Insight

Klopp and Nagelsmann in conversation

This is a golden era for German coaches. In August, Hansi Flick and Thomas Tuchel met in the Champions League final after Julian Nagelsmann’s Leipzig had reached the semis – a year on from Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool hoisting the trophy. Klopp’s success has helped open the door for German coaches at Europe’s top clubs, with Tuchel following him to the Premier League at Chelsea to make them domestic rivals. Klopp and Nagelsmann, meanwhile, have this season met in Europe for the first time since the Reds overcame Hoffenheim in a play-off in August 2018. Ahead of their rematch, they caught up via Zoom with much to discuss. From the challenges of coaching during the pandemic to the impact of Brexit on the cost of a pair of Oxford Budapesters, they shared fascinating insights on the game at the highest level.

Julian Nagelsmann: Hello, Jürgen. I think we’re allowed to do this without masks. We are isolated here in a one-v-one duel.

Jürgen Klopp: Yes, exactly. Duel? I thought this was going to be a discussion? Where do I start… Well, right now we’ve been free of infections for several weeks, almost months even. I mean the team. Liverpool, not as far as I know. Thanks to the vaccines all is heading in the right direction here, but we’re still in full lockdown. It’s the same situation here as it is in Germany.

JN How is it going with the vaccines? I think the purchasing of the vaccines is going a bit better than here.

JK In Britain, they purchased earlier and didn’t gamble with the price and just bought. Boris [Johnson] hasn’t got much right, but here he did, it seems.

JN For once, Brexit had its advantages.

JK I have been searching for a long time. But just try to order something from Germany. You are standing at your door, already paid for your purchase, and he wants £70 from you. I ask, “For what?” “VAT and so on.” It’s all very difficult.

JN Yesterday I watched a documentary about the famous English shoemakers who are going bankrupt and can’t export to Germany any more because the shoes cost €100 to €150 more than usual. One of them sold the famous English Oxford Budapester.

JK You were watching this? Did you google shoes and this came up?

JN No, no, I think it was at the end of the news. It was a five, six-minute report about British shoemakers.

JK I just walked here on foot, from my coaching office. It’s freezing cold in our building because the doors are open everywhere. It’s a big change. I have a jacket on, but inside I like to have it a bit warmer. But that’s only one part … We had to close our cafeteria for a time, so only takeaways, etc. We are constantly being checked regarding our seating arrangement, or number of people in the dressing rooms. We drive three buses to the game now, because fewer and fewer people are allowed in a bus … But this whole situation is a big challenge in terms of team-building too. And by that I don’t mean to have a drink together in the evening, but to generally sit together and discuss things. Everything is happening in big rooms now. I think that’s the case in Germany too, right?

JN Yes, especially in the beginning we had the same problems, like with closing the cafeteria. The players had to shower in their own rooms, or eat in their own room or take the food home. Everything totally isolated, of course. When the players go home, they are in their houses, isolated and alone again, and aren’t allowed to see anybody or go anywhere. Sometimes there are difficult phases, when there are no fans, plus you are only seeing your team-mates. And then to get focused every three days, no matter who your opponents are, is very difficult. In terms of social life, it’s the same for everyone; football is no different. It’s just completely gone.

JK We’re tested twice a week. During the Champions League, maybe even three times a week. We’ve had some cases, but mostly from players returning from their national teams, or during the short summer break where we weren’t together. During Christmas time, no players were infected but some staff were, unfortunately. All of these cases were isolated, the virus has never spread ... We were just told again that we must be cautious when cheering, but no one has been infected during a goal celebration yet. A Southampton player, who I’ve had before, got tested positive for Covid one day after we played against Southampton. After the game he talked quite a bit with two or three of my players, even if everyone was wearing a mask. As I walked by him, I put my arm on him and told him, “Take care!” The next day, I got a call: he’d tested positive.

Klopp and Nagelsmann linked up via Zoom at the start of February

JN Stupid feeling, right?

