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In Search of My Own Jurgen Klopp: Thoughts on Management & Recruitment

The Liverpool manager isn’t just a unique leader within football, but in life, generally.

Liverpool Pre-Season Training Session Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Yesterday, I received yet another rejection letter for yet another promising position for which I was qualified. It was my 94th such rejection since earning my master’s in international environmental and climate change law.

Unlike many of the other boiler-plate, form rejection letters, sent from an HR department’s “no-reply” email address, this one was personalized, after an interview:

Thank you very much for a nice conversation on Wednesday! I believe that you possess some of the important competences and skills needed for this job, and at [redacted], in general.

Unfortunately, after today’s discussion of all the applications with the Hiring Manager and the recruiter, the manager has decided to go forward with the candidates who had considerably longer experience with sustainability work in large companies.

My lack of experience, especially at large companies, is not a news flash to me. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard something along these lines. The adjective “considerably” also seemed a bit unnecessary, but I digress.

From the sound of it there wasn’t much more I could have done with my CV or in the interview itself to increase my odds of getting this one over the line. Like most managers, she went with the safe bet. The proven track record. The traditional story of going from A to B, without a stop over in Korea or Finland, to name a random example.

After a few beers I got reflective, and thought about Jurgen Klopp and his management style, and his recruitment of personnel.

The phrase “outside of the box thinker” is overused to the point of cliche. Everyone wants a manager or coworkers who think outside of the box. Indeed, most people, when pressed, would claim to be this way as well. But very few actually walk the walk. Kloppo is an exception, and has been for a long time.

Whether taking over for Mainz, Dortmund, or Liverpool, he saw potential.

With Mainz, he had a vision of not just surviving relegation from the German second division, but of promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in their history. It took him three full seasons, including two heartbreaking close calls, but he did it.

At Dortmund and Liverpool, he saw sleeping giants, awaiting to be roused from their slumbers. In both cases, he took them from midtable anonymity to the top of their respective leagues (and beyond).

In Liverpool’s case, fans and media alike said he’d need a major overhaul. The squad wasn’t good enough. Klopp, on the other hand, insisted this was a squad he could work with. And for the most part he did, especially in those first couple of seasons.

Of course he made changes. Players went out, and players came in.

However, the thing that separates Klopp from other top managers was his ability to find and develop players. When bringing players in, he wasn’t usually looking for the biggest stars for the most money. No, instead he was looking for a particular skill set. Mental strength. A story. A journey. And talent too—but not necessarily the finished product. No, he sought out players that could be developed and molded, and used to best benefit the entire team.

In this way, I especially sympathize with Andy Robertson and Georginio Wijnaldum. Neither player was particularly celebrated when they arrived. Both players arrived from a relegated Premier League team. Both players arrived for relatively small fees, and both were assumed to be coming in to backup more established players. And in Robertson’s case, he arrived as a defender, having just played a role in a defense that had conceded 80 league goals.

But Klopp saw potential. Klopp saw specific roles to match their skill sets, and was able to use two players that few clubs—especially big clubs—were interested in. And now, both players are considered among the best in the world at their respective positions.

Klopp picked these two players over other more experienced, better known, and more expensive talents. He saw not just what they were, but what they could become. He saw that their stories—their journeys—were not complete.

Of course, there are a lot of other ways Klopp separates himself from other managers. His attention to detail. His humor. His concern for the backroom staff and specialist coaches. So on. Those are all equally impressive and noteworthy.

But for me? Right now? Right now, I need to find a manager who sees me the way Klopp looked at Robertson and Wijnaldum. And the way he looked at the long list of players who were also overlooked or undervalued: Takumi Minamino, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, and even new signing Kostas Tsimikas. Or if you want to go back to his Dortmund days, Robert Lewandowski and Shinji Kagawa, among many others.

I need someone to see my potential to learn and grow. Someone who will understand that my unique background only increases my motivation to work hard to succeed. I need someone to understand that “experience” is not just limited to doing it for a certain number of years, for a certain organization. That a profile is not just limited to boxes that can be easily checked off a list.

To me, Jurgen Klopp continues to be a point of inspiration. There’s literally no one else I’d rather be leading my favorite football team. But equally, I look at Klopp and I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated that more people aren’t like him, especially in positions of power.

If I ever get into a position of power of some description, I hope I can remember the lessons from being on the other side. And, of course, from Klopp’s management style. If we all did this, the world would be a better, kinder, and fairer place.

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