Contrasting talents during their playing days and opposing personalities in the dugout, the two managers will lead their sides in Kiev
Real Madrid v Liverpool: Zidane and Klopp, cut from a different cloth as players and now as managers, face off in Uefa Champions League final
In the years Zinedine Zidane was turning his mind to a career as a manager, he occasionally used to sidle gently into the back rows of a press conference at the Bernabeu stadium to see how a master manager worked a room.
He took notes on Jose Mourinho’s studied utterances, and he got to see how visiting tacticians handled themselves around European games in the Spanish capital.
Zidane was observing at Real Madrid during the 18-month period when Borussia Dortmund came to town with unusual frequency. There were six Dortmund-Madrid meetings between October 2012 and April 2014. It was the time of the engaging Jurgen Klopp’s rise from being a big noise in the Bundesliga to an international star.
Klopp came across as buoyant, and brilliant. His Dortmund met Mourinho’s Madrid four times in one season and put eight goals past them. Zidane watched the galvanising, talkative Klopp transmitting his contagious energy to a dynamic team. The first leg of the semi-final in the Uefa Champions League that year was, perhaps until last month, Klopp’s finest 90 minutes in management: Dortmund 4 Madrid 1.
Dortmund that night were a marvel. Robert Lewandowski scored all four goals. Afterwards Klopp made one of those self-deprecating jokes that are part of his charm. “You know I scored four goals in a game once,” grinned Klopp, “against Erfurt!” So he did, as a powerful if unsophisticated striker playing for Mainz in the second tier of German football in the early 1990s.
Klopp the player was no Lewandowski, although he was appreciated, had a long professional career and resourcefully stretched it over different spells as a centre-forward and as a defender.
This week, he was entertaining reporters again with shoulder-shrugging about his own limitations as a young sportsman, pointing out how different is his background in football to that of Zidane, his managerial opponent in Saturday’s Champions League final between his Liverpool and the Madrid Zidane has coached so successfully for the past two and half years.
“I am glad we’re not playing against each other, me marking him or whatever,” said Klopp, who ended his playing career of almost 300 second-division games in the year, 2001, that Zidane, moving from Juventus to Madrid, became the most expensive player in football history. “I admired him as a player,” added Klopp of Zidane, “as one of the top 10, or top five, of all-time.”
As managers, they are also cut from distinct cloth. Klopp is effervescent, a motormouth to the Zidane who sometimes mumbles through his public appearances. The phrase "Heavy Metal Football" has become a slogan for the Klopp style, the aggressive pressing, the intense roar through specific phases of games.
Zidane, promoted in early 2016 to take charge of the Madrid first-team having managed only in the club’s feeder system, brings a lighter touch to his work. Don’t be deceived. He is in control, and the shaper of outcomes, with a knack for making the right, decisive substitution in tight contests.
Klopp has been managing teams in European competitions for 13 years. He has reached two finals, both lost. Zidane has been managing Madrid in Europe for a far shorter time, and reached two finals. He won both. And, as he prepares for the blitzing counter-attacks of Klopp’s Liverpool, he may reflect in some detail on the way his blessed career as a Champions League coach began, with a last-16 tie against Roma.
It ended 4-0 on aggregate to Madrid, but the scoreline masks many moments that were problematic for the novice on the touchline. Had Mohamed Salah, then of Roma, converted the several goalscoring chances he engineered for himself, Zidane’s impeccable run in the Champions League – three attempts, three finals – might have been still-born.
Combatting Salah is his focus again, as Zidane plots a third successive title in the most prestigious of all club competitions. The Egyptian’s finishing has been stunningly sharpened in the red of Klopp’s Liverpool, and he is the same cheetah across the grass he was for Roma, when he exploited space behind Madrid’s Marcelo again and again on the night of Zidane’s debut in a Champions League technical area.
Then, the freshman coach did not panic, and try to curb his attacking left-back’s runs. He knew Marcelo could hurt Roma as an attacker, even if he risked granting Salah space. Zidane quietly, and calmly, trusted in his player’s strengths. It is his way. He will not be deafened by Klopp’s heavy metal.