JK Yes. Sadio Mané had it too. He had a visitor. He was living with someone. The evening before he was tested positive, I’d substituted him off. I touched his head and asked him, “What’s wrong?” I thought he was injured because he had been sitting on the field. He answered, “Nothing, I was just resting.” I still have this picture in mind when I think of this story. The next day, he was tested positive and I wasn’t. So, I think it would be interesting to do some field research on what we can actually do at this time.

JN Yes, I think that is just the issue here. You don’t exactly know about the infection pattern. We’ve also had a case – Doudou [Amadou Haidara] had it after coming back from the international break. I had a conversation with him in a spacious room, keeping a distance, for maybe five, six or seven minutes. Afterwards, he tested positive and I didn’t. He didn’t have any symptoms. It’s quite hard to grasp; that’s the difficult part. It’s very difficult to understand how someone gets infected, how fast it goes, and at what distance. For instance, Leon Goretzka has it now. He said he had a very brief contact with someone who had it and he got infected right away.

JK I don’t know how many new signings you have, but we had three. It’s very difficult to find your place in the team. You can’t spend much time together in the dressing room, nor in the restaurant. You can’t meet privately. It’s insane.

JN You always see that it’s tough for new signings to integrate when you have a very established team, but this year it’s extreme. If you arrive in a new city, you want to get settled and feel well, go out for dinner and meet people and talk to them. All of that is gone; they’re totally isolated. So, when they arrive, it’s as if they’re on trial. No one knows them, no one speaks to them. They sit alone in their hotel room and yet they’re expected to perform. It’s a difficult situation. The figures speak for themselves. They are not performing as wished so far, but it’s a difficult situation for them too.

JK How was your switch from Hoffenheim to Leipzig?

JN The expectations here are a bit higher because we spend more money than back then at Hoffenheim and invest more in the squad. But it’s not a club where I feel overwhelmed by the expectations because it’s still a club that’s being built up, being developed. They don’t rip you to shreds here if you don’t win the league title. Therefore, the expectation level is a bit different than at Hoffenheim, but it’s not like everyone at Hoffenheim was happy finishing 12th and here you have to finish second. In fact, at any club in the Bundesliga, the Premier League or elsewhere, the people in charge want the club to succeed and your task as a coach is to give everything to achieve that. It’s similar to your example in terms of progress. Surely, the expectation was much higher at Dortmund than at Mainz, but you still took steps. At Liverpool, I believe the expectation level wasn’t too big at the beginning. In fact, you increased it through your success and the achievements.

JK I saw it as a very natural step from Mainz 05. Congratulations to Thomas [Tuchel] that he has now moved to Chelsea. They have a great team and that will be really good for them, sadly. But for Frank Lampard, the amount of expectation around him was brutal. They obviously spent a lot of money, but from then on the clock was ticking. It had to work for him. I don’t like these kinds of massive transfer fees. You have to pay them every now and again to get the very best players. We did it twice – for Virgil van Dijk, who already wasn’t a spring chicken any more. He wasn’t 12, 18 or 19. We already knew we could work together. With Alisson Becker, it was the same. Imagine if we’d had Kai Havertz or Timo Werner, who started very well, let’s not forget. With Kai, it was a bit different; he is a different kind of player. He has to find his way into the game, into the processes. Timo always has the chance to create things himself. Give him the ball, he’ll run past three or four people and score. That doesn’t happen for Kai, but the pressure the coach is under, I’ve never had that and I find it very uncomfortable. He kept trying things, but if this person doesn’t play then he’s gone. That was very uncool. But I think you’ve done really well, and the move [to Leipzig] made a lot of sense. More opportunities, which means a bit more pressure but not an overwhelming amount. There are lots of good areas for improvement; it’s a very good squad.

JN How did you find it when you went from Mainz to Dortmund? You said you didn’t know the pressure because you didn’t move to a mega-club with all the hype around them at the time, the same at Liverpool. Do you feel more pressure now and at the end of your time with Dortmund than when you took over?

