Klopp: The love doctor every team needs
A month after Klopp was appointed as Liverpool manager Google published the results of a two year study into over 180 of their teams to find out “What makes a Google team effective”. They hypothesised, as we probably all would have done, that the best performing teams are comprised of the best individual talent and the best talent mix. They were spectacularly wrong. Not one of the top five traits of successful teams they identified referred to talent and the most common trait by far was “Psychological Safety” – where team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.
Psychological safety is possibly even more important for football players than Google employees. They not only have to feel safe with their teammates and coaching staff but also their harshest critics: the fans and media. Is it possible that Liverpool’s improvement under Klopp, at a team and player level, could be as much down to creating the right psychological environment for the players to express themselves fully than genius recruitment or ground breaking training techniques?
There can be little doubt around the importance Klopp places on the psychological well being of his players. It’s something he’s discussed himself; “When the players go home, I can’t tell them what to do, so you need to create an atmosphere of trust. I don’t want to think, ‘What are they doing now? Do I need to call them?… I’m not sure what you need first – the players believing or others believing in them – but in the end, both have to think it… the emotion to handle the pressure is one of the biggest challenges in football – it’s the top challenge.”
Klopp’s approach has been similarly noted by his peers. First Team coach, Pepijn Lijnders alluded to the atmosphere he builds: “Jurgen creates a family. We always say: 30 percent tactic, 70 percent cent teambuilding”. And in his article, A Complete Look At Jurgen Klopp – Football’s Most Extraordinary Everyman, Gavin Cooney wrote that “when Shinji Kagawa left for Manchester United, the midfielder wept in Klopp’s arms for 20 minutes. When Mario Götze decided to leave for Bayern Munich, Klopp was left so bereft he had to leave work early and cancel a social engagement that night.” He cares about his players. A lot.
Following the miraculous Champions League semi-final victory over Barcelona, Dejan Lovren reflected on the foundations built by Klopp over the past four years in helping the players feel confident, trusted and empowered to take risks: “He (Klopp) said: “boys, believe. One or two goals, even if we don’t score in the first 15, 20 minutes, believe in the 65th, 66th, 67th minute that we can score, and then with Anfield behind us, trust me guys, we can do it. We did it once against Dortmund, we can do it tonight. Just show f****** balls tonight!”.
Golfing great, Jack Nickalaus once said that “Golf is 80% mental, 10% ability, 10% luck.” and perhaps the performance of a footballer isn’t that different. As we all plan and get excited for the upcoming transfer window, it’s worth remembering that the work going on behind closed doors to bring the existing squad together and create the right environment can have a huge bearing on next season’s success.