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Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola: The big coaching duel ends

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Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola: The big coaching duel ends

Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola will meet for the last time in the fight for the English championship title. It is the showdown in a coaching duel that has shaped world football like no other.

The best coaches of their generation: Pep Guardiola (r.) from Manchester City and Jürgen Klopp from Liverpool.

Martin Rickett / Imago

The football coaches Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are like fire and water. They belong together and they don’t belong together. As a fan, having to choose between them is like asking yourself whether you prefer heat or cold. Some will say heat, others cold – most will probably choose the happy medium.

In the past decade, no coaching duel has shaped world football more than the conflict between Klopp and Guardiola. The game has taken place 29 times so far, more than any other current pairing in top football. The two met for the first time in 2013, when Guardiola was at FC Bayern and Klopp was at Borussia Dortmund. Their rivalry has become as pronounced as that of Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger, who once played 49 competitive games against each other with their clubs.

Respectful type of rivalry

However, in terms of quality and importance, the Ferguson-Wenger matches can hardly be compared with those of Guardiola and Klopp. In nine seasons played together in the same league – in the Bundesliga from 2013 to 2015 and in the Premier League since 2016 – the two exceptional players with Manchester City and Liverpool FC have finished in the top two places in the table four times.

In the Champions League, either Guardiola or Klopp reached the final in five of the past six seasons. And in England, 18 of 25 trophies recently went to one of the two – including all six championships, possibly including the title again this year.

The outcome of the Premier League is likely to be decided in a week when Klopp’s Liverpool hosts Guardiola’s Manchester City. Unless the two clubs also compete in the FA Cup, their 30th duel will be the last for the time being following 56-year-old Klopp’s retirement announcement at the end of the season.

Guardiola says Klopp has made him better.

Michael Reschke can provide an in-depth analysis. The official knows both of them better than anyone else. As technical director of FC Bayern, Reschke experienced Guardiola’s time in Munich directly and with it the beginning of competition with Klopp. In the telephone conversation with “NZZ am Sonntag”, Reschke emphasized right at the beginning that it was an “incredibly respectful type of rivalry”. Klopp and Guardiola value each other “above the masses”, although the differences between them are more pronounced than the similarities, he says. And this difference seems to make the competition between the two so fascinating.

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For both coaches, only maximum success is now considered good enough. They are united by their love of the game and their intelligence, which is expressed in their extraordinary technical and communication skills as well as a high level of authenticity. There are also similarities in how they deal with the public: Guardiola and Klopp protect their players, teams and clubs against any criticism. And they were never released – because they were simply “too good” for that. Reschke considers them “the best trainers of their generation”.

But they do these things in their own way. As a person, Guardiola acts like a violin and Klopp like a drum kit, Reschke analyzes. The Catalan is always strategic, detailed and focused. He looks for distance rather than closeness, like Klopp does. Accessibility makes Germans emotional, informal and relaxed. The attributes show that Guardiola has “more influence on football and Klopp has more influence on the fans”. The statement is confirmed by the legacy of the two.

Liverpool fans sing for Jürgen Klopp.

Guardiola managed to shape the development of football through tactical innovations at his stations in Barcelona, ​​Munich and Manchester. His ideas serve as inspiration to colleagues. The 53-year-old cares about the beauty of the game and defines himself and his teams through it.

Klopp’s impact is measured more by the enthusiasm generated. At all locations – at Mainz 05, Borussia Dortmund and in Liverpool – he succeeded in strengthening a stumbling club and euphorizing the fans. To say goodbye, the LFC plans to hold a parade for Klopp. Guardiola may one day end up with a statue in Manchester.

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The foundation for the recognition of Klopp and Guardiola is their extraordinary success. The playing styles represent their personalities, they even seem like an image. Pep’s ball passages glide elegantly and evenly like water; Klopp’s fire football is powerful, intense and unrestrained. Reschke thinks that Klopp’s teams would “eat up the opponents that Guardiola filleted them with.”

The fact that both have felt comfortable in England for years is also due to the fact that they have probably found the ideal club for their interests. As an old passion club based in the mythical Anfield, Liverpool reaffirms the communal experience. Commercialization has also taken over the Reds; they have belonged to the American investor group Fenway Sports since 2010. But the owners are pursuing a model whereby the club should be financially self-sustaining.

For comparison, Manchester is the epitome of an investor-run club that was bought by the ruling family of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in 2008. City make no secret of prioritizing reason over emotion.

Twelve wins for Klopp, eleven for Guardiola

This constellation means that Guardiola tends to be perceived as the favorite and Klopp as the challenger. And people want to see Guardiola lose rather than Klopp. With Guardiola, mistakes are also looked for after defeats, but with Klopp this doesn’t happen to the same extent, says Reschke.

Despite the constant competition, both coaches express their admiration for the other at every opportunity. Klopp never tires of praising Guardiola as the “best coach in the world”. He joked that he wished he had taken “a four-year break.” And Guardiola honors Klopp as his “biggest rival” who made him better. If he withdraws, “part of the city will be lost,” he predicts.

The duel between Jürgen Klopp and Josep Guardiola is like a game of elements. Fire can evaporate water, and water can take the energy away from fire. Klopp has won twelve times so far, Guardiola has won eleven times. How things will turn out this time cannot be predicted. Only one thing is certain: it will be very hot in Anfield.

The end of a great love – what next, Liverpool?

The search for a successor to Jürgen Klopp is likely to be challenging for Liverpool Football Club. Just like for the coach to find a similarly attractive task in football. Since the end of January, when Klopp announced that he would be leaving his contract, which runs until 2026, at the end of the season after more than eight years of service, not a day has gone by without speculation about possible candidates for the vacant position.

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In principle, the club should not be lacking in interested parties; it is one of the most attractive addresses in world football. But Liverpool’s demands have increased significantly thanks to their successful collaboration with Klopp.

So probably only a select group of coaches will be considered for the LFC, among them the coveted Xabi Alonso, who is tied to Bayer Leverkusen until 2025. The Basque played for the Reds from 2004 to 2009 and won the Champions League in 2005 after a historic comeback in the final. This would guarantee him the popularity of the fans. And with his considered manner he would also form a counterpoint to his emotional predecessor. But is Alonso really interested in succeeding Klopp – and with it the inevitable comparisons with the German?

A look at other top clubs shows that the transition from a long-standing coach to a new era has rarely gone smoothly. The most prominent examples are Manchester United and Arsenal FC, who were unable to compensate for the loss of their permanent coaches Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger. To a certain extent, FC Barcelona, ​​FC Bayern and Borussia Dortmund also had the same experience: the former two clubs are after coach Pep Guardiola, the latter club longs for Klopp.

At the time he went from Dortmund to Liverpool. What else can come after Liverpool, the most passionate of all passionate clubs? Top clubs like Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain or Bayern wouldn’t necessarily fit into the 56-year-old’s current spectrum. Klopp has ruled out any other club activity in England on his own initiative. The only thing left is a Liverpool return or taking over a national team. Germany, England, the USA: The coach could probably choose the country.

First, Jürgen Klopp takes a break. That would probably be good for Liverpool FC too – but the club can’t take such a break.

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