There is no doubt that Jürgen Klopp is an inspirational manager. A manager who nurtures young players and creates footballers. However there is one person Klopp really relies upon for some guidance and support, his trusted assistant manager Zeljko Buvac.
Buvac, otherwise known as ‘The Brain’ is playing an understated but crucial role in the club’s renaissance.
Klopp’s beaming smile for the cameras and the witty one-liners which are reserved only for the media. But behind the scenes he is a different figure. Anxious and admittedly at times very grumpy.
After the famous press conference where Klopp promised he’d turn the non-believers into believers, Klopp was awaiting confirmation of a reunion. Inquiring on an almost hourly basis about the whereabouts of one man in particular – Zeljko Buvac. Thankfully the Bosnian Serb’s work permit issue was resolved as Klopp only had to wait for five days.
Eventually Zeljko Buvac arrived at Liverpool in style – a private jet. Klopp’s theory was that if they couldn’t arrive together, then they would at least arrive the same way.
The bond between the two of them is a professional one. One that was created whilst team-mates at Mainz. It was whilst at Mainz that they created a pact, that whoever went into management first would always find a role for the other once their respective playing careers had finished.
As promised Klopp appointed Buvac in 2001 when he was appointed Manager at Mainz.
Reserve-team coach’s viewpoint
“It is unthinkable that they would do something without each other,” says Colin Bell, an Englishman who began his playing career with Leicester City and was reserve-team coach at Mainz under Klopp.
“Zeljko reads the game very well, he has great footballing ideas and is always looking at finding new ways on how to play and train.
Buvac is certainly very pioneering, pushing out the boundaries, expecting his players to react and play slightly different to most other coaches.
“When Mainz started to play 4-3-3 it was different to the Dutch way, where you have a central striker and two out-and-out wingers. Zeljko wanted the players to keep moving around, interchanging, coming inside.”
When talking about the impact Andriy Voronin made for Mainz in 2002-03.
“…he was all over the pitch, working really hard from central striker or right wing and left wing and it was so difficult for opponents to stop him and others. I can see those sorts of aspects in the Liverpool style now, especially with the quality of the player they have.”
Geggenpressing being born at Mainz.
Colin Bell goes on to say; “Closing down, surrounding opponents, going hunting for the ball — that all started in Mainz. That was one of Zeljko’s big things and he did specific training forms for that.”
Liverpool discovered that much on their summer tour to the United States. The drills in the california heat were drummed into them. These same drills that really underpinned their eye-catching performances this season. Liverpool’s secret is their training and central to their training is Buvac.
One drill using mannequins as opponents focused on team shape after attacking raids and, in particular, finding the shortest route back into a position. If that meant Jordan Henderson filling in at right back because Nathaniel Clyne had made a forward run then, as Buvac said: ‘Why stress? No problem.’
During first team training Pepijn Lijnders refers to Buvac as ‘the human computer’. Buvac has a better understanding of English now, so is less frequently seen dragging players around a football field as they came out of position!!
Complement each other
Buvac is happiest when staying out of the spotlight – something Klopp is extremely comfortable with. He momentarily lost his cool during Liverpool’s feisty 3-0 Europa League semi-final, second leg against Villarreal in May and was told by the Spanish side’s then coach, Marcelino, to pipe down there was an eruption next to him. Klopp flew across his technical area, defending his man and leaving his rival in no doubt that he should not dismiss Buvac again.
Klopp does not hide the importance of his assistant. There is no insecurity about building up the role of his No 2 and looking to share the credit among all of the backroom staff.
As a management team they are a good combination, really complementing each other. Buvac is quietly-spoke, whose head is usually buried in a laptop when he’s not on the training pitch.
What does Zeljko Buvac say?
In an article in the daily express an exclusive interview with Paul Joyce he really open up and discussed his relationship with Klopp, how they work together and their time at Borussia Dortmund.
“Before every training session and after every training session we talk together. Before every match and after every match we talk.
“In training I am observing and watching and if I have the feeling something needs to be changed I will speak to Kloppo. We discuss it, ‘Why should this be? Why that?’ But it is a decision we come to together. That is the way in training and that is the way in the match.”
“If it is necessary, I get up from the bench and that is okay. I don’t need to ask. Together with Peter we have six eyes. You see more than if only one man is looking.”
I love Buvac’s attitude towards personal growth and how to build upon any result.
“When you are always at the top you do not learn as much as when there are valleys and mountains. You don’t want to go through it, but it can be helpful.”
“But even after a defeat the next day Kloppo is 99 per cent positive. He does not play that role. That is his character. He is not an actor.”
“You can see in his face anything that he is feeling in his heart.”
The future of Liverpool
Before Klopp discussed personal terms on his own contract he insisted, to the surprise of Liverpool’s hierarchy, that deals for Buvac and Krawietz were done first. The three of them come as a team.
When FSG appointed Klopp, not only did they hire a world-class manager, but also one with a background of working with a sporting director. Liverpool now have Michael Edwards whom he will work closely with on transfers.
Whilst the statistical approach alone won’t build a successful football team, the blend of Edwards’ analytical acumen, Buvac bringing in new tactical initiatives and Klopp’s eye for character, Liverpool can hope for a more harmonious pursuit of glory.
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