His personality is unique. I don’t think anyone else can copy it. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but at the same time he’s got the other side to him so he’s still got the players on edge.
You can become exhausted working for Jürgen because of the energy he demands out of you, and the way he plays, but with that he takes you to a level you didn’t know was possible. That’s quite a nice thing for a player to experience.
I know the young players who went up hit a boundary they never knew existed. Once they got past that, it was like a newfound fitness – and with that came a new level of confidence.
We spent the afternoon with Jürgen on that first day, talking about some of the academy players and watching sessions. After that, I didn’t see him for a while. I’d ask Pepijn: “What does he want? What’s he doing with the first team?”
Soon, things started drip-feeding through. I never stopped asking questions, though. Because I didn’t want to be doing something different. Whenever he watched my Under-23s, I wanted to make sure we were playing similar to him. I wanted him to see players who would fit into his team.
“Any good period in my life has coincided with me being in a learning zone. In Brazil, that zone was huge”
Over the course of my time at Liverpool, I realised something. I’d got there as a good coach – but, really, it had very little to do with coaching. It had more to do with how I managed people. Whether they would take the message from me. How motivated I could get them.
The fact that you can coach and know the game helps, but it was about that relationship.
I’d done a lot of studying on open questioning and become used to having open conversations with the boys. In that scenario, I learned you have to have no ego, because not everyone in the group will take to you. You have to spread that around your staff.
I was determined not to lose that ability to communicate when I left Liverpool to become assistant manager at Sao Paulo in Brazil. I didn’t want to fail because of the language.
Before I left, I took 17 hours of Portuguese lessons in two weeks. But once I got there, I didn’t take a single one. I just started talking. I wasn’t afraid to make mistakes or laugh at myself – which was good, because it happened pretty frequently.
I used to get the words “casado” – meaning married – and “cansado” (tired) mixed up all the time. I’d say to players “muito casado”, and they’d laugh because I was saying I was very married. Well, I was actually very married – but I was very tired as well.
Any period that’s been good in my life has always coincided with me being in a learning zone. And, out there, I was in a huge learning zone.