JK To be honest, I just like winning games. I’ve never had this other stuff. The owner system in England is something which... Everyone thinks about [Roman] Abramovich. I don’t know what he’s like. I’m sure he is a huge personality with a big yacht.

“You can’t spend much time together. You can’t meet privately. It’s insane”

JN I’ve seen it on the internet.

JK On the internet? I haven’t. No, I have a very close relationship with the owners; they give me a lot of support. I got a few text messages from America, almost apologising for the team they’d given me, and I’d say, “It’s all good, it’s fine. Calm down, it takes time.” With Dortmund, it was very similar. Things weren’t going especially well, but we were happy with every little step forward. We became very good at making lots of little steps before things got livelier … I’ve never had any major worries about football in my entire life: I’ve always had the feeling I can control it. There are lots of things I probably can’t do well, but when it comes to football, the pitch is always a certain size, the number of players is already set, and I can’t imagine any problems popping up for which I don’t already have an approach prepared. That helps, I think.

JN I remember [the Champions League play-off tie between Liverpool and Hoffenheim] fondly, especially the one in Hoffenheim, where we played really well. We missed a penalty. And then Trent Alexander-Arnold scored with a free-kick. He thundered it in. His star really rose for the first time that night; I don’t like remembering the second leg as much. It was 3-0 after 17 minutes...

JK But they were awesome goals.

JN Yes, true. You overran us and then in the 21st minute I was hoping that you had a folding spade up in your coach’s office that I could borrow, so I could start digging at half-time. In the second half, however, we managed better, and had already managed better in general in the second leg. We played really well in the first leg. I would’ve liked to see how well we would have played if Andrej Kramarić had scored the penalty.

JK I had heard a lot about Julian Nagelsmann and then we got the analysis for the game and I thought, “Wow, hats off!” I much prefer that … someone has a clear way of playing which you can see. I can work with that; I can develop something from that. When you have no clue what the opponent is doing and they’re only passing balls from left to right, then you just think to yourself, “What are they thinking?” And in the end, it always turns out that it’s probably not much, which is really difficult to prepare for. So that was a challenge in preparation, but still we could develop something. The way you played was really exceptional. You really focused on ball possession, on good processes. I really liked that. But for us that was pretty practical because we weren’t as advanced then as we are now. We could focus on our possession play, passing here and there. That helped us quite a bit. In the end, quality is often the decisive factor. Back then you were always described as a coaching talent, and you were! You kind of still are. But at least now you’re slowly reaching the age where other people are also coaches, which helps to get rid of this title. But I was really impressed. But what I remember is that after the game, after the second leg, I went to look for you because I wanted to say goodbye or something...

JN I remember that too. [Both laugh]

JK I opened the door to a little room – I didn’t even know that there was anything behind it – and you were sitting there with your assistants at a laptop. You could see it in your face, that you were thinking, “Well, what happened here?” [Laughs]

JN Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. And you closed my laptop and said to stop it, it’s over anyway. Let’s rather go have a beer. I took a few minutes to deal with that.

JK You can’t win after the game is over. That’s my experience. [Laughs]

Julian Nagelsmann: Hello, Jürgen. I think we’re allowed to do this without masks. We are isolated here in a one-v-one duel.

Jürgen Klopp: Yes, exactly. Duel? I thought this was going to be a discussion? Where do I start… Well, right now we’ve been free of infections for several weeks, almost months even. I mean the team. Liverpool, not as far as I know. Thanks to the vaccines all is heading in the right direction here, but we’re still in full lockdown. It’s the same situation here as it is in Germany.

JN How is it going with the vaccines? I think the purchasing of the vaccines is going a bit better than here.

JK In Britain, they purchased earlier and didn’t gamble with the price and just bought. Boris [Johnson] hasn’t got much right, but here he did, it seems.

JN For once, Brexit had its advantages.

