After almost nine years in charge and seven major trophies, Jurgen Klopp is leaving Liverpool.

He has been one of the most transformative managers in the club’s history and in English football’s modern era.

To mark his departure, The Athletic is bringing you The Real Jurgen Klopp, a series of pieces building the definitive portrait of one of football’s most recognisable figures.

In part three, we explore Klopp’s brand – from his physical appearance (and how it has changed through the years), the iconography that has accompanied his reign and his emergence as a commercial powerhouse in his own right.

Sue Whittingham’s house on the corner of Randolph Street is a five-minute walk from Anfield.

From one angle, it looks like any other end-of-terrace house in this neighbourhood of Liverpool: smartly painted, plain black door, sloping roof. Go round the corner, however, and you understand why so many Liverpool fans gather outside it on a matchday.

Painted on the gable end is a giant mural of Jurgen Klopp, flashing his distinctive toothy smile and raising a fist in triumph. “Boss, y’know he said so” is emblazoned in foot-high lettering next to it.

A lifelong Liverpool fan, Whittingham had initially wanted a mural of Kevin Keegan – Liverpool’s legendary goalscorer of the 1970s – to adorn her property but was persuaded by Marc Silver, the founder of MurWalls, the firm who commissioned it along with Boss Night, a Liverpool fans group, to go for a more contemporary figure.

“It was about getting an image that would resonate with the fans and trying to get his passion and love for the club across,” Silver tells The Athletic. “We wanted fans to be able to appreciate it and celebrate an iconic figure at the club.”

The giant mural of Jurgen Klopp in Randolph Street (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Klopp is not only one of the most successful managers of the Premier League era, but also one of the most distinctive: the eyes, the smile, the fist-pumps, the beard – all are part of a strong personal brand that eclipses that of virtually any other manager currently working in English football, or possibly the world.

Other elite coaches may have distinctive selling points – from Carlo Ancelotti’s raised eyebrow to Pep Guardiola’s fashion choices – but none are as distinctive as Klopp’s, or as successfully monetised. It helps explain why his face can be seen everywhere in the city and on memorabilia including mugs, scarves, T-shirts and even Funko Pop figurines.

Visiting a Klopp mural is a rite of passage for any fan visiting Liverpool for the first time and companies have been swift to appreciate their commercial value. Erdinger, the German beer company that has partnered with Klopp since 2020, paid for a new mural to be curated on the side of Spanish Caravan, a small bar in the city centre, earlier this year.



How Liverpool became the UK’s football mural capital

Liverpool have had charismatic and physically distinctive managers before – think Bill Shankly with his outstretched arms, now immortalised as a statue outside Anfield – but Klopp has taken his personal iconography to a new level in his nine-year reign.

Even that has evolved over time, however. When Klopp arrived, his trademark look revolved around his unapologetically fashionable glasses, but when, in 2021, he underwent restorative eyesight surgery, something else had to take their place.

For Mark Sweatman, a Wirral school teacher who handmakes traditional Liverpool banners, the answer was obvious: the baseball cap that Klopp would habitually wear on the touchline. Sure enough, Sweatman’s recent work includes the simple use of a baseball cap alongside the words “Danke Schon” (“thank you very much” in German). His face does not have to appear for it to be, very obviously, an homage to Klopp.

Then there are the teeth. In 2017, fans noticed that Klopp’s smile had just grown several shades brighter, courtesy of a new set of veneers applied by Dr Robbie Hughes, a Liverpool-based dentist.

Jurgen Klopp in 2017 (left, before his dental procedure) and after, in 2018 (Getty Images)

Dr Hughes had famously given Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino the same treatment – although he had to invent a new shade of ‘super-white’ to fulfil the Brazilian’s wishes. Klopp did not want that kind of overhaul (“It was not that I saw Bobby Firmino’s teeth and thought ‘I want them!’,” he joked to Sky Sports in 2019), but the work left him with another physical hallmark that permeated the public consciousness.

“The process involved quite some hours in the chair for Jurgen, but he has always been a great patient,” Dr Hughes tells The Athletic over email. “His smile plays a big part of his personality, which is bold and bright. I always feel immensely proud and privileged to be behind it.”

