Home News Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool, a love story of street art and silverware

Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool, a love story of street art and silverware

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Jurgen Klopp’s week has been one of long farewells. On Tuesday, soon-to-be Liverpool manager Klopp said farewell to hundreds of club staff at Anfield, a stadium that has celebrated his name and generated excitement for his team for the past nine years. On Thursday, he and his players held a final barbecue at Liverpool’s training ground on the edge of the city.

In between, there have been countless jerseys to be signed — “I don’t know how many, but everyone has one now,” he said — and countless handshakes to be shaken. The specter of Sunday still looms, when he will take charge of Liverpool for the final time. He plans to address a crowd at Anfield later. “This has been the most intense week of my life,” he said. “It’s already a lot.”

The most exciting moments happen in private. Klopp has been inundated with emails, messages and letters from fans, unable to read them all, let alone reply. Each, he said, contains “a story of what it means to them.” The books moved him so much that when the club’s in-house television channel asked him to read a few, he demurred. “I would burst into tears,” he said.

Klopp doesn’t pretend to understand, nor does he fully understand, why Liverpool fans – “the people” as he calls the club – feel such deep affection for him. His instinct was to downplay it. “I know if you’re the Liverpool manager, people like you,” he said. “Until you let them down. We never really let them down.”

That’s an understatement. Klopp has lifted (almost) every major trophy during his nearly ten years at Anfield. Under his leadership, Liverpool won the European Championship and then the World Championship. One year later, in 2020, he led the club to win the Premier League championship. This is the club’s first English title in 30 years.

There were other honours, including three domestic cups, and a series of narrow misses that saw Liverpool, once a faded giant, return to the forefront of European football’s powers.

But even that doesn’t fully explain the depth of Liverpool’s fascination with Klopp, both as a fan and as a place. There are several bars and hotels named after him. His face — a bright white smile, a beard that now resembles more salt than pepper — emanates from six murals around the city.

The first of these works went up in the Baltic Triangle in 2018 and was painted on the wall of a motorcycle garage by French street artist Akse. Negotiations were surprisingly easy given that the building’s owner, John Jameson, is a die-hard fan of Liverpool’s local rivals Everton.

“He thought it would be good for business,” said his son, John Jameson. The son said his thinking was that even the Liverpool publicity “was good publicity”.

Other murals soon followed, some commissioned by the club itself, some by fan groups and some – most recently – as more blatant advertising.

At times, Liverpool feels like a city filled with football-themed murals. Others are dedicated to current or former players. “It starts to feel a bit like an insult if you don’t have it,” said Shaun O’Donnell, co-founder of BOSS Nights, a live music brand for Liverpool fans.

Yet no topic is more popular than Klopp. BOSS, named after another of his earlier murals, is located on the corner of Anfield and embodies the word’s dual meaning in Liverpool: both “in charge” and “great”.

O’Donnell realized he didn’t want others to think he was “jumping on the bandwagon” by creating another mural. For his part, though, Klopp is prepared to make an exception. “We owe him everything,” he said. “Everything we can do is thanks to Jurgen.”

Initially, BOSS nights were distinctly small-scale events: a few dozen friends familiar from long trips to Liverpool gathered in bars around the Baltic area to listen to live music. Klopp’s arrival, he brought an electric current to the whole club and turned it into something else.

In 2019, the year when Klopp led Liverpool to win the Champions League, BOSS staged a performance at the Fan Park in Madrid, where the final was held. Attracting tens of thousands of fans. Jamie Webster originally performed on O’Donnell’s show and now has over 50 million streams on Spotify. His performance”everything is fine everything is fine”, the most enduring fan chant of the Klopp era, has been played 16.5 million times.

“That would never happen for any coach,” O’Donnell said. “Maybe it was his charisma, but there was something about him. The atmosphere on the ground suddenly went up a notch. He made you want to contribute. There was a feeling that they needed us as much as we needed them.”

O’Donnell often gets calls from pubs around Anfield asking if he can recommend a singer or guitarist before games. “This wouldn’t have happened before,” he said. “Live music and football were never really a thing here. It wasn’t necessarily cool to have someone singing a Liverpool song. Everything was cool because of him.”

This is part of what Neil Atkinson calls “the new covenant we want to support our teams”. Neil Atkinson is the co-founder of The Anfield Package, the most prominent media outlet in Liverpool’s thriving fan media scene.

Atkinson said Klopp has always asked for “unconditional support” from his team. In the early days of his tenure, Klopp often turned to his closest fans at Anfield, asking them to make more noise. More than once, he criticized people who set off early to avoid traffic jams. “In exchange, he creates an atmosphere where everyone can enjoy the game the way they want to,” Atkinson said.

That inclusiveness has always been a big factor in Klopp’s appeal. In an open letter to Klopp, local Labor MP and Anfield season-ticket holder Alison McGovern thanked him for not only “publicly showing that women, gay women, all women are part of our club”, And kudos to him for putting football into the right context.

“When COVID hit, you screamed at the fans who borrowed money to raise five points,” she wrote. “You tell people what they need to do: get tested, get vaccinated.” She added that it was important he described football as a matter of life and death. “It exists for enjoyment. It should be a joy in family life, not a force or justification for abuse.”

She even thought the manner of Klopp’s departure – he announced in January that he would leave at the end of the season, admitting he was “burned out” – was welcome. “Making it clear that you believe honesty and candor are the right responses to feelings of weariness and exhaustion can help everyone see that our heroes are better for being truly human,” she wrote.

This ability to put football in perspective is perhaps the best explanation for Klopp’s enduring, surging popularity. He said again this week that it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters. That genuine belief has helped him retain the trust of his fans, even when his form has been off.

“My most enjoyable year supporting Liverpool was 2018,” Atkinson said. “To see the team play out on its own. To see what it could be like.

“We didn’t win anything, but it didn’t matter,” he said. “This is Klopp’s biggest gift.”

Klopp is not looking forward to Sunday, nor is he looking forward to a final farewell. He wasn’t even sure he would be in the right emotional state to address the team before the game. “It’s never nice to say goodbye,” he said. “But if you don’t feel sad or hurt when you say goodbye, that means it wasn’t the right time together.”

If anything, it’s even harder for the fans or the city. A few years ago, when the contract for the Klopp mural outside the motorcycle garage was up, the owner asked the artist Axel if he would paint on it. He refused.

Instead, he would occasionally come down and revise it over the years. “Sometimes Everton fans come and spoil it,” said young John Jameson. “You’d see the graffiti when you came in on Monday morning.”

He sees no reason to take any action now other than maintaining the status quo. “At least we get a busload of tourists every day,” he said. “It’s like on a journey: the first stop is the Cavern Club, the second stop is the Klopp mural.” Nine years after Klopp arrived at Liverpool, his image has become an indelible part of the city’s image. “It looks like he’s here to stay,” Jameson said.

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