Jürgen Klopp: “I’ll do it”
Three words and the rest is history: 21 years ago today, Jürgen Klopp went from being a second-division player for 1. FSV Mainz 05 to the club’s head coach overnight
It is now 21 years since 1. FSV Mainz 05 promoted long-time second-division player to head coach overnight, who then went on to save his team from the threat of relegation to the Regionalliga before going on to miss out in the fight for promotion to the Bundesliga, finally succeeding after two failed attempts. Jürgen Klopp’s legendary coaching career has gone from strength to strength since that carnival game in 2001.
The club's current sporting director Christian Heidel spent most of 26th February 2001 on the phone, talking to a number of different coaches after the club’s 3-1 defeat against Greuther Fürth in a relegation battle. A day later, Heidel and the board invited the media to Bad Kreuznach, where the team were carrying out a short training camp, to announce the departure of head coach Eckhard Krautzun and unveil his replacement: Jürgen Klopp, the club’s injured right-back, would take charge of the struggling team, one day before hosting MSV Duisburg in an important game for the club’s survival hopes.
It was Carneval Sunday and the 05ers had slipped to one place above bottom after the 3-1 defeat in Fürth and relegation was looming. Seven games without a win, the worst home record in the league, third worst away record. The discussion had long been raging in the city as to whether it was possible to do everything wrong up to 11 matchdays before the end of the season and still not be relegated. So what could be done? In the nine games as René Vandereycken's successor, the 05 head coach had picked up nine points out of a possible 27 and the team that lacked a sense of togetherness and self-confidence.
Who says the players can’t coach themselves?
At some point, as the book “Carneval at Bruchweg: The Golden Years of Mainz 05 (by Reinhard Rehberg and Christian Karn)” says, Heidel ended his search for a new coach disillusioned. The prominent coaches who were out of work at the time decided against taking the relatively poorly-paid role in a tough job. Heidel thought to himself: if the market doesn’t have a willing and affordable 4-4-2 expert at hand, and no coach could be found by the game on Wednesday night against MSV Duisburg, then why not be bold and get the players to fix the mess that they had got themselves into? It would take a leader, one of the players who had been guided by two-time relegation survivor Wolfgang Frank, like the 4-4-2 formation, the pressing and motivation, and a player who is intelligent, well-respected and has the gift of the gab.
I’ll do it.
Heidel phoned Harald Strutz and told the club boss about the idea. He agreed. Shortly after, he spoke to Klopp, who was at the team’s training camp and did not even wait for a minute before replying: “I’ll do it.” With three words, Klopp ended an 11-year playing career with 325 appearances. The real work started the next afternoon, as the media travelled to Bad Kreuznach for a conference.
Presentation at the Parkhotel
Just before 1pm, the cameras and journalists arrived at the Parkhotel, with the previous coach’s departure already organised. As the masses gathered, Krauztun, then aged 60, said: “Go to your press conference first, I don’t have anything else to do with that, and then I’ll be gone. I’m not one to shy away from these things.” Shortly afterwards, Strutz and Heidel presented their interim head coach: Jürgen Klopp, aged 33, and assisted by 40-year-old goalkeeping coach Stephan Kuhnert.
Klopp took over as head coach of second-divison Mainz on February 27th 2001. A qualified P.E. teacher who completed his A-coaching license in 2000, he was allowed to coach the game against Duisburg on the Wednesday and then the match against bottom-of-the-table Chemnitzer FC with a special exemption from the DFB.
Hitting the right notes
“I haven’t been able to help the team on the pitch recently, because I’ve not been fully fit,” said the new coach. “We’re now going to try and turn things around as quickly as possible; we have the chances and the potential to stay in it.” Klopp, a fan favourite, addressed his supporters directly: “It’s nothing to do with our attitude; we’re not ‘un-trainable’, but we’re not getting it right on the pitch and we need help from our fans. We haven’t really earned the support but, we need you. We won’t do everything perfectly, but we’re going to change things and we will put a team out onto the pitch who gives their all.” It was all about having a different style of defending, “in areas where we can hurt our opponents; we don’t have to train eight weeks straight to do that.” Klopp hit all the right notes with his first speech. “I’m not making the claim that I’ll immediately make everything better and succeed where others have failed, I just have to try to do that.”
I’m not making the claim that I’ll immediately make everything better and succeed where others have failed, I just have to try to do that.
How was all this all able to come about? In summer of the year 2000, Mainz signed former Belgian international René Vandereycken to coach the second-division team. The then 47-year-old, who played at both World Cup and European Championships before becoming coach of his country’s national side, did not show respect to the established protocols at the club, hindering key leaders in the squad and changing the formation by replacing the well-known back four with a back three. This caused some unrest in the squad who were missing some clear direction, and things did not work on the pitch either. After just 12 points from 12 games, November saw the Belgian part company with the Zerofivers. His successor, Eckhard Krautzun, joined and said he was excited to be working at Bruchweg.
Creating a legacy as a legendary Mainzer
Jürgen Klopp’s reign saw everything which eluded his predecessors come to fruition and so much more. The one-time squad player who made the step to coaching is now working wonders at Liverpool and has become a true footballing legend of the city of Mainz. Now, 21 years on from that Carneval Tuesday, there is no Zerofiver who doesn’t give the name of “our Kloppo” when world-class coaches are being talked about.
It is also interesting that Klopp, 55 in June and 21 years on from his coaching debut at Bruchweg, is taking his Liverpool side to Wembley in the English League Cup final against Chelsea. The Blues’ coach is also well known to Zerofivers everywhere, as Thomas Tuchel also started his coaching career in Mainz. Tuchel made the step up from the Zerofivers’ U19 squad to the first team and became World Coach of the Year in 2021, yet again following in Klopp’s footsteps, as he received this honour in both 2019 and 2020.