That ‘bold and bright’ energy has long been key to Klopp establishing his image. He had enjoyed some low-key success with Bundesliga club Mainz when, in 2006, he was hired by German TV channel ZDF to contribute to their coverage of the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

“This is where it all started, where he became famous,” says Lukas Dombrowski, a reporter for Bild, Germany’s biggest-selling newspaper. “He started lighting up space and putting arrows on the display. He had this tactical approach and told stories from within football as a current manager and not somebody who retired years ago.”

Jurgen Klopp was a popular pundit on German television at the 2006 World Cup (Friedemann Vogel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Dombrowski says Klopp was an instant hit. His relative youth — he was 39 at the time — dynamism and broad smile, combined with his sharp mind and easygoing humour, enamoured him to the German public. It also sparked a new era in football punditry in the country.

Klopp, by his own admission, went from being a person nobody knew to someone everybody knew overnight. Buses would drive past his house and people would wave at him as he watered his plants.

The anatomy of Jurgen Klopp

Eyes: Klopp wore glasses until 2021 but then underwent what he described as a “minor (medical) intervention” and has not worn them regularly since.
Hat: The German rarely wore headgear until 2018-19, when he started wearing a Liverpool baseball cap. He is now rarely seen without one.
Teeth: Klopp had crowns put on his teeth in 2017, as he confirmed in a 2019 interview with Sky’s Soccer AM.
Fist: The manager’s trademark post-victory salute is to pump his fist three times towards fans, a celebration he has used at Liverpool since at least 2018.
Heart: Klopp’s other trademark gesture is to place his hand over his heart to signify his bond with supporters – something he does regardless of the result.
Clothes: It is widely thought Klopp only ever wore a suit once on matchday – the 2016 League Cup final. Other than that, he is almost always in a club tracksuit.
Shoes: Klopp is seemingly never not in trainers and was even credited with designing his own pair of New Balance shoes in 2019.

But what exactly is the Klopp brand?

“If I was putting it in Netflix terms, with three little words as a summary, you would have authentic, humorous, and likeable,” says Ged Colleypriest, founder of sports marketing firm Underdog. “That’s what’s generally held him in really good stead, whether it’s relationships with the media, fans or brands.”

With the help of long-time agent Marc Kosicke, who has been the strategist behind the scenes, Klopp has become one of the most endorsed managers in the world. At various points in his career, he has endorsed beer (Erdinger), DIY or construction firms (Metylan and Fischer), fitness brands (Peloton), financial services (VR-Bank and Deutsche Vermogensberatung), confectionery (Snickers), cars (Opel and Seat) and sportswear (Puma, New Balance and Adidas).

Jurgen Klopp at an appearance for car manufacturer Opel, his sponsors, in 2019 (Thomas Frey/DPA/AFP via Getty Images)

Most of the commercials in which he appears are shown in his native Germany, but Klopp’s fame was never solely tied to leading Mainz to the Bundesliga or winning the title in consecutive years (2011 and 2012) with Borussia Dortmund (who he also led to the Champions League final in 2013). Even after he left the country to join Liverpool in 2015, he has retained a strong presence on television and billboards.

Klopp appears frequently in coverage of Bundesliga games. Most recently he played a taxi driver, dentist and rock star in a single ad campaign for Deutsche Vermogensberatung.

Choosing which brands to partner with can be a delicate process. Some have a personal significance — Fischer, for example, employed Klopp’s father, Norbert, for almost 35 years and Klopp described signing with them as “a matter close to my heart. It’s a bit like coming home for me”.

Some help emphasise Klopp’s image as a man of the people. Advertising beer, for example, feels a more natural fit for Klopp than it would ever do for a more straight-laced character such as Guardiola or Mikel Arteta.

He takes it seriously, too. “Jurgen could be an actor because he knows one day of filming a commercial is enough,” says Wolfgang Kuffner, head of marketing at Erdinger, recalling an advert shot with Klopp in The Dovedale Towers pub on Liverpool’s Penny Lane, which aired in 2020. “Sometimes for a commercial, you need two or three days but with Jurgen, you only need four or five hours. The producers are always surprised because they don’t need a timetable. With Jurgen, in 10 minutes it is done.”

Not taking on too many deals at any one time or choosing brands that conflict with Klopp’s beliefs — he is a devout Christian and describes his politics as left-leaning — is also important, although not always easy.

