Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 September 2019

Pochettino v Klopp: emotions guaranteed to run high in Madrid for managers in Champions League final

Liverpool and Tottenham managers have experienced similar career paths and now meet in the Uefa Champions League final

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp with Totteham Hotspur counterpart Mauricio Pochettino. Getty Images
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp with Totteham Hotspur counterpart Mauricio Pochettino. Getty Images

An aura of cool distinguishes the repeatedly successful managers in the Champions League.

You think of the understated, tranquil Carlo Ancelotti during his three European Cup triumphs, two with AC Milan, one with Real Madrid. You recall the inscrutable Zinedine Zidane after his trio with Madrid, and how he sedately walked away from the job a few days after win No 3.

This Saturday, expect a more emotional sort of touchline theatre from the winning manager, be it the energetic, jack-in-the-box that is Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, or Tottenham Hotspur’s Mauricio Pochettino, who wore his heart so exposed on his sleeve at the moment of pushing Spurs improbably into their first Champions League final.

Poch’s tears, at the end of a cliffhanger semi-final in Amsterdam, remains the enduring image of the dramatic later stages of the 2018-19 competition. One of the most memorable sound-bites, meanwhile, came from Klopp, who had to apologise for uttering an expletive during a post-match interview after his Liverpool had turned around a 3-0 first leg deficit to defeat Barcelona. Emotion had undone his self-control.

It was contagious. Liverpool’s 4-0 win at Anfield against Barcelona would be referenced by Pochettino as he prepared his Spurs players for their underdog comeback at Ajax, 24 hours later.

They started 1-0 down, were dragged to 3-0 behind before the Lucas Moura-inspired recovery for a victory on away goals. The suspense might have drawn tears of a joy from a stone; Pochettino simply melted.

The task for both men, each aiming for a first European Cup, since then has been to step back from the soul-bearing, to seem less vulnerable. The essential balance for the modern manager is to combine authority with a degree of humanity, to make his players feel the boss is on their wavelength, but also in command, always analytical, the reliable provider of a winning gameplan.

It can be a delicate balance, but the German at Liverpool and the Argentine at Spurs seem to master it better than most. “Mauricio treats players as adults,” said the Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana, who worked with Pochettino at Southampton and has described Klopp in similar terms: “Jurgen told us he wanted be our friend but not our best friend.”

Pochettino, 47, and Klopp, 51, both learned the rules around friendship and authority in testing circumstances. They started out as coaches suddenly, catapulted into taking charge of dressing-rooms where they had recently been players.

When Klopp took over at Mainz in early 2002, it was as a freshly retired club legend, a footballer who had maximised limited talent and converted from robust striker to tigerish defender over a long playing career there. As novice coach he faced an emergency, taking over, mid-season, to resolve a relegation crisis.

Pochettino’s start, at Espanyol, mirrored that. He had played for the Barcelona-based club in two spells and answered the call for a third stint, this time as coach, when the club were facing the drop into Spain’s second division. He rescued them but soon had tough decisions to make, like phasing out of the team the club’s great striker Raul Tamudo.

“We had been friends, and I remember Raul crying when I retired as a player,” Pochettino reports in Brave New World, his diary of Tottenham’s 2016-17 season. “A few months later we were arguing and calling each other all sorts of names.”

As apprentice managers Klopp and Pochettino enjoyed more success than setbacks, although Klopp would suffer a relegation, back to the German second division, with Mainz before he moved on to galvanise Borussia Dortmund.

They both have open-minded, exploratory approaches to motivation. Klopp took his Mainz players to spartan, rural retreats where the everyday tasks of catering and cleaning were shared among the footballers.

Pochettino believes in the benefits of rituals - like walking on hot coals, a team-bonding exercise he arranged for his Southampton squad during a pre-season in Catalonia.

They both know, though, that nothing fortifies team spirit like the shared experience of victory eked out from adversity. Pochettino’s tears in Amsterdam were viewed by his players as an endorsement of his commitment. “It showed how much it means to him,” says midfielder Victor Wanyama, who followed the manager from Southampton to Spurs.

How enduring that bond will be remains to be seen. The rise of Pochettino’s Spurs has made him a manager of interest for clubs with far better records than Tottenham of reaching European Cup finals. Klopp’s exuberance, his obvious engagement with all the clubs he has managed makes him an A-list candidate for other elite jobs.

And there is an impatience to his energy: Klopp has twice finished second in major European finals - with Dortmund in the Champions League, with Liverpool in the Europa League - and the hair’s-breadth distance separating his side from Manchester City in the 2018-19 Premier League left him as exasperated as exhilarated.

All that pent-up emotion gathers in Madrid this weekend. It is unlikely to stay concealed for long.

Updated: May 31, 2019 02:23 PM

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