Old friends David Wagner and Jurgen Klopp are both about make their debuts in the FA Cup. But Wagner’s ultimate aim is to manage Huddersfield Town against Klopp’s Liverpool in the Premier League.
The 44-year-old head coach, hailed by Town’s singing supporters as being “better then Klopp”, accepts his first priority is leading Town into the top half of the Championship.
Wagner on the weekend's FA Cup clash against Reading
But no-one should underestimate the ambition of the man who has been mates with Klopp for 25 years and worked alongside him at Borussia Dortmund (they bossed the reserve and first teams respectively).
Wagner has already made his mark, with Town chasing a third win in four games against third-round visitors Reading.
After losing their first two under Chris Powell’s successor, Town have won four of the last seven as the players get used to the German’s ways.
Wagner has made the occasional tweak, but has stuck firmly with the full-throttle system more readily associated with Klopp.
“I showed our players some clips and asked ‘you know what this is?’ and they said ‘yes this is gegenpressing’,” Wagner told the Daily Mirror.“I said ‘okay but this is a German word, what’s the English word?’
“The gegenpressing moment is winning the ball back quickly after losing possession and we’ve now named it ‘reactive pressure’.”Asked for the chief differences between managing in Germany and England, he said: “There’s much more analysis of opposition here, an unbelievable amount of information – but it’s overload sometimes.
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“Also the training culture was different – no double sessions, no training in the afternoon or evening before evening games.
“They didn’t prepare in a hotel for home games or stay overnight before closer away games – but we’ve changed that.
”Wagner has defended Klopp against claims his training methods have led to a spate of hamstring injuries among the Anfield squad.“If someone can find me a medicine to replace hard work, please let me know!” he smiled.
On the pair’s relationship, Wagner added: “We spent four years together as teammates and roomies at Mainz.
“Sometimes I spent more nights with him than with my wife. He doesn’t snore but he smoked – although I only allowed him to smoke in the toilet, unless there was a balcony.
”So what was Liverpool’s demanding and dynamic manager like as a player?“Well he had a great mentality, was good in the air, good football intelligence, a good fighter,” said Wagner.
“His biggest problem was the ball!”Having taken Klopp’s place in the Mainz team, acted as best man at his wedding and worked alongside him at Dortmund before both men moved to England, Wagner is entirely comfortable having a good-natured dig at his pal.
He describes himself as a “non-scoring striker” who wasn’t a “bruiser” but recalled: “Jurgen was at Mainz one year before me I came.“In the first season he played more, in the second season I played much more than him.
“We’d like to have played together but the coach only played with one striker so Jurgen moved to right-back.”Wagner always knew Klopp would be a successful manager because of a fierce intelligence and boundless energy apparent even during his days as a heavy-smoking scuffler of a player.
He said: “Jurgen doesn’t play by rules, he acts naturally. His players will certainly recognise this.
“They will always get the information they have to hear not just what they want to hear.
“He likes routine, it’s important in this very fast business, but at the right moment you must come up something special nobody expected and he has a great instinct for this.
”But asked for the Liverpool manager’s greatest quality, Wagner points to a brutal honesty employed with his players – a candour he expects in return from his friends.
“We’re very honest with each other,” he explained. “We speak several times a week - honestly and sometimes very harshly, especially when we worked closely together at Dortmund.
“We love exactly the same style of football. And though we’ve only met once in the weeks I’ve been at Huddersfield, we always discuss our games, players, the Premier League, the Championship.
“Of course I’ll watch Liverpool on TV and criticise him. He knows I don’t have to say something he’d like to hear. I say what I recognise.
“If you’re a friend, you don’t have to say nice things to him, you say true things.”