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How soccer manager Jürgen Klopp changed the culture at Liverpool

This is an excerpt from Sport Psychology Essentials by Dave J Collins & Andrew Cruickshank.

By Geir Jordet, PhD, and Rune Giske, PhD

Liverpool Football Club in the English Premier League was the most successful soccer team in England in the 1980s; it earned seven league titles that decade. However, following their win in the 1989 to 1990 season, it took them 30 years to win again (2019-2020 season). In 2015, Jürgen Klopp was hired as the Liverpool manager (head coach). Upon his arrival in Liverpool, among the many things he did to change the culture was to tell his players that they were not allowed to take part in a long-standing tradition at the club: when players walk through the tunnel to get out on the pitch at Anfield, their home ground, all Liverpool players touch the sign above their heads that reads “This Is Anfield.” Klopp is reported to have said, “I’ve told my players not to touch the ‘This Is Anfield’ sign until they win something” (O’Neill, 2019).

When Liverpool won the 2019 Champions League final and ahead of the 2019 to 2020 season, Klopp’s ban was lifted. This temporary break from tradition may have become a cultural artifact in itself; when the team does not touch the sign, they are actively showing an intent to become champions rather than passively adhering to tradition. For practitioners, this case illustrates that culture optimization is a dynamic and ongoing exchange that you constantly need to adapt to the environment and the group itself.