Managers Defined by their Players – #1

Inspired by Javier Mascherano’s fairly recent comments regarding his former Liverpool boss, Rafael Benitez, this series of articles will delve into different managers across the globe and highlight the players that could easily be labelled as the men that defined their managerial style of play. Series 1 will focus on the new Liverpool manager and former Borussia Dortmund coach, Jurgen Klopp- along with Rafa Benitez, who’s now in charge of Newcastle United.

Jurgen Klopp, who found a way of trumping the mighty Bayern Munich by winning the Bundesliga on two separate occasions, also managed to mount a serious Champions League push while in charge of Borussia Dortmund, with his side reaching the final in the 2012/13 season. Not only is the German born manager able to get the best from the players at his disposal, he also deserves a lot of credit for the incredibly gifted squad he assembled with such little investment throughout his stint at Dortmund.

On the touchline, Klopp is considered extremely fiery, aggressive and ill-tempered at the best of times. He was even once quoted as comparing Dortmund’s style of play to the musical genre “heavy metal”, rather than a “silent song” that certain passing sides play. Taking those comments into consideration, it’s clear Klopp designs his side around grit, determination, pace, power and directness to extract results from games, both short term and long term. Hence the likes of Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus being such dominant and prominent figures in Dortmund’s line up over the years.

Take Mats Hummels for instance- a tall, commanding, leader of a defender that isn’t afraid to get stuck in and play aggressively if needs be. The defender’s also known for his aerial ability in both his own and the oppositions penalty area, along with his potential to take the ball out from the back, thus aiding his sides attacking move. Ilkay Gundogan is perhaps a player with less aggression and defensive capabilities than Hummels, but understands and reads the game from the middle of the park like a book. The central midfielder has incredible control, dribbling, passing and shooting abilities- he’s the type of player that can dictate the pace of a game and turn it on its head if needs be.

Finally, Marcos Reus. Reus needs no introduction- he’s one of the most sought after Germans in world football. The lightening quick, talented winger, loves finding the ‘killer pass’ that his team mates crave, along with his ability to take on his man, strike from distance and deliver a sensational set piece. He’s another player that can alter the pace of a game in the blink of an eye- one moment he’ll be seemingly quiet out wide and the next he’ll have received the ball and flown down the flank, leaving his defender behind. Ideally, the Premier League would love to have him.

The second manager up for discussion in this article is Rafa Benitez. Benitez, who was in charge of Liverpool from 2004 to 2010, attracted the likes of Pepe Reina, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson, Xabi Alonso, Yossi Benayoun, Fernando Morientes and Fernando Torres to the Reds, but it was the likes of Javier Mascherano and Dirk Kuyt that really stood out as the players that defined Benitez’ style of play.

Mascherano, who moved to the Premier League alongside fellow countryman Carlos Tevez, was signed by Benitez to add energy, determination and sheer work rate to the Liverpool midfield. He went on to partner Xabi Alonso in the middle of the park, with both players able to form an incredible relationship on the pitch. Their success came down to the fact that both players complimented each other greatly- Mascherano was the epitome of the perfect ball winner every squad needed. He was the defensive midfielder that was able to close down, man mark and simply keep opposition forwards quiet for a whole 90 minutes- the Pitbull like midfielder wouldn’t stop tracking his man until the final whistle blew.

Dirk Kuyt possessed many of the same strengths that Mascherano had- except Kuyt applied those further up the pitch. Despite being a forward, Kuyt would still track back, follow his man and make it increasingly difficult for opposition defenders to have any time on the ball at all. The Dutchman’s limitless amount of energy and determination are what made him such a prominent and indispensable figure in Benitez’s Liverpool side.

All in all, the players a manager brings into a club, takes under his wing and builds his side around can translate tidily into the managers’ own style of play. Klopp, who’s seen as fiery tempered but knows how to play good, attractive football, needs the likes of Hummels, Gundogan and Reus to add those characteristics on the pitch- while Benitez requires players with grit, work rate and determination in the form of Mascherano and Kuyt, who applied their attributes brilliantly at Liverpool for many years.

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