Why Steve Kerr Loves a Coach in Liverpool

NBA coaches quote him and SEC football coaches study him. It seems that everyone in sports has a manager crush on Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp.

Klopp has been a forcefully endearing figure since long before he landed in Liverpool. As a player at Mainz in the second tier of German soccer, he described himself as having fourth-division skills but a first-division brain. Those skills still made him one of the club’s all-time leading scorers, even as a defender, since he would routinely shift into attack when Mainz badly needed a goal, which was often.

“I was watching, but not specifically him,” said Andi Herzog, a former Austrian star now managing the Israeli national team. “Nobody knew that he would be the best coach in the world.”

Klopp was so popular at Mainz that the club made him its manager immediately after he quit playing in 2001. Over the next 14 years, first at Mainz and then at Borussia Dortmund, he refined his coaching style. Klopp called it “heavy-metal football.”

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His personal style is more dad rock. While the top European managers wear tailored designer suits, Klopp dresses like he’s taking his kids to kindergarten in Brooklyn. His take on sideline couture includes tracksuits, baseball caps and running shoes, all topped off with a thick beard and hipster glasses.

“Everybody’s gotta have their statement thing,” said Florida football coach Dan Mullen, a Liverpool die-hard and Klopp admirer. “I wear my visor. He’s got his little beard-glasses look.”

But the way Klopp handles himself—not how he looks—is the reason he’s adored. Mullen gushes about how he adapts his system to his players. Claude Le Roy, the French manager of Togo’s national soccer team, envies his ability to sidestep the shenanigans of many other coaches in the game. “He’s a natural leader,” said Le Roy, who has never met him. “He proves that you don’t have to insult people, that you don’t have to cheat, that you don’t have to constantly repeat, ‘I’m the boss.’”

Gregg Berhalter, the head coach of the U.S. men’s national team, played in the German second division when Klopp was starting out, but he could already tell that the intense, sometimes maniacal young coach on the sideline had a special quality. “He gives a sense of being a real person,” Berhalter said. “People relate to that.”

Klopp is the latest in a series of highly successful coaches over the last decade—Pete Carroll, Joe Maddon, Kerr himself—who have reimagined their position of authority for the 21st century. They are highly respected but not tyrannical. They have a metronomic pulse of their locker rooms. They’re not necessarily strategic geniuses, but they have an unmatched ability to unlock talent, and they maintain their own power by empowering their players.

“You can sometimes feel a coach’s influence,” Kerr said. “When a team takes on the personality of a coach, you feel this connectedness and this collective will, and then magic happens.”

Klopp’s players feel it more than most. As they come off the field, their 6-foot-3 boss doesn’t bother with a formal handshake. He wraps them in bear hugs.

A touchy, feely cheerleader is not what you would expect from a manager in the most cutthroat league on earth—let alone a German one. But even Germany can’t get enough of Klopp’s schtick. At a time when the nation’s economy is screeching to a halt, he is seen as a model of modern management: Klopp recently posed for a national magazine called Manager under the headline “Der Feelgood-Boss.”

Alexander Stöckl, Der Feelgood-Boss of Norway’s powerhouse ski-jumping team that dominated the last Olympics, is not a soccer fan so much as he’s a Klopp fan. “He has an aura that fascinates many,” Stöckl said. “It seems to me has a fantastic philosophy of coaching.”

That philosophy demands total commitment from his players. While soccer’s attacking ideal in the late 2000s became the intricate passing play of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, Klopp was developing a violently athletic approach based on fast breaks and high pressure. The battle between the two styles is now playing out in the Premier League, where Klopp’s Liverpool and Guardiola’s Manchester City are battling for the title for a second straight year—they’ll meet for the first time this season at Anfield on Sunday.

Everyone in sports has a manager crush on Jürgen Klopp. PHOTO: DARREN STAPLES/ZUMA PRESS

And there will be at least one coach of a championship team watching from eight time zones away. Kerr, whose sister lives in England and whose nephews are Arsenal supporters, had always enjoyed English soccer even if he didn’t know much about it. But he knew enough to know that he needed to adopt a team for himself. He’d been captivated by Egyptian star Mo Salah in the World Cup. Salah played for Liverpool. Kerr was suddenly a Liverpool fan.