JK I have been searching for a long time. But just try to order something from Germany. You are standing at your door, already paid for your purchase, and he wants £70 from you. I ask, “For what?” “VAT and so on.” It’s all very difficult.

JN Yesterday I watched a documentary about the famous English shoemakers who are going bankrupt and can’t export to Germany any more because the shoes cost €100 to €150 more than usual. One of them sold the famous English Oxford Budapester.

JK You were watching this? Did you google shoes and this came up?

JN No, no, I think it was at the end of the news. It was a five, six-minute report about British shoemakers.

JK I just walked here on foot, from my coaching office. It’s freezing cold in our building because the doors are open everywhere. It’s a big change. I have a jacket on, but inside I like to have it a bit warmer. But that’s only one part … We had to close our cafeteria for a time, so only takeaways, etc. We are constantly being checked regarding our seating arrangement, or number of people in the dressing rooms. We drive three buses to the game now, because fewer and fewer people are allowed in a bus … But this whole situation is a big challenge in terms of team-building too. And by that I don’t mean to have a drink together in the evening, but to generally sit together and discuss things. Everything is happening in big rooms now. I think that’s the case in Germany too, right?

JN Yes, especially in the beginning we had the same problems, like with closing the cafeteria. The players had to shower in their own rooms, or eat in their own room or take the food home. Everything totally isolated, of course. When the players go home, they are in their houses, isolated and alone again, and aren’t allowed to see anybody or go anywhere. Sometimes there are difficult phases, when there are no fans, plus you are only seeing your team-mates. And then to get focused every three days, no matter who your opponents are, is very difficult. In terms of social life, it’s the same for everyone; football is no different. It’s just completely gone.

JK We’re tested twice a week. During the Champions League, maybe even three times a week. We’ve had some cases, but mostly from players returning from their national teams, or during the short summer break where we weren’t together. During Christmas time, no players were infected but some staff were, unfortunately. All of these cases were isolated, the virus has never spread ... We were just told again that we must be cautious when cheering, but no one has been infected during a goal celebration yet. A Southampton player, who I’ve had before, got tested positive for Covid one day after we played against Southampton. After the game he talked quite a bit with two or three of my players, even if everyone was wearing a mask. As I walked by him, I put my arm on him and told him, “Take care!” The next day, I got a call: he’d tested positive.

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Klopp and Nagelsmann linked up via Zoom at the start of February

JN Stupid feeling, right?

JK Yes. Sadio Mané had it too. He had a visitor. He was living with someone. The evening before he was tested positive, I’d substituted him off. I touched his head and asked him, “What’s wrong?” I thought he was injured because he had been sitting on the field. He answered, “Nothing, I was just resting.” I still have this picture in mind when I think of this story. The next day, he was tested positive and I wasn’t. So, I think it would be interesting to do some field research on what we can actually do at this time.

JN Yes, I think that is just the issue here. You don’t exactly know about the infection pattern. We’ve also had a case – Doudou [Amadou Haidara] had it after coming back from the international break. I had a conversation with him in a spacious room, keeping a distance, for maybe five, six or seven minutes. Afterwards, he tested positive and I didn’t. He didn’t have any symptoms. It’s quite hard to grasp; that’s the difficult part. It’s very difficult to understand how someone gets infected, how fast it goes, and at what distance. For instance, Leon Goretzka has it now. He said he had a very brief contact with someone who had it and he got infected right away.

JK I don’t know how many new signings you have, but we had three. It’s very difficult to find your place in the team. You can’t spend much time together in the dressing room, nor in the restaurant. You can’t meet privately. It’s insane.

JN You always see that it’s tough for new signings to integrate when you have a very established team, but this year it’s extreme. If you arrive in a new city, you want to get settled and feel well, go out for dinner and meet people and talk to them. All of that is gone; they’re totally isolated. So, when they arrive, it’s as if they’re on trial. No one knows them, no one speaks to them. They sit alone in their hotel room and yet they’re expected to perform. It’s a difficult situation. The figures speak for themselves. They are not performing as wished so far, but it’s a difficult situation for them too.

