“Everything I am, everything I can, is because you let me be” – Jurgen Klopp
It was a bright sunny morning on May 23rd 2008. 20,000 FSV Mainz 05 supporters gathered in the city centre to bid farewell to a friend. A man who had spent the best part of eight years playing for ‘Zerofivers’and the subsequent nine as their manager. For the first time in their history, they were taken to the Bundesliga and the UEFA Cup in 2005/06. Jurgen Norbert Klopp was born and raised in Glatten, Stuttgart. As a young player, he had stints at
FC Pforzheim and then at Frankfurt Clubs; Eintracht Frankfurt, Viktoria Sindlingen & Rot-Weiss Frankfurt. He was scouted by Robert Jung, FSV Mainz 05 Manager during a play-off game against the ‘Zerofivers’ in 1990, Klopp was signed later that summer for Mainz 05 at the age of 23.
Helmut Malinowski had been a supporter of FSV Mainz 05 since the early 1980s, when he moved to study American Literature, English Linguistics & Geography at Mainz University. Recounting his memories of Klopp, he said: “He had lots of energy was fast but with technical limitations. He was a leader on the pitch even as a younger player, what he lacked in technical skill he made up for with effort. He never was anything more than a mildly talented footballer with limited skills who relied on speed and height throughout his career. And he’ll be the first one to agree to that assessment.”
In his second season, Klopp managed to score an impressive four goals in an away win against Erfurt.However, his inconsistency in front of the goal coupled with his limited technical ability, it became a problem. The Black Forrest native was manoeuvred into defence at fullback, to better utilise his speed to support the attacking players.‘Kloppo’ had a largely uneventful playing career. His passion on the pitch sometimes lead to him losing his temper and becoming involved arguments with anyone from the referee, the opposing team and even his own team mates.
Mainz were in a constant state of battling relegation. However, they continued to sustain survival in the 2nd Division. “We changed managers left, right and centre during his time as a player.” recalls Malinowski. “The absolute low was the 3:5 loss at Wolfsburg on the last day of the 1996-97 season, when a win could have promoted Mainz to the Bundesliga”
In February 2000, Mainz were once again languishing near the bottom of the table. Things looked hopeless. General Manager, Christian Heidel asked Jurgen Klopp if he would become the interim manager for the remainder of the season. “I don’t think anybody, Heidel included, could foresee how successful he would eventually be. Promotion wasn’t on anybody’s agenda at the time. It was all about survival.” said Malinowski.
It became apparent to an injured Klopp, that his playing career was likely over. In the Bundesliga, it is against the rules to be a player manager. In a recent interview,
Heidel reflected upon this period; “it was lucky that the decision to stop playing and become manager worked out so well. I am delighted the guy who played his football and became a manager here, has gone on to be a German champion and reached the Champions League final. And has now gone on to manage one of the most famous Stadiums in Europe [Anfield].”
Klopp was made manager without having the required licence. Zejko Buvac, his assistant had the licence and was ‘officially’ manager. However, this set-up wasn’t accepted by the DFB (German Football Federation) in the long run, so he had to acquire his license whilst he was coaching at Mainz during his first season. What began as a magical term became nerve wrecking and ultimately ended in tragedy. Mainz ended the first half of the season at top of the league, having collected 39 out of 51 points. 12 points clear of Bochum, who was in fifth place. After the winter break, results began to get worse. Too many draws and a few losses. Three games before the end of season, everything was neck and neck at the top of the league. Mainz required three points from their final games or another team to drop points. They drew their first and second matches, thus they needed to at least draw at Union Berlin. In a hostile atmosphere, cultivated by the media in an ‘Anti-Klopp’ tabloid article, the team lost 3:1. All other teams that were competing for promotion won their respective games. The Carnival Club missed out on promotion by one point.
