, Klopp joined Liverpool FC, an iconic football club in the UK, which celebrated many successes in its history but no honours were achieved for a long time. In 2019, Liverpool won the UEFA Champions League finals! The following year, the club also won the 2020 Premier League with 99 points – it was their first Premier League title in 30 years. Further, there is another cherry on top… over the season, Liverpool also set a number of English top-flight records. 

Amazing story, but is there anything universal that we can all learn from?

The task was a bit challenging because philosophy, culture and principles aren’t necessarily the focal point of players when playing football – they do everything to score one goal more than the opposing team. Then, an AHA moment came to me! What we see during the 90-minute game played on weekends is a performance, a reality check of months of preparation which puts the team on a winning track. We had to understand what they do from Monday through Friday when the stadiums are empty and nobody cares about the football that we see on screen. 


The foundation of Klopp’s successes is to have a clear vision. He knows exactly what the team needs to achieve… winning the Bundesliga, the Premier League or the UEFA Champions League. Being in second place is a failure. The vision is to win – to be the best! It is the ultimate and only goal. 


There is always a set of principles helping team remembers to stay on track every day: to decide what is important and what is not; to aim for the ultimate and only goal. There is no ready-to-implement list of principles. I have read many articles on Klopp’s successes, his interviews and feedback from players. Here are the key takeaways:

First, is a passion to win. All team members need to be hungry for success. A bunch of professionals doing everything that they can, every moment of their life just to win the next game. It is all about the team. There are no superstars, only a super team. Everyone is equal and should contribute to the performance and success of the team. The next cultural attribute is critical and, at the same time, is the most difficult to achieve: promise big and deliver. You may have a bunch of amazing players, clear strategy, effective tactics and… little or no success. Aspiring for a very ambitious goal (e.g. colonising Mars) will challenge us to do everything to think about it and to deliver at the end. Every football season has one winner, a team which has to win over and over again. Professional teams play 100-120 matches during one season. They are still humans and, from time to time, they lose. The day following a defeat they still need to wake up and remind themselves about the ultimate aim and start preparing for the next upcoming game, in line with a motto: never give up. And finally, the last one is all about continuous improvement. After each game, regardless of whether the team won or was beaten, they sit down and analyse the entire game, performance of the team and every single player. This is based on statistical data, observations and feedback. All minds have the capability to carry on learning and keep on improving. I am sure that these are not all cultural attributes but, from my perspective, I believe they are the most impactful and important.


When Klopp starts working with each team, it is not always alongside the biggest names in Football. They scout and take promising players who fit their football philosophy. After some time, these players become the big names (e.g. Salah, Lewandowski, Götze), whilst during their beginnings under Klopp’s management, they’re not ones to be compared with top footballers. Klopp makes stars; each having their own individualised physical training plan. They need to have the physical capabilities of a superhero and are required to work hard to achieve them. Once this is done, Klopp focuses on their ‘can-do mentality’. All players have to be believers. Not some, or most, but the whole team, including substitutes, physiotherapists and technicians need to believe that what they are dreaming about is achievable and will be delivered later. Each person has some training on risk taking and creativity; be ‘wild’ if needed. It is not only about a specific scheme, but how to play a specific element of the game. It is all about observing the team that you’re playing with, reflecting and being creative on the pitch, during the game, even if it sometimes means taking a risk in doing so. When they see the chance of scoring a goal in a non-standard or unique way, they know that they can do it. When all individual players are physically and mentally ready to play, they start putting a winning team together. 


When you observe a football team playing inline with Klopp’s philosophy, you will quickly understand that this is about a TEAM and not about an individual. Individual preparation of each player, suitable to the overall strategy and tactical plan, allows the team to play fast and aggressive football. We call it ‘Heavy Metal Football’. On the pitch, there are not only professional footballers, there are also warriors. For the next 90 minutes, the team will do everything to challenge everything and everybody. They play like it is a big final and there are no more games after. They change positions and roles, so everyone can score a goal. During the game they use resources in a smart way. If you played any team sport, you know that it is impossible to always give 100%, you’ll need to have some rest. They know when to accelerate, which player from the opposing team should be challenged, and when to give 150%. They know exactly what to do to score one more goal than their opponent. And they’ve been winning in Mainz, Borussia and Liverpool. Following victory, they do not forget about celebrations. The team works extremely hard to achieve an incredibly ambitious goal and now is a time to enjoy it with the team, families, friends and fans. 


Klopp has been able to create a team which understands and implements his philosophy of complete football. They are born to win, second place is nothing. If this is so obvious, why haven’t other coaches copied his thinking? Because it is not easy to do so and there is a bit of a ‘Klopp effect’. He builds trust among the team and develops a trustful relation with each player. This approach is key when you spend lots of time together, when you play alongside one another and when you need to provide challenging feedback. It is not taken personally as they know that this is all about playing a better game next time. You need to give trust to get a stellar performance back. Many football teams repeat on the pitch some schemes and solutions they have practiced during many training sessions. Klopp prepares all players to give their best, ensuring that they understand the strategy and they know many tactics or schemes. Additionally, he programmes the entire team with a unique Artificial Intelligence which is used during the game. They are prepared to implement new solutions, or not-standard play, once they are close to the opposing goalkeeper. The team is able to learn and adapt during the game and to win. 


I hope that after reading this article, you will be able to understand Klopp’s philosophy, reflect on this and think about you as an individual or your team. It is all about passion. Everything; each success, starts from the moment when you and the team say “Yes, we can do it.”. If you are not hot about the business goal, or you do not believe in it, then don’t even start. Do something else. 

Passion is everything. The next critical element is a selection of individuals. It is not about being the best in an area of competence, but instead to be prepared to execute all tasks related to this position with excellence. Next steps are to create a team, not just a bunch of individuals, but a team. A group of people who will trust, support, coach and challenge one another. 

Have a good and challenging time when you reflect on your leadership style. Only reflection, critical thinking and actions will take you to your dream spot. Do not be a doubter – be a believer. 

in case of any comments of questions, please let me know. 


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