JK How was your switch from Hoffenheim to Leipzig?

JN The expectations here are a bit higher because we spend more money than back then at Hoffenheim and invest more in the squad. But it’s not a club where I feel overwhelmed by the expectations because it’s still a club that’s being built up, being developed. They don’t rip you to shreds here if you don’t win the league title. Therefore, the expectation level is a bit different than at Hoffenheim, but it’s not like everyone at Hoffenheim was happy finishing 12th and here you have to finish second. In fact, at any club in the Bundesliga, the Premier League or elsewhere, the people in charge want the club to succeed and your task as a coach is to give everything to achieve that. It’s similar to your example in terms of progress. Surely, the expectation was much higher at Dortmund than at Mainz, but you still took steps. At Liverpool, I believe the expectation level wasn’t too big at the beginning. In fact, you increased it through your success and the achievements.

JK I saw it as a very natural step from Mainz 05. Congratulations to Thomas [Tuchel] that he has now moved to Chelsea. They have a great team and that will be really good for them, sadly. But for Frank Lampard, the amount of expectation around him was brutal. They obviously spent a lot of money, but from then on the clock was ticking. It had to work for him. I don’t like these kinds of massive transfer fees. You have to pay them every now and again to get the very best players. We did it twice – for Virgil van Dijk, who already wasn’t a spring chicken any more. He wasn’t 12, 18 or 19. We already knew we could work together. With Alisson Becker, it was the same. Imagine if we’d had Kai Havertz or Timo Werner, who started very well, let’s not forget. With Kai, it was a bit different; he is a different kind of player. He has to find his way into the game, into the processes. Timo always has the chance to create things himself. Give him the ball, he’ll run past three or four people and score. That doesn’t happen for Kai, but the pressure the coach is under, I’ve never had that and I find it very uncomfortable. He kept trying things, but if this person doesn’t play then he’s gone. That was very uncool. But I think you’ve done really well, and the move [to Leipzig] made a lot of sense. More opportunities, which means a bit more pressure but not an overwhelming amount. There are lots of good areas for improvement; it’s a very good squad.

JN How did you find it when you went from Mainz to Dortmund? You said you didn’t know the pressure because you didn’t move to a mega-club with all the hype around them at the time, the same at Liverpool. Do you feel more pressure now and at the end of your time with Dortmund than when you took over?

JK To be honest, I just like winning games. I’ve never had this other stuff. The owner system in England is something which... Everyone thinks about [Roman] Abramovich. I don’t know what he’s like. I’m sure he is a huge personality with a big yacht.

“You can’t spend much time together. You can’t meet privately. It’s insane”

JN I’ve seen it on the internet.

JK On the internet? I haven’t. No, I have a very close relationship with the owners; they give me a lot of support. I got a few text messages from America, almost apologising for the team they’d given me, and I’d say, “It’s all good, it’s fine. Calm down, it takes time.” With Dortmund, it was very similar. Things weren’t going especially well, but we were happy with every little step forward. We became very good at making lots of little steps before things got livelier … I’ve never had any major worries about football in my entire life: I’ve always had the feeling I can control it. There are lots of things I probably can’t do well, but when it comes to football, the pitch is always a certain size, the number of players is already set, and I can’t imagine any problems popping up for which I don’t already have an approach prepared. That helps, I think.

JN I remember [the Champions League play-off tie between Liverpool and Hoffenheim] fondly, especially the one in Hoffenheim, where we played really well. We missed a penalty. And then Trent Alexander-Arnold scored with a free-kick. He thundered it in. His star really rose for the first time that night; I don’t like remembering the second leg as much. It was 3-0 after 17 minutes...

JK But they were awesome goals.

JN Yes, true. You overran us and then in the 21st minute I was hoping that you had a folding spade up in your coach’s office that I could borrow, so I could start digging at half-time. In the second half, however, we managed better, and had already managed better in general in the second leg. We played really well in the first leg. I would’ve liked to see how well we would have played if Andrej Kramarić had scored the penalty.