Even so, there have been some awkward moments. Klopp appeared in a 2016 advert for BetVictor, Liverpool’s then principal betting partner, which drew some criticism. His other choices, notably the car industry and alcohol firms, may also invite scrutiny.

“He is not doing things that are perfect in every social aspect,” Dombrowski adds. “But he looks after the brand, not only the money.”

Even Klopp’s darker side has its appeal to sponsors. The advert he recorded for Snickers, for example, played on his penchant for touchline tirades.

“The positive sides of him are just so huge from the German point of view, but of course everybody knows that he’s often angry and maybe too angry at referees and at decisions, sometimes maybe complaining a little too much,” Dombrowski says. “But what comes across from England to Germany is mainly the positive things. His authenticity is something very few people can replicate.”

Ultimately, however, it is Klopp’s success on the field which attracts such commercial interest.

“He’s been successful over a period of more than 15 years across two different countries,” says Craig Hannan, head of brand and marketing for The Anfield Wrap website. “There’s obviously massive brand value in that. He’s a brilliant leader of people and receives incredible buy-in from those around him. He speaks incredibly well, especially about topics outside of football. You can see he really cares for people first and foremost.

“That’s the real value to brands, if you can find someone that isn’t just elite in their field but also has human values. A lot of brands will talk about being purpose-driven and that’s the idea of the work they do and the stories they tell can have a positive social impact. It helps them build a deeper connection with the consumer. When you look at Jurgen, his view of the world, his values as a person and his personality, he is exactly what brands are looking for.”

In an era of influencers, Klopp is not on any form of social media platform, yet has still raked in millions in endorsements. “They are not paying for Jurgen’s reach, they are paying for the strength of his character,” Hannan says. “That is really nice when you think about it. It’s not about numbers, engagement or likes, it’s about who he is. That runs much deeper and is one of the reasons he is so sought after.”

Klopp has undoubtedly been the biggest beneficiary of the rise of his commercial appeal, but so have Liverpool.

“He’s a great ambassador for the club,” Colleypriest says. “He’s brought stability and personality and that lends itself well to sponsorship campaigns because you’ve got someone who you’re going to benefit from. He’s not been a manager who might not be there in four months: having that stability and someone who’s a positive influence at the top of the club has probably really helped bring sponsors on board.”

Hannan agrees. “The merchandise Liverpool have been able to sell is small-scale,” Hannan explains. “They are able to sell ‘the normal one’ merch and stuff like that but, at the very top end, a massive part of why many of the blue-chip brands that have bought into Liverpool over the past five, six years – and have helped Liverpool become the commercial entity they are now – is because of Klopp. It’ll be interesting to see whether commercial deals are impacted (by his departure).”

Jurgen Klopp’s image is used to sell more than just Liverpool’s football (Bernd Thissen/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Klopp’s power at Anfield, and his record of success, have allowed him an element of latitude when it comes to pursuing his own commercial deals, even when they seem to clash with the club.

When Nike won the race to become Liverpool’s kit manufacturer from the 2020-21 season, the news simultaneously broke that Klopp had signed a multi-million-pound contract with their rivals, Adidas. It was one of the biggest deals a manager, previously sponsored by Puma and New Balance, had ever signed. It represented a huge shift in the endorsement deal landscape for coaches.

The power of Klopp is something not just brands but football clubs and broadcasters are all desperate to get a slice of. But what is next?

“The relationship he’s built with the British media lends itself really well to a career in punditry if he wants it because to succeed, you have to offer something different now in those circles,” Colleypriest adds. “He’s such a big name, big personality and part of the modern football coaching revolution that all broadcasters would love to have him.

“There will be lots of other brands who would be keen to partner with him, particularly in Germany, because you get a lot of big German brands that export across the world and he is again the embodiment of that because he’s been really successful. It lends itself well to those categories that German businesses are traditionally very strong in.”

It all suggests that Brand Klopp will not be dented by his departure from the Anfield touchline. In fact, he may only just be getting started.

“He’s one of the best ambassadors of German people abroad,” Dombrowski says. “He is one of the most popular and familiar faces for Germans in the whole world. There will be something big coming for him next.”

(Top photos: Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)