There is an oft-told story about Jurgen Klopp that reveals a lot about him as a person and his approach to management. New signing Andy Robertson was set to become a father for the first time and the Liverpool manager was baffled a colleague was not aware of it. “How can you not know that? It’s the most important thing in her life now.”
It’s an anecdote that goes to the heart of Klopp’s philosophy. His stated goal of always “leaving a room and trying to make people feel no worse the moment you walk in” is central to his success. It’s only now that football begins to understand why this is so important.
Businesses have understood this. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella argues that empathy makes you a better innovator, while George Anders, LinkedIn editor, says it’s the most important professional skill there is. In 2015, the top 10 companies in the Global Empathy Index grew in value twice as much as the bottom companies.
Football is more conservative. Methods are proven and reliable, while innovation is viewed with suspicion. Edu Rubio, a well-respected Spanish coach working at Crystal Palace academy, wants to change that by putting mental health at the heart of the calendar.
“It’s a cultural change,” says Rubio Sky Sports. “It’s about changing perceptions of football and understanding that it has to be part of our job. Training the mind is important.
“Working on emotions and feelings is seen as something for the weak. How often do we hear that if you are a player it means that you are tough, you sacrifice yourself, you train and you crack? In a Halftime team, we’re talking about It’ll always be people telling you to put your balls into play. There’s still room for that. It could create a change in the second half.
“But in the long run, we have to recognize that players are human beings with problems and the more you do to fix those problems, the better off you will be.”
Rubio was previously U23 coach at MK Dons and assistant manager at Crawley. He recently received British citizenship and enjoys British football. He always wants to change it.
“With sanity in football clubs it’s always ‘There’s a psychologist, go talk to him.’ When are you going to talk to that person? Only when you’re really down. It’s pretty intimidating to decide to tell someone about your problems.The other thing you hear is, “Here are the phone numbers you can call.” I don’t think that’s enough.
“I don’t see a manager who gives you a personal trainer’s number and says, ‘If you feel like going to the gym, call that number. “It is not so.
“We have bodybuilding and conditioning coaches, sports scientists, gym sessions that are built into the schedule for the week. We think of training, training and video analysis sessions as a whole, we no longer distinguish.
“We’ve even taken nutrition a step further. We have a nutritionist who not only gives you the diet but gives it to the chefs in the kitchen and they do whatever it takes.
“Why don’t we do this by working on our emotions and dealing with ourselves?
Rubio plans to do just that, launching My energy game, something he hopes to develop in application in collaboration with a group of coaches and psychologists offering personalized support, online tools and workshops. He seems aware that he could be seen as some sort of guru preaching ideas so far removed from the mainstream, but he’s still a football man.
“I’m not saying people should do three hours of yoga meditation,” he laughs.
“It’s a problem – we take it to extremes. I’m a football coach. I’m a UEFA professional license coach. I’m a sports scientist. I’m proud to be chasing the 1% .
“But I’m also an emotional person who understands that a player won’t be able to prepare as well as possible for set pieces if they are not comfortable in themselves, motivated and happy. ‘be brave. enough to recognize it. “
In the age of marginal gains, massive gain has been overlooked.
“It’s about that 1 percent. I’ve been trapped in that way of thinking myself. We hunt that 1 percent in the gym and with nutrition.
“It’s not to forget that. Let’s make it all better. But also, let’s start looking at the 80 percent. We’ve been so focused on those narrow marginal gains, but 80 percent is how that person feels. not worked with the person.
“It doesn’t mean that there aren’t managers who have that mindset. I believe Jurgen Klopp is one of those managers who takes care of the person.”
For all the talk about the wonders of gegenpressing and the wonderful recruiting techniques of Michael Edwards at Liverpool, maybe that’s what gives Klopp his edge.
A holistic approach must focus on personal growth and development in a much deeper way.
“I can see Jurgen Klopp doing all this tactical work with a player. But I can also see Jurgen Klopp sitting down and having coffee with a player too, asking him about his family and his concerns and what he might be thinking. of his strengths and how he is coached.
“I don’t think we’re doing 80% enough because once you’re in the right frame of mind all these ideas of how to play 4-3-3, how to beat the defensive block, how to follow everything types of game strategies, you are in the best position to understand it all. “
Klopp might not have formalized his approach. There is no prescribed difference in his club’s schedule compared to that of Liverpool’s Premier League rivals. But this difference may still exist.
Mario Gotze worked under Klopp and Pep Guardiola, noting their contrasting approaches. “He’s very focused on the game and doesn’t think about players outside his plan,” the World Cup winner said of Guardiola. “He didn’t have much empathy.”
For Klopp, this empathy is intuitive.
“I’m not pretending I’m interested, I’m interested.”
Sir Alex Ferguson might not have defined himself as a prototype sporting director at Manchester United, but in his pivotal role, delegating to experts, defining strategy and shaping culture, he has always stumbled upon a model of leadership that was the envy of everyone.
Maybe Klopp, in his own way, is doing something similar at Liverpool when it comes to managing men and unleashing the full potential of the players in his custody.
Rubio hopes for a more formal model recognizing that this is the right way to go. “I think the future of this decade is self-improvement and technology,” he explains. “Everything that happened in the past year has given impetus to this reflection.
“It’s very fashionable to talk about working holistically, but I don’t think we’ve delved into that yet enough. Success would be a cultural shift in this decade in which we all recognize the importance of working on nobody. If we get there as an industry by 2030 and working on your emotions is as normal as going to the gym, that’s success. “
Until then, coaches like Jurgen Klopp will have the advantage.