JK I had heard a lot about Julian Nagelsmann and then we got the analysis for the game and I thought, “Wow, hats off!” I much prefer that … someone has a clear way of playing which you can see. I can work with that; I can develop something from that. When you have no clue what the opponent is doing and they’re only passing balls from left to right, then you just think to yourself, “What are they thinking?” And in the end, it always turns out that it’s probably not much, which is really difficult to prepare for. So that was a challenge in preparation, but still we could develop something. The way you played was really exceptional. You really focused on ball possession, on good processes. I really liked that. But for us that was pretty practical because we weren’t as advanced then as we are now. We could focus on our possession play, passing here and there. That helped us quite a bit. In the end, quality is often the decisive factor. Back then you were always described as a coaching talent, and you were! You kind of still are. But at least now you’re slowly reaching the age where other people are also coaches, which helps to get rid of this title. But I was really impressed. But what I remember is that after the game, after the second leg, I went to look for you because I wanted to say goodbye or something...

JN I remember that too. [Both laugh]

JK I opened the door to a little room – I didn’t even know that there was anything behind it – and you were sitting there with your assistants at a laptop. You could see it in your face, that you were thinking, “Well, what happened here?” [Laughs]

JN Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. And you closed my laptop and said to stop it, it’s over anyway. Let’s rather go have a beer. I took a few minutes to deal with that.

JK You can’t win after the game is over. That’s my experience. [Laughs]

Julian Nagelsmann: Hello, Jürgen. I think we’re allowed to do this without masks. We are isolated here in a one-v-one duel.

Jürgen Klopp: Yes, exactly. Duel? I thought this was going to be a discussion? Where do I start… Well, right now we’ve been free of infections for several weeks, almost months even. I mean the team. Liverpool, not as far as I know. Thanks to the vaccines all is heading in the right direction here, but we’re still in full lockdown. It’s the same situation here as it is in Germany.

JN How is it going with the vaccines? I think the purchasing of the vaccines is going a bit better than here.

JK In Britain, they purchased earlier and didn’t gamble with the price and just bought. Boris [Johnson] hasn’t got much right, but here he did, it seems.

JN For once, Brexit had its advantages.

JK I have been searching for a long time. But just try to order something from Germany. You are standing at your door, already paid for your purchase, and he wants £70 from you. I ask, “For what?” “VAT and so on.” It’s all very difficult.

JN Yesterday I watched a documentary about the famous English shoemakers who are going bankrupt and can’t export to Germany any more because the shoes cost €100 to €150 more than usual. One of them sold the famous English Oxford Budapester.

JK You were watching this? Did you google shoes and this came up?

JN No, no, I think it was at the end of the news. It was a five, six-minute report about British shoemakers.

JK I just walked here on foot, from my coaching office. It’s freezing cold in our building because the doors are open everywhere. It’s a big change. I have a jacket on, but inside I like to have it a bit warmer. But that’s only one part … We had to close our cafeteria for a time, so only takeaways, etc. We are constantly being checked regarding our seating arrangement, or number of people in the dressing rooms. We drive three buses to the game now, because fewer and fewer people are allowed in a bus … But this whole situation is a big challenge in terms of team-building too. And by that I don’t mean to have a drink together in the evening, but to generally sit together and discuss things. Everything is happening in big rooms now. I think that’s the case in Germany too, right?

JN Yes, especially in the beginning we had the same problems, like with closing the cafeteria. The players had to shower in their own rooms, or eat in their own room or take the food home. Everything totally isolated, of course. When the players go home, they are in their houses, isolated and alone again, and aren’t allowed to see anybody or go anywhere. Sometimes there are difficult phases, when there are no fans, plus you are only seeing your team-mates. And then to get focused every three days, no matter who your opponents are, is very difficult. In terms of social life, it’s the same for everyone; football is no different. It’s just completely gone.

