Jurgen Klopp and David Wagner: 'friendship at first view'
For the second time this season, Jurgen Klopp and David Wagner’s respective sides meet in the Premier League and it’ll be a very special occasion for them both. The two managers go way back and are very close friends but each of them will play down the fact that they are facing their best buddy because for them, it’s just business. That’s why I’m going to profile their history together and how they’ve become so close through football.
Jurgen Klopp was already at Mainz when a 20-year-old David Wagner joined the club in 1991 and the two would go on to play together for four seasons in the German second division. In Klopp’s words, Wagner was ‘a very skilled boy, very quick, a good striker’ while Wagner described Klopp as ‘technically average’ but a ‘leader’. They roomed together and spent every second around football together according to the Huddersfield boss and it was ‘friendship at first view’.
Even when Wagner left for bigger and better things at Schalke, they stayed in touch and soon found themselves hanging up their boots earlier than either of them would’ve expected. Wagner had lost that love for football and stop playing professionally after being capped by the United States, who he qualified for through his American father, and Klopp was tasked with taking over as manager at a struggling Mainz. Klopp had spent the last decade at Mainz before becoming manager 2001 and knew the place inside out. He led them to the Bundesliga for the first time in their history and departed a club legend in 2008.
Wagner meanwhile was plying his trade in the lower leagues of German football with the likes of TSG Weinheim and Germania Pfungstadt and hung up his boots for good in 2005. That same year, Wagner was Klopp’s best man at his wedding but the former said he could not remember the day very well because he’d ‘drunk too much alcohol’. Klopp was appointed as manager of Borussia Dortmund in 2008 and was having lots of success on the field. He’d just won his first Bundesliga title when Wagner was appointed manager of the club’s second team, Borussia Dortmund II, in 2011. The two were reunited and worked closely together, bringing through the likes of Mario Gotze. Dortmund made it to the Champions League final in 2013 but were defeated by fellow German club Bayern Munich.
When Klopp left Dortmund in 2015, Wagner also followed him out of the door a few months later. Klopp replaced Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool and Wagner was reportedly being lined up as his assistant at Anfield. With all this speculation swirling around, Wagner left his role with Borussia II but didn’t join his former colleague in the Premier League with Zeljko Buvac, their former teammate at Mainz and Klopp’s assistant in his last two jobs, getting the role. A couple of months later, Wagner was named manager of Huddersfield Town in the Championship and, in his first two seasons at the club, got the Terriers promoted to the Premier League for the first time.
A year before their play-off final triumph at Wembley, Wagner and Klopp faced each other for the first time as managers when Huddersfield played host to Liverpool in a pre-season friendly. The Reds won 2-0 with goals from Marko Grujic and Alberto Moreno but, being realistic, I don’t think either of them thought they’d be facing off in the same division just the season after. That’s exactly what happened last October when Klopp came out on top again with a 3-0 win at Anfield.
The two meet for the third time in their managerial career on Tuesday when Liverpool travel to the John Smith’s Stadium to face the Terriers and, with Huddersfield sitting precariously above that relegation zone, Wagner will be hoping to welcome Klopp and Liverpool back to Yorkshire next season in the Premier League.