Jürgen, welcome to Liverpool Football Club…
Thank you so much.
How do you feel?
Great! I have no other words for this. It was a crazy day with everything that happened in Germany and all that happened here when we landed. It’s an absolutely great feeling for me and a big honour to be here. It’s one of the best moments in my life, I have to say. I’m here together with my family – not the whole family, one son is still at home – but we are here together and it feels like a dream.
What attracted you to Liverpool Football Club?
Everything. All I heard about, all I read about, all I felt when I saw, not too many matches in my life, but some very important games. I love football and the intensity of football in Liverpool is very good for me. I always thought about working in England because of the kind of football and the intensity of the football, and Liverpool was first choice. Now I have got the opportunity to work here, it’s the best thing I can imagine.
What did you need to consider, or would you say it was an easy decision?
It was not the most difficult decision. I ended my contract with Dortmund four months ago and I thought about what I would do in the future – I had to develop myself, think about all the things that had happened in the last 15 years but then I had a holiday for four months and it was enough. It was great, but it was enough. The owners have a dream and I have a dream, and so there was not too much they had to say so I could be here.
We know you decided to take that break from football, so what did you learn in that period of time?
A lot of things. After four weeks, the holiday started. In the first four weeks, it was like always – I was tired because I’d worked 15 years in a row as a manager. Always until the last day in the season, I had to work because if you look at my little history in football, it was always until the end – I’m seen to be a guy for 34 or 38 matchdays. That was really hard, of course, but then I tried to relax and I felt as though I was not just a football-only guy. I could get interested in many different things and had a few perfect meetings with some very clever and smart people to talk about football, to talk about nutrition and to talk about so many things. Then I felt that if someone interesting called me, I was prepared. Now I am really relaxed. After 15 years, it was an important decision. I had six very, very cool years at Dortmund and one hard year in the last one, but as a package it was perfect. But I wanted to do something new – and now I am here.
Let’s talk about Anfield – how much are you looking forward to that becoming your home and being the manager for those fans?
My English is not good enough to express this! Not at the moment [anyway], you’ll have to ask me this in a few months again – but of course, I am pretty excited. I want to see it, I want to feel it, I want to smell it – I want to do everything. When I came here with Dortmund a year ago, I was really excited. I came in and saw the dressing room for the away team and asked myself if I needed some colour to paint or something like this! ‘The derby starts at this moment!’ – you go into that dressing room and you think, ‘OK, they want to kick us!’ For me, it was historical. It’s a great place – I’ve been to some places in the world with football, but this was the most special place I’d been. Borussia Dortmund’s stadium – Signal Iduna Park – is a great stadium and I had another perfect little, little stadium with Mainz 05, but this [Anfield] is the most historic place. I am looking forward to it and at this moment I don’t know what I will feel, but it will be good.
It’ll be pretty special to go into that home team dressing room…
Yes, of course. I hope… I’m sure!
How important is it to you to have – or create – that special connection with the supporters?
I understand football. If the people are not interested in football, we can put some sticks in the park and play football. It’s still the perfect game, it’s still the same game, but it’s only this game [professional] because of the fans. That’s what I know, what I think, what I feel. We have to entertain them – we have to make their lives better. That’s what we have to do because football is not so important – we don’t save lives or things like that, we are not doctors. It’s our job to let them forget their problems for 90 minutes and then they can talk for three days about the last game and talk for two days about the next game. That’s how I want to live – if I am not a manager, that’s the way I would live because I love this game so much. That’s why I try to be as close as possible to the fans, but it’s not always so possible to be close to the fans because of the job. I have to work and I need time to work, so it’s not always as the fans want but it’s as often as possible.
But you feel you understand what it is to be a fan?
I always understand. Maybe on Friday I can go to all the places in the stadium and someone will tell me, ‘That happened here and that happened there… Stevie G shot from here, Robbie Fowler or whoever’. That’s pretty cool.
You can go wherever you want now – you’re the manager of Liverpool Football Club!
Yeah, that’s the best thing! But not during the 90 minutes – that will be the most difficult thing for me, the two benches being so close. It’s so different to Germany – you could accidently hit the other coach or manager. I get a little bit emotional during a game!
Do you think you’ll need to adapt to English football? How do you think you will adapt?
Of course I will adapt, maybe I have to, I don’t know! But in this moment I don’t think about this because it’s football and I know English football, I watched so many games and we played against English teams. Some things are different but that’s not too important in this moment because it’s only football. Don’t forget, it’s a game and we all have the same rules, the pitches are similar in size, so it’s not so difficult. My experience is: listen, see, feel – and then think about what you change. Now I have to do these three things and then think about what I have to change or I have to adapt or whatever. I’ve [been in] football for a long time, I was a player, now I’m a manager, I don’t want to make it too complicated. It’s very important that the player can understand easily what you want because it’s a game and you have to play from here [points at heart], not play from here [points at head]. That’s the cool thing, that’s the reason why I could play too!
What similar challenges do you think you’ll face here at Liverpool that you faced at Dortmund?
Maybe this is the biggest challenge in this moment in world football [laughs], but I was never a guy for the easy way. I’m not interested in this. This is the most interesting job in world football because it’s not so bad! I’m completely different because I come from Germany so everything is new now and everything is ‘we have to be concentrated’ because ‘what does this German guy want?’ and ‘I have to listen’. So that was a good move and in the end we have to start to work and we will see. I know what I want, but I don’t want to tell it to you. First, I have to talk to the players, of course, we have to find a common way. We will find a common way and who wants to do what I sometimes propose! [They] can be a good friend of mine [laughs] and it’s not such a bad thing to be a good friend of mine because I am really loyal.