“I randomly (or not-so-randomly) picked them because of one player,” Kerr said. “But it was, like, oh my god, there’s all this other stuff that’s so awesome to follow.”

He quickly learned about the show tune fans sing before kickoff whose refrain has become Liverpool’s mantra. ”YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE!!!!!!!!!!!” Kerr tweeted after the victory over Barcelona. And he immediately gravitated toward the one aspect of the sport that he did know something about.

“I started to notice Jürgen Klopp,” Kerr said. “You could just see what a bright guy he was, his emotional intelligence and his love for his players without sacrificing that competitive fire—in fact actually fueling it.”

Kerr is still waiting to meet Klopp. Which makes him like pretty much every member of Klopp’s fan club. But until they can meet him, they have to settle for pretending to be him.

Liverpool’s wild 4-0 win to erase a 3-0 deficit in their Champions League semifinal against Barça happened on May 7. The Warriors, without Kevin Durant, came from behind to beat the Rockets on May 8—one of the most satisfying wins in Kerr’s coaching career.

Kerr decided this was the perfect time to channel his inner Klopp. Klopp had given himself permission to swear after determining that children were probably asleep by then. Kerr made sure he apologized to his mother before calling his players bleeping giants.

Three weeks later, Kerr was coaching in the NBA Finals once again, and Klopp was dealing with some business of his own: Liverpool was busy winning the Champions League.

The Best Player in Women’s Soccer Is Skipping the World Cup

Hegerberg is not injured, nor did her country fail to qualify. Instead, she is sticking to a decision she made to two years ago to quit her own national team out of long-simmering frustration with Norway’s soccer leaders.

“It is about respect,” she told Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten in late 2016, months before she finally renounced international soccer. “And I think that women’s football does not have the respect it should have in Norway.”

The last straw for Hegerberg was the team’s disastrous campaign at the 2017 European Championship. The two-time winners of the tournament finished with no points and no goals. Going forward, she decided, that would also mean no Hegerberg.

On her way out, she bemoaned inequalities in investment in men’s and women’s soccer, particularly at the youth and club levels where she felt opportunities were skewed toward developing boys. According to interviews she gave to the Norwegian press at the time, she was also unimpressed with the level of ambition inside the national team setup. Her energy, she said, was better spent focusing on her club soccer with Lyon.

In Norway, where the women’s team historically has been far more successful than the men, Hegerberg’s parting shot made national news. Hegerberg had broken into the lineup when she was just 16. By the time she was 22, she appeared in national ad campaigns as a Norway player for three different sponsors. She averaged better than a goal every two games, putting her on pace to break Norway’s scoring record long before her 30th birthday.

And yet, she told the Norwegian press, “I always felt I was a worse player when I got home from national team camps. That shouldn’t be.”

Through her agent, Hegerberg declined to rehash her precise reasons for the split and didn’t comment for this article. But while the story is old news in Norway, the World Cup starting on June 7 has put the spotlight back on the dispute. Two years on, many in the sport still can’t quite believe that she would skip the chance to star on women’s soccer’s biggest stage.

“Why exactly is Hegerberg not playing with Norway?” former U.S. national team player Heather O’Reilly tweeted after Norway unveiled its Hegerberg-less roster this month. “If Messi or Ronaldo opted to not play in a World Cup the world would know why not with clarity.”

U.S. striker Alex Morgan replied, “I would like to know as well.”

Since Hegerberg’s exit, the Norwegian federation has undertaken radical changes. In late 2017, it committed to paying both of its senior national teams equally, with the men’s team giving up a portion of its fees to make up the difference. Then, last summer, Norway became one of the few federations in the world to appoint a woman, ex-player and practicing lawyer Lise Klaveness, as technical director of the men’s and women’s national programs.