As a manager, Klopp adopted a strategy of utilising two banks of four and two strikers. This didn’t alter much over the seasons. The ‘Zerofivers’ didn’t possess many technically gifted players, the emphasis was put into playing long balls over the midfield to the strikers. Malinowski remembers the differing styles Klopp adopted at Mainz and Dortmund; “The style didn’t really change much during his time at Mainz, mainly because of the personnel he had available. From the beginning, he favoured a high pressing style. At Dortmund, he perfected what the British now call Gegenpressing, i.e. trying to win back the ball immediately after losing it in the opponent’s half. Quick pass and move football became the focus when he was at Dortmund.”
The following season, the situation grew direr. When Mainz played Braunschweig and rivals, Frankfurt had a home game against lowly, Reutlingen. They were dead equal on points and goal difference proceeding the final game. The ‘Zerofivers’ dominated Braunschweig, clocking an impressive 4-0 lead after 60 minutes. At the same time, the score was 3-3 in Frankfurt. In the 80th minute, Braunschweig scored reducing Mainz’ lead to three goals with a mere 10 minutes remaining. “I remember thinking, this couldn’t go wrong, could it? It did. Frankfurt scored three goals in the final nine minutes and won promotion not by a point (like last season), but on goal difference” A few days later, there was a rally attended by several thousand fans. Klopp delivered a now-famous speech stating how they would come back stronger and better the following season.
Despite, Klopp’s promise, the next season was an up and down affair. The team being in contention for promotion. Like the previous two season, the latter end of the term took a turn for the worst. Five games before the end of the season, another defeat. The ‘Zerofivers’ were six points off promotion. Both Heideland Klopp, publically through in the towel. This triggered a reaction from the players, like an overwhelming weight had been lifted off their shoulders. The ‘Carnival Club’ won the next three games. Before the final game of the season, promotion was within touching distance.
To constitute a promotion, Mainz would have to beat Trier at home and rivals, Aachen would have to lose toKarlsruhe. “Beating Trier was no problem as they came off a week of celebration the fact they were not relegated. But the game in Karlsruhe was a true nail biter. When that final whistle was finally blown, after what seemed an eternity. The joy, relief and happiness in the stadium was unbelievable. Every Mainz fan who witnessed that moment will tell you it’s the greatest football moment of their life. People were crying with joy because it meant so much that Mainz were promoted for the first time after having suffered so much in the past two seasons. I can’t describe it. You had to be there. I was all a bit like a fairy-tale” This mythic momentum continued into the next season, which was the first time FSV Mainz 05 had featured in the Bundesliga. Much to everyone’s surprise, they finished in 11th place and due to fair play ranking attained a qualification to the UEFA Cup.
Alas, the dream ended in 2006/07 when Mainz were relegated. Before the last game of the season, playing at home against Monchengladbach, relegation was all but assure. Supporters celebrated their team’s valiant effort. Klopp announced that he would be staying on and after the game, took a microphone and assured supporters that they would do everything to get back into the Bundesliga. “People left with a positive feeling, instilled by Jurgen’s words” Helmut remembers.
During the 2007/08 season, it was published that if Mainz failed to gain promotion this season, Kloppwould leave. After finishing in 4th place, a mere two points off promotion. The fairy-tale ended abruptly. All that was left was for supporters to bid a fond farewell to one of the most important figureheads in their club’s history.
Jurgen Klopp stood before 20,000 emotional supporters with his players and interim staff behind him. Their heads bowed solemnly. Surveying the faces of his supporters, a picture of despair, he began “Alles was ich bin, alles was ich kann…”* Succumbing to his emotions, it all became too much for the man from the Black Forest. The tears began to stream down his face. His voice started to crack. To hide his cracking façade, he covered his face with his hand. He breaks down. Unable to speak, he can only cry. This immense show of emotion was quelled by chants of “Jurgen! Jurgen! Jurgen!” from the crowd. He eventually mustered the strength to finish his goodbye, which Kurt Vonnegut once wrote is, ‘the emptiest and yet fullest of human messages’.
*everything I am, everything I can