JK We’re tested twice a week. During the Champions League, maybe even three times a week. We’ve had some cases, but mostly from players returning from their national teams, or during the short summer break where we weren’t together. During Christmas time, no players were infected but some staff were, unfortunately. All of these cases were isolated, the virus has never spread ... We were just told again that we must be cautious when cheering, but no one has been infected during a goal celebration yet. A Southampton player, who I’ve had before, got tested positive for Covid one day after we played against Southampton. After the game he talked quite a bit with two or three of my players, even if everyone was wearing a mask. As I walked by him, I put my arm on him and told him, “Take care!” The next day, I got a call: he’d tested positive.

Klopp and Nagelsmann linked up via Zoom at the start of February

JN Stupid feeling, right?

JK Yes. Sadio Mané had it too. He had a visitor. He was living with someone. The evening before he was tested positive, I’d substituted him off. I touched his head and asked him, “What’s wrong?” I thought he was injured because he had been sitting on the field. He answered, “Nothing, I was just resting.” I still have this picture in mind when I think of this story. The next day, he was tested positive and I wasn’t. So, I think it would be interesting to do some field research on what we can actually do at this time.

JN Yes, I think that is just the issue here. You don’t exactly know about the infection pattern. We’ve also had a case – Doudou [Amadou Haidara] had it after coming back from the international break. I had a conversation with him in a spacious room, keeping a distance, for maybe five, six or seven minutes. Afterwards, he tested positive and I didn’t. He didn’t have any symptoms. It’s quite hard to grasp; that’s the difficult part. It’s very difficult to understand how someone gets infected, how fast it goes, and at what distance. For instance, Leon Goretzka has it now. He said he had a very brief contact with someone who had it and he got infected right away.

JK I don’t know how many new signings you have, but we had three. It’s very difficult to find your place in the team. You can’t spend much time together in the dressing room, nor in the restaurant. You can’t meet privately. It’s insane.

JN You always see that it’s tough for new signings to integrate when you have a very established team, but this year it’s extreme. If you arrive in a new city, you want to get settled and feel well, go out for dinner and meet people and talk to them. All of that is gone; they’re totally isolated. So, when they arrive, it’s as if they’re on trial. No one knows them, no one speaks to them. They sit alone in their hotel room and yet they’re expected to perform. It’s a difficult situation. The figures speak for themselves. They are not performing as wished so far, but it’s a difficult situation for them too.

JK How was your switch from Hoffenheim to Leipzig?

JN The expectations here are a bit higher because we spend more money than back then at Hoffenheim and invest more in the squad. But it’s not a club where I feel overwhelmed by the expectations because it’s still a club that’s being built up, being developed. They don’t rip you to shreds here if you don’t win the league title. Therefore, the expectation level is a bit different than at Hoffenheim, but it’s not like everyone at Hoffenheim was happy finishing 12th and here you have to finish second. In fact, at any club in the Bundesliga, the Premier League or elsewhere, the people in charge want the club to succeed and your task as a coach is to give everything to achieve that. It’s similar to your example in terms of progress. Surely, the expectation was much higher at Dortmund than at Mainz, but you still took steps. At Liverpool, I believe the expectation level wasn’t too big at the beginning. In fact, you increased it through your success and the achievements.

JK I saw it as a very natural step from Mainz 05. Congratulations to Thomas [Tuchel] that he has now moved to Chelsea. They have a great team and that will be really good for them, sadly. But for Frank Lampard, the amount of expectation around him was brutal. They obviously spent a lot of money, but from then on the clock was ticking. It had to work for him. I don’t like these kinds of massive transfer fees. You have to pay them every now and again to get the very best players. We did it twice – for Virgil van Dijk, who already wasn’t a spring chicken any more. He wasn’t 12, 18 or 19. We already knew we could work together. With Alisson Becker, it was the same. Imagine if we’d had Kai Havertz or Timo Werner, who started very well, let’s not forget. With Kai, it was a bit different; he is a different kind of player. He has to find his way into the game, into the processes. Timo always has the chance to create things himself. Give him the ball, he’ll run past three or four people and score. That doesn’t happen for Kai, but the pressure the coach is under, I’ve never had that and I find it very uncomfortable. He kept trying things, but if this person doesn’t play then he’s gone. That was very uncool. But I think you’ve done really well, and the move [to Leipzig] made a lot of sense. More opportunities, which means a bit more pressure but not an overwhelming amount. There are lots of good areas for improvement; it’s a very good squad.