But Hegerberg’s complaints run deeper. She has said in the past that the mentality of the elite program was too restrictive, that the ceiling was too low. Klaveness has made it a priority to convince her that things had evolved. After all, she knew where Hegerberg was coming from: Klaveness herself had quit the national team between 2007 and 2010. The last time they spoke was at a meeting in January.

“It was an open conversation, but she made it clear that she had made a choice and the consequence of that choice was not to go to the World Cup,” Klaveness said. And while Norway respected Hegerberg’s decision, Klaveness added that she hoped she might reconsider down the road.

Except over the past two years, Norway and Hegerberg have thrived without each other. Though the team remains far off the heights it reached in the early 1990s, it sailed through World Cup qualifying and even knocked off the defending European champion Netherlands once along the way.

As for Hegerberg, she has continued to scale new heights with Lyon, a French superpower that has turned serious investment by its owner into 13 consecutive league titles. She has twice been voted BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year. Last December, Hegerberg collected the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or award as the top player in the game—although the ceremony was briefly interrupted by a bizarre and insulting incident in which a French DJ asked her on stage if she knew how to twerk. She put him in his place with a firm, “No.”

“He could have asked something different,” Hegerberg said after the sexist remark went viral. “Like how it felt to win the Ballon d’Or or a question about football.”

Can Germany Survive Its World Cup Defeat?

My neighbor Peter told me that losing to South Korea has implications for the nation’s soul.

.. Peter suggested that there were implications for the nation’s soul itself, with the team’s exit from the tournament reflecting a wider sense of unease. Chancellor Angela Merkel is right now fighting for her political survival at home, where she’s facing pressure to be tougher on immigrants and refugees, both within her own party and from the right-wing Alternative for Germany party.
..  I wrote in this newsletter about how the far right views the ethnically diverse national team.
.. She was worried that the team’s defeat would play into the far right’s self-pitying, us-versus-them worldview. “I just hope that some of those flags disappear now,” she said, “and the nationalism right along with them.”
.. four years ago, German television had broadcast a live stream of the national team’s plane on its way to the World Cup in Brazil. Everyone had been more optimistic then, in football and in life. It would have been good for Germany if the team had gone through to the next round, he said, “because the atmosphere in the country is not that nice, and sometimes sports can help.”

How the Most Dangerous Place on Earth Got Safer

Three years ago, Honduras had the highest homicide rate in the world. The city of San Pedro Sula had the highest homicide rate in the country. And the Rivera Hernández neighborhood, where 194 people were killed or hacked to death in 2013, had the highest homicide rate in the city. Tens of thousands of young Hondurans traveled to the United States to plead for asylum from the drug gangs’ violence.

This summer I returned to Rivera Hernández to find a remarkable reduction in violence, much of it thanks to programs funded by the United States that have helped community leaders tackle crime. By treating violence as if it were a communicable disease and changing the environment in which it propagates, the United States has not only helped to make these places safer, but has also reduced the strain on our own country.

.. Honduras has dropped from first place to third among Central American countries sending unaccompanied children to the United States illegally.

.. most Americans think the United States should “deal with its own problems” while others deal with theirs “as best they can,” a sentiment that’s at the core of Donald J. Trump’s “America First” slogan and “build a wall” campaign. Many seem to have lost their faith in American power.

.. The funding for violence prevention in Honduras — which this year cost between $95 million and $110 million — has also come under attack from the left.

.. This summer, a bill was introduced in Congress to suspend security aid to Honduras because of corruption and human rights violations. These concerns are legitimate, but cutting our support would be a mistake.

.. What is working in Honduras may offer hope to Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries in crisis.

.. The gangs enforced a 6 p.m. curfew. Bodies littered the dirt streets in the morning. The 18th Street Gang set up a checkpoint

.. gangsters playing soccer with the decapitated head of someone they had executed.

.. In two years, homicides have plummeted 62 percent.

.. America’s support is “getting results,” said James D. Nealon, the United States ambassador to Honduras. We are, he said, reducing migration. But we are also repairing harms the United States inflicted — first by deporting tens of thousands of gangsters to Honduras over the past two decades, a decision that fueled much of the recent mayhem, and second by our continuing demand for drugs, which are shipped from Colombia and Venezuela through Honduras. If the United States sustains its anti-violence work in Honduras, Ambassador Nealon says, “in five years they will get their country back.”

