Feature

Who is Liverpool's new sporting director Jorg Schmadtke?

By Matt Ford (@matt_4d) 30 May 2023
Klopp, Schmadtke

German football expert Matt Ford explains why Jurgen Klopp will know exactly what to expect from his new colleague

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This is not the first time that Jurgen Klopp has turned to an acquaintance from the city of Dusseldorf at a difficult time. 

After Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid in Kyiv in 2018, the Reds’ boss spent the night commiserating with friends including Andreas "Campino" Frege, the lead singer of popular Dusseldorf rock band Die Toten Hosen – and a big Liverpool fan. 

And now, after a tough season, it appears Klopp suggested that Jorg Schmadtke, another son of the western German city, and indeed a fellow friend of Campino, fill the vacant sporting director role at the club.

Introducing Jorg Schmadtke

While largely unknown in England, Schmadtke is a well established name in German football after successful spells as sporting director at Alemannia Aachen, Hannover 96, FC Cologne and VfL Wolfsburg, all of whom he has helped steer into European competition in the last 20 years. 

Klopp will have been aware of Schmadtke’s work at Hannover in particular. He experienced it up close during his time at Borussia Dortmund. It took the young Dortmund coach four attempts to register a win against Germany’s “Reds”, who qualified for the UEFA Europa League in 2011 and 2012 but have since become part of the furniture in Bundesliga 2, Germany's second tier. 

In September 2011, champions Dortmund even lost at home to a Hannover side featuring typically clever Schmadtke signings such as midfielder Lars Stindl, who would go on to captain Borussia Monchengladbach in the UEFA Champions League and star for Germany at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. 

Jurgen Klopp, Jorg Schmadtke
Jurgen Klopp, then head coach of Dortmund, greets Jorg Schmadtke of Hannover prior to a 2012 Bundesliga match

It was also at Hannover that Schmadtke took his first dip into the English transfer market, picking up Mame Biram Diouf from Manchester United. The Senegal striker did not make the grade at Old Trafford, but scored 35 goals in 71 appearances for Hannover, including in the Europa League. 

After Hannover, Schmadtke oversaw a similarly successful era at Cologne, pulling the strings as the notoriously unpredictable side won promotion to the Bundesliga and then qualified for Europe for the first time in 25 years. 

He hired future Dortmund head coach Peter Stoger and established a team around players such as Germany left-back Jonas Hector and French striker Anthony Modeste, once of Blackburn Rovers and now at Dortmund.

In recognition of his work on the banks of the Rhine, Schmadtke was named Sporting Director of the Year in 2017 by German football magazine 11Freunde

Surprising move to Anfield

Nonetheless, Liverpool’s interest in Schmadtke’s services have still taken many by surprise in his homeland, not least because the 59-year-old had recently announced that his role as Wolfsburg's sporting director would be his last before retiring from professional football. 

Among the players Schmadtke enticed to Wolfsburg were Dutch striker Wout Weghorst, now at Man Utd, Lukas Nmecha, originally on loan from Manchester City, and Austrian midfielder Xaver Schlager, now of RB Leipzig. 

Wout Weghorst, Wolfsburg
Wout Weghorst, now at Man Utd, was one of the players Schmadtke brought to Wolfsburg

In his time at Wolfsburg, Schmadtke oversaw the qualification for the Europa League in 2018 under head coach Bruno Labbadia, before they reached the Champions League with Oliver Glasner at the helm a year later. 

But neither coach remained in Wolfsburg, citing difficulties working with Schmadtke. Glasner even gave up the chance of coaching in the Champions League to take charge of Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League, which he won. 

Labbadia and Glasner weren’t the first to fall out with Schmadtke. His successes at his various clubs have always been tempered by disagreements with head coaches and other club employees. 

Under his management, Bundesliga 2 club Aachen reached the German Cup final, qualified for the UEFA Cup and won promotion to the Bundesliga, clearing the club’s debts in the process. But his time there ended in an acrimonious TV interview. 

“Schmadtke works best when you follow his rules,” wrote the local Aachener Zeitung newspaper at the time, before further differences of opinion followed with Mirko Slomka in Hannover and Stoger in Cologne. 

Indeed, the German adjective that appears most in connection with Schmadtke is kauzig – a bit edgy, a bit stubborn or, perhaps colloquially in the north west of England, a bit “rum”. 

'A great personality'

Since the news broke, Spiegel magazine has referred to Schmadtke as "Klopp’s grumpy one", but the Liverpool manager will know him better and described Schmadtke as “a great personality” back in January. 

His character will now be tested. At Anfield, Schmadtke will encounter a club on a different scale to those he’s worked with before, in a country where the role of sporting director is less powerful than in Germany. 

Following in the footsteps of departed Liverpool sporting directors Michael Edwards and Julian Ward, Schmadtke will be expected to adapt and work closely not only with Klopp but also with long-term scouts Dave Fallows and Barry Hunter. 

Can he make the step up and prove the doubters in Germany wrong?

Matt Ford (@matt_4d) is a freelance journalist specialising in German football, fan culture and sports politics

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