How do you assess the squad that you’re inheriting here at Liverpool?
It’s good, it’s good. I’m here because I believe in the potential of the team. If Liverpool ask me and I see the team and think ‘oh my God’… no, no, no. In this moment, we are not the best team in the world – who cares? Who wants to be the best team in the world today? We want to be the best team tomorrow or another day. That’s all. What I saw from outside is absolutely OK. I saw some good matches and some not so good but it’s normal in football you have some problems, you have to solve them. The important thing is we have speed, we have technical skills, we have tactical skills, we have good defenders, good midfielders, good strikers, wingers. Now we have to see who is fit for the first game against Tottenham and then we have to make a team for this game, then we can start. I’m not a dream man, I don’t want to have Cristiano [Ronaldo] or Lionel [Messi] and all these players in one team. I want these guys [the current squad], it was a decision for these guys. Now we start working.
Can you tell us what style of play we can expect?
A wild one [laughs]. In football, all the world-class teams play possession football, that’s cool. I like to watch this; Bayern Munich, great team, great club; Barcelona, yes; Real Madrid; maybe on some days, Manchester City. But nobody starts as a ball possession team. You cannot start and say ‘OK, we have the ball and the other players have to wait’. The first thing, always, maybe in life, you need to have a stable defence. That’s the first thing, always. Because you can only stay confident in a game when you know not each offensive move of the other team is a goal. That’s the first thing and when you start a development nobody starts a development from the top of the table, only a few teams. You always have a little bit lower position and our position is absolutely OK, so we can start our development today, tomorrow, when the players are back. It’s good for me to come here and have a little bit of time to come into the club but also not so good that we cannot start with training immediately. I think we can start together maybe Wednesday next week when they are all back and we can see what we have to do. The kind of football [I coach] is emotional, I like this, I like the emotion in the game. I like the speed in the game, you have to be a real man or woman in the game – it’s hard, all things are like this. If I talk about aggressiveness, I only talk about aggressiveness against myself. I have to be harder, feel no pain or something like this, and not aggressive against the opponent because I’m not interested in fouls or things like this. I will see what is possible with this team and then we will decide how we start and when we start we’ll know more. We’ll see what we do in the next game against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League, then it’s Southampton. We have many games, maybe we can change something, maybe we have to go one way. If it’s possible, can we be the hardest team to beat in the world? Let’s try to be this. If you are this, it’s not that far away to be a team who can win games. First of all we have to talk with all LFC fans, talk about what are expectations. Because expectations can be a real big problem, it’s like a backpack of 20 kilos, it’s not so cool to run with this! We have to talk about this, we have to think about this, and then we can start.
Do you think you need a lot of time to implement your style and philosophy?
Of course it needs a lot of time for the end, but not to start. I’m not here to promise you will see against Tottenham the absolute new LFC – but some of the new LFC would be cool. That’s what we’ll try to do. Everything in life takes time. To be an adult takes time; to become a football player takes time; everything takes time. The only thing nobody gives time is development. If somebody feels they have waited enough for success – restart and then everything can happen.
There has been a lot of media talk about the transfer structure within this football club. What is your take on it and what conversations, if any, have you had with the owners about that?
It’s a really funny thing. It was absolutely no problem between FSG and myself, we talked about this. It’s nothing. If two smart, intelligent, clever guys sit together on a table and you both want the same, where can be the problem? We all want to be successful. The only thing for me is to have the first and last word. I don’t want to spend money the club doesn’t have, I don’t want to hold a player that doesn’t want to stay. I have to work all day with these guys. Nobody will sell a player I want to work with, even if it’s a good deal. Nobody wants to transfer a player without my ‘yes’. So everything is OK, I don’t need more.
Will you be bringing any of your backroom staff?
Of course. My two ‘brothers-in-mind’ – Zeljko and Peter, great guys. You will feel it when you see them – they are cool, they are football maniacs. They work pretty hard and they are my perfect partners in this job, because as a manager you always have to make decisions and always have to think about so many different things. In my opinion, it’s very important that you have somebody you can talk to. We can talk about everything. I make the decisions, of course, but I need very good people around me. Not only these two guys – I’m really looking forward to meeting the rest of the LFC staff, I want to learn from them and use their power. Of course, that will take time, when I know what they are all able to do. At the moment, we start with these three guys; we have Pep and John in our training team, two Dutch guys. It’s the first time I’ve worked together with Dutch guys – it’s not so far away from Germany so we will see, maybe we can talk in German! I’m looking forward to it.
What are you hoping to achieve here at Liverpool, short-term and long-term?
Success. When you work in Germany, of course, I was watching British football but I’m not so inside that I know what you have to reach. There’s Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham – they want to be successful in the table. Why should they reach what we don’t? It’s important what we can do together to change our situation. At the moment, all of the LFC family is a little bit too nervous, a little bit too pessimistic, too often in doubt. They all celebrate the game, it’s a great atmosphere in the stadium, but they don’t believe at the moment. They only want to see five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago. History is great but it’s only to remember. No, we have the possibility to write a new story if we want. For that, we have to clear a few things. Maybe we can do that in the next few weeks. [We want to be] as successful as we can be. I’m not the guy to say ‘this year will be the best year in the history of LFC’. If it happens, we can celebrate. If not, we have to work further.
Finally, what is your message to the Liverpool supporters?
We have to change from doubter to believer. Now.