.. the Ponce gang grabbed 13-year-old Andrea Abigail Argeñal Martínez because her family couldn’t afford the “war tax” the gang imposed on its tiny store. They raped Andrea for several days in that house, and called her mother so she could hear the girl’s screams as they cut her to death.

.. When he hears about a gangster cornered by the police, he will stand in the line of fire yelling, “Stop shooting!” until the officers allow the gangster to surrender. In this way he has gained the trust of all six gangs. He does the same when he hears that someone is about to be murdered by one of the gangs

.. The United States modeled its prevention strategy on what had worked in Boston in the 1990s, and later in Los Angeles: Concentrate efforts on the most violent hot spots.

.. One of the most effective tactics is the creation of neighborhood outreach centers

.. “The U.S. government has been a bigger partner in change than the Honduran government.”

.. One stocky player wearing a No. 11 jersey told me he had killed 121 people, charging $220 or more per hit.
.. “If they play each other, they see each other less as the enemy.
.. focuses on children who are identified by trained counselors as having a number of risk factors for joining gangs, like substance abuse, unsupervised time and a “negative life event” — having been the victim of a violent crime, having a family member killed.
..  In recent years, 96 percent of homicides did not end in a conviction. Everyone in Rivera Hernández knew what happened to witnesses who stepped forward: Their bodies were dumped with a dead frog next to them. The message: Frogs talk too much.
.. The A.J.S. assigns teams of psychologists, investigators and lawyers to look into all homicides and to coax witnesses to give testimony. More than half of completed homicide cases in seven pilot neighborhoods now result in guilty verdicts.
.. “It’s not like before — kill someone and there are no consequences,”
.. Half the family members usually know the killer; one in four witnessed the murder. They say it takes four to 15 visits to persuade a witness to testify.

.. Witnesses can testify anonymously, as they do in Italian Mafia cases.

.. She had witnessed three murders, but this was the first time she had told anyone. Afterward, in the car, she beamed. “I feel liberated!”

.. One afternoon several months ago, a Mara Salvatrucha gangster was caught by the police in Rivera Hernández with a hacked up body in the front basket of his bicycle, casually on his way to dispose of it.

.. 174,000 Hondurans, 4 percent of the country’s households, had abandoned their homes because of violence.

.. Gangsters stripped their houses of anything they could sell — window frames, doors, roofs — leaving whole blocks in rubble.

.. It will take much more than this project to change the reputation of the United States in this part of the world, where we are famous for exploiting workers and resources and helping to keep despots in power.

.. A 2016 study commissioned by U.S.A.I.D. found that working with people within the gangs — those who are active participants and those who want to leave — produced the biggest drops in violence. And yet the United States does hardly any of this, for fear of being seen as working with or paying off gang members.

.. The next priority must be to clean up the police.

.. I asked if any would go to the police station to report a crime. Not one hand went up. “No one with their five senses would report a crime,”

.. up to one in five of his cops was dirty, but community leaders say the number is closer to half.

.. two families who reported a crime to the police. Officers ratted them out, and three family members were killed that very day.

.. Mara Salvatrucha gangsters in Rivera Hernández say they receive warnings from the police of impending sweeps and are handed captured rivals to execute

.. Police officers also engage in extrajudicial killings.

.. Community leaders say the United States must find a better way to punish bad cops without withholding programs that help children.

.. half of the funds Congress budgets for Honduras go to the State Department bureaucracy or American companies paid to administer programs, so-called beltway bandits, rather than directly to local nonprofits or Hondurans.

.. The United States will also need to pressure Honduras to ante up more of its own money for violence prevention;

.. Fourteen-year-old Carlos Manuel Escobar Gómez told me things were so bad two years ago that he was ready to hop freight trains through Mexico to the United States. Both his parents and a brother were dead, and he was sure he wouldn’t survive his 11th year

.. he said with awe, “I haven’t seen a dead body in a year.”