There is an often told story about Jurgen Klopp that tells a lot about him as a person and his approach to management. New signing Andy Robertson was to become a father for the first time, and the Liverpool manager was confused that another employee did not know about it. “How can you not know this? Now this is the most important thing in his life. “
This is an anecdote that touches on the essence of Klopp’s ideal. His stated goal of always “leaving the room and trying to make sure people don’t feel worse from the moment you walk in” is at the heart of his success. Only now is football beginning to understand why it is so important.
Business understood this. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says empathy makes you the best innovator, and George Anders, senior editor at LinkedIn, says it’s the most important professional skill. In 2015, the top 10 companies in the Global Empathy Index rose in value twice as much as the companies below.
Football is more conservative. Methods are proven and trustworthy, and innovation is viewed with suspicion. Edu Rubio, a highly respected Spanish coach at Crystal Palace Academy, wants to change that by putting mental health at the fore.
“This is a cultural shift,” says Rubio. Sky sports… “It is about changing the perception of football and understanding that this should be part of our job. Mind training is important.
“Working on emotions and feelings is seen as something for the weak. How many times do we hear that if you are a player it means that you are strong, you donate, you train and you gain momentum? will still be about people telling you to stake your balls. There is still room for that. This can lead to changes in the second half.
“But in the long run, we have to recognize that players are people with problems, and the more you do to solve those problems, the better player you will become.”
Rubio was previously U23 coach at MK Dons and assistant coach at Crawley. He recently received British citizenship and loves British football. He still wants to change that.
“When it comes to mental health in football clubs, it’s always: ‘There is a psychologist, go and talk to him.’ When are you going to talk to this person? Only when you are really depressed. It is quite difficult to decide to talk to someone about your problems. You also hear, “Here are the phone numbers you can call.” I don’t think this is enough.
“I don’t see a single manager who would give you a personal trainer number and say, ‘If you want to go to the gym for a workout, call this number.’ This is not true.
“We have strength and fitness coaches, sports scientists, and gym classes that are integrated into the weekly schedule. We think about workouts, workouts and video analysis sessions in general, we no longer make any distinctions.
“We even went further with nutrition. We have a nutritionist who not only gives you your diet, but also passes it on to the chefs in the kitchen, and they do it right.
Why don’t we do this by working on our emotions and dealing with ourselves?
Rubio plans to do just that by launching My Energy Game, which he hopes to turn into an app along with a group of trainers and psychologists offering one-on-one support, online tools and workshops. He seems to understand that he can be seen as a kind of guru preaching ideas so far from the mainstream, but he remains a footballer.
“I’m not saying that people should do three hours of yoga meditation,” he laughs.
“This is a problem – we are taking matters to the extreme. I am a football coach. I am a UEFA Pro licensed coach. I am a sports scientist. I am proud to be chasing one percent.
“But I am also a person with emotions who understands that a player cannot prepare for set pieces as well as he does if he does not feel comfortable in his own skin, motivated and happy. It’s time to be brave. enough to admit it. “
In an era of marginal gains, huge gains are ignored.
“It’s all about one percent. I myself was trapped in this way of thinking. We’re chasing that percentage in the gym and with meals.
“This is not about that. Let’s make it all better. But let’s also start with 80 percent. We’ve focused so much on these narrow marginal attainments, but that 80 percent is about how that person is feeling. didn’t work with this person.
“This does not mean that there are no managers with such a mindset. I think that Jurgen Klopp is one of those managers who really care about taking care of the person. “
For all the talk of the miracles of gegenpressing and the wonderful tricks of hiring Michael Edwards in Liverpool, perhaps this is what gives Klopp the edge.
“I see Jurgen Klopp doing all this tactical work with the player. But I can also see Jurgen Klopp sitting and drinking coffee with the player, asking him about his family and his problems and what he can think of his strengths and how he is being trained.
“I don’t think we’re doing enough of that 80 percent, because when you’re in the right mood, all these ideas on how to play 4-3-3, how to beat the defensive block, how to follow all kinds of game strategies. you will understand better than anyone. “
Klopp might not have formalized his approach. His club’s curriculum is no different from that of Liverpool’s Premier League rivals. But this difference may still exist.
Mario Gotze worked under the direction of Klopp and Pep Guardiola, noting their opposite approaches. “He’s very focused on the game and doesn’t think about the players outside of his plan,” the World Cup winner said of Guardiola. “He didn’t have much sympathy.”
For Klopp, this empathy is intuitive.
“I’m not pretending to be interested, I’m interested.”
Sir Alex Ferguson may not have described himself as the prototype of Manchester United’s sporting director, but in his lead role, delegating authority to experts, defining strategy and shaping culture, he still stumbled upon a leadership model that everyone envied.
Perhaps Klopp does something similar in his own way at Liverpool when it comes to managing people and unleashing the full potential of the players under his care.
Rubio hopes for a more formalized model that recognizes that this is the right way forward. “I think the future of this decade is with self-improvement and technology,” he explains. “Everything that has happened over the past year has given impetus to this thinking.
“It’s very fashionable to talk about holistic work, but I don’t think we have gone deeper into it. Success would be a cultural shift in this decade, in which we all recognize the importance of working on people. If we achieve that as an industry by 2030, and working on our emotions is as normal as going to the gym, that’s a success. ”
Until then, coaches like Jurgen Klopp will have the edge.