Friends, teammates, colleagues - German managers next meet face to face as rivals during Premier League action this weekend
Liverpool's Klopp and Huddersfield's Wagner share zest for high-octane football on pitch and bromance off it
The visitors’ dugout may be unfamiliar territory on Saturday for David Wagner. There tends to be a late arrival in the Anfield media box on a European night, heading for the back row. He is the Huddersfield manager.
It is scarcely normal, and not just because he breaches media-box etiquette by celebrating Liverpool goals. Wagner was there for Borussia Dortmund, his old employers, there for Villarreal and there for Sevilla.
But then Wagner’s friendship with Jurgen Klopp is an abnormal one, dating back since 1991 and a source of increasing fascination as upbeat, energetic characters have emerged as motivational managers with similar philosophies.
“It’s like family,” Klopp told Sky Sports. “We understand each other like brothers.”
Neven Subotic, who played for Klopp at Dortmund, reached for the same analogy.
“They are very similar, from the way they walked, the way they talked,” the defender told Sky. “It is like they were brothers, separated at birth.”
There are signs of that closeness. If Liverpool’s players think there are two familiar faces in the technical areas, it will be because there is a picture of Wagner in Klopp’s office. Or, to be precise, one of them together.
If Wagner is more publicly supportive of Klopp, there is a reason. The more famous manager did not go to Huddersfield’s play-off final win at Wembley: he did not want to distract attention from his friend.
Instead, he watched it on holiday in France, crying afterwards as Wagner won a promotion facilitated by the penalty saves of Danny Ward, the goalkeeper Klopp loaned him.
They meet as managers for the first time in a competitive game on Saturday. They were teammates first at Mainz. “It was love on first view,” Wagner told FourFourTwo.
They shared lifts with Wagner opening the car window because Klopp was smoking. Klopp moved into defence when the more gifted Wagner took his place in attack.
Later they were opponents, Wagner a left winger, Klopp a right-back. The younger man softened his friend up over dinner the previous night and then scored the only hat-trick of his career for Gutersloh against Mainz.
“Technically average. Endurance, I would say average. But because of his attitude, he was a leader,” Wagner said of Klopp.
Those qualities were recognised when Mainz made Klopp manager. Meanwhile, Wagner left football, spending five years training to be a teacher, but a friendship remained.
When Klopp married in December 2005, Wagner was best man. He arranged a stag party in Mainz’s Christmas markets, all of them wearing Santa Claus masks. The gangly Klopp was nevertheless soon recognised in a city where he was a celebrity.
By John McAuley
They were reunited professionally at Dortmund in 2011, though Klopp insists the catalyst for his friend’s hiring as reserve-team manager was director of football Michael Zorc.
Wagner’s job was sometimes made harder by Klopp, withdrawing his players 20 minutes before kick-off by calling them to the senior squad.
It highlighted the playful nature of their relationship.
More seriously, with Wagner basking in the glow of victory over Manchester United and Klopp reeling from a 4-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur, a friend indeed has proved a friend indeed.
“Liverpool play outstanding football,” Wagner told Sport Bild. “How they create chances, how they defend: that’s cinema at its best.”
Their shared style of play is more action-packed blockbuster material than stately period drama.
Yet any film of their friendship would be a bromance.