JN How did you find it when you went from Mainz to Dortmund? You said you didn’t know the pressure because you didn’t move to a mega-club with all the hype around them at the time, the same at Liverpool. Do you feel more pressure now and at the end of your time with Dortmund than when you took over?

JK To be honest, I just like winning games. I’ve never had this other stuff. The owner system in England is something which... Everyone thinks about [Roman] Abramovich. I don’t know what he’s like. I’m sure he is a huge personality with a big yacht.

“You can’t spend much time together. You can’t meet privately. It’s insane”

JN I’ve seen it on the internet.

JK On the internet? I haven’t. No, I have a very close relationship with the owners; they give me a lot of support. I got a few text messages from America, almost apologising for the team they’d given me, and I’d say, “It’s all good, it’s fine. Calm down, it takes time.” With Dortmund, it was very similar. Things weren’t going especially well, but we were happy with every little step forward. We became very good at making lots of little steps before things got livelier … I’ve never had any major worries about football in my entire life: I’ve always had the feeling I can control it. There are lots of things I probably can’t do well, but when it comes to football, the pitch is always a certain size, the number of players is already set, and I can’t imagine any problems popping up for which I don’t already have an approach prepared. That helps, I think.

JN I remember [the Champions League play-off tie between Liverpool and Hoffenheim] fondly, especially the one in Hoffenheim, where we played really well. We missed a penalty. And then Trent Alexander-Arnold scored with a free-kick. He thundered it in. His star really rose for the first time that night; I don’t like remembering the second leg as much. It was 3-0 after 17 minutes...

JK But they were awesome goals.

JN Yes, true. You overran us and then in the 21st minute I was hoping that you had a folding spade up in your coach’s office that I could borrow, so I could start digging at half-time. In the second half, however, we managed better, and had already managed better in general in the second leg. We played really well in the first leg. I would’ve liked to see how well we would have played if Andrej Kramarić had scored the penalty.

JK I had heard a lot about Julian Nagelsmann and then we got the analysis for the game and I thought, “Wow, hats off!” I much prefer that … someone has a clear way of playing which you can see. I can work with that; I can develop something from that. When you have no clue what the opponent is doing and they’re only passing balls from left to right, then you just think to yourself, “What are they thinking?” And in the end, it always turns out that it’s probably not much, which is really difficult to prepare for. So that was a challenge in preparation, but still we could develop something. The way you played was really exceptional. You really focused on ball possession, on good processes. I really liked that. But for us that was pretty practical because we weren’t as advanced then as we are now. We could focus on our possession play, passing here and there. That helped us quite a bit. In the end, quality is often the decisive factor. Back then you were always described as a coaching talent, and you were! You kind of still are. But at least now you’re slowly reaching the age where other people are also coaches, which helps to get rid of this title. But I was really impressed. But what I remember is that after the game, after the second leg, I went to look for you because I wanted to say goodbye or something...

JN I remember that too. [Both laugh]

JK I opened the door to a little room – I didn’t even know that there was anything behind it – and you were sitting there with your assistants at a laptop. You could see it in your face, that you were thinking, “Well, what happened here?” [Laughs]

JN Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. And you closed my laptop and said to stop it, it’s over anyway. Let’s rather go have a beer. I took a few minutes to deal with that.

JK You can’t win after the game is over. That’s my experience. [Laughs]

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