Pep Lijnders: Dutchman’s rise to Jürgen Klopp’s right-hand man at Liverpool

Pepijn ‘Pep’ Lijnders has been a key part of Jürgen Klopp’s backroom staff for the most successful period in the German’s tenure as Liverpool manager. It is no coincidence that it has happened with the Dutchman as the manager’s right-hand man.

His career started in his native Netherlands working for PSV Eindhoven, where he was tasked with helping youth training and individual player development. Having a role such as this, at one of the biggest clubs in the country, clearly came with it’s own pressure.

The Dutch youth system is well known for developing some of the brightest young players in Europe. During his term in the youth system he would oversee players such as Patrick van Aanholt (Crystal Palace), Memphis Depay (Lyon) and Jürgen Locadia (FC Cincinnati). All would eventually graduate into the first team and beyond.

During his time at PSV he would work with Rui Gomes, who he followed to FC Porto in 2006 for his next role. His role slightly altered after his move to Portugal, becoming a technical coach.

The pair would develop academy prospects through to the u19s, whilst learning and adapting an attacking style of football which his coaching philosophy would be built around moving forwards. Implementing this style with the foundation players was extremely important for respective first team coaches Vítor Baía and André Villas-Boas, both of whom had attacking methods of their own.

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This time at Porto would prove extremely successful as he brought through several players who are now household names. During his eight-year stint he would coach Rúben Neves (Wolves), André Gomes (Everton), André Silva (Eintracht Frankfurt) and Diogo Dalot (Manchester United) just to name a few.

Lijnders’ most successful season was at the u19 level when, in 2011, he managed to win the domestic and FIFA Youth Cup titles. This was a first for the club and garnered lots of praise and attention for the Dutchman. Following this success he would spend a season in the Porto B team before becoming first team technical coach the following season. With his reputation continuing to grow, it wouldn’t be long until a big club would come for his services.

In 2014 he would make the transition to Liverpool FC. During this first stint on Merseyside, his skills and knowledge of the game continually impressed the Liverpool hierarchy. His vision and attacking style within the academy drew in new admirers and quickly made a positive impression with a certain German.

Within a season Lijnders was part of Klopp’s backroom staff working as first team development coach. The former Dortmund manager brought him on board because he saw many similarities between his football philosophy and his own. A focus on counter attacking football and high intensity pressing both prevalent features in their playing styles.

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When interviewed back in 2019 by the Liverpool Echo, Lijnders was asked why the coaches work so well with Klopp. He said: “Jürgen listens to my plans. We always talk everything through, preparing each detail in each game moment. Jürgen knows so well what he wants but is someone who believes in cooperation.”

Even back in 2014/15 it was clear to see that Klopp was listening to his inner circle. This was shown clearly by the introduction of several academy youngsters training with the first team on a regular basis. This pathway was suggested and created by Pep to give the younger generation experience and opportunities in the senior side. This has been used perfectly and has benefited the likes of Rhian Brewster, Harry Wilson, Neco Williams and, most notably, Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Lijnders had spent almost three years as part of Klopp’s team when he was approached by Eerste Divisie side, NEC Nijmegen. He departed Liverpool to become head coach of the Dutch second division side, with the aim of using his new-found knowledge and gaining promotion to the Eredivisie at the end of the campaign.

Using this experience, his return to Netherlands proved to be partly successful as he guided the side from Nijmegen into the promotion play-off places. Unfortunately, a two legged loss to Emmen proved costly for the club and Lijnders as he was relieved of his duties four months into the role.

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With a short-lived venture into management over, a position became available at his old employers Liverpool. Željko Buvač, Klopp’s longtime assistant, left the club just before the second-leg of the 2017/18 Champions League semi-final against AS Roma. An offer was quickly extended to Lijnders to return to Merseyside — this opportunity was ideal for him to restart his coaching career and re-establish a partnership with Klopp.

After the disappointment of losing the 2018 Champions League final, Lijnders returned in a more prolific role as assistant manager. Being No.2 to one of the greatest managers in world football could be daunting for many, but the former NEC manager took it completely in his stride. The partnership that had previously blossomed had been rekindled and was about to work greater than ever.

A successful 2018/19 campaign followed. After missing out on a sixth European title 12 months earlier, Klopp and Lijnders would combine and navigate the Reds through one of the greatest campaigns ever. An agonising second-placed finish domestically was mitigated by a sixth Champions League title in Madrid.

The partnership would particularly flourish in creating game plans for the big fixtures. Matches against Napoli (H), Bayern Munich (A), Tottenham (Final) and THAT game against Barcelona (H) spring to mind.

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As Klopp was always in the present, preparing his side for the next game, Lijnders would be looking several steps ahead. Analysis, conditioning and opposition were all in the forefront of his mind to give the side the best possible head start in each fixture. A good example of this was his preparation for the 2019 Champions League final.

Even with Liverpool down three goals from the first leg of the semi-final, Lijnders was thinking ahead. With the final in Madrid he identified Marbella as the perfect place to prepare for the European showpiece. This was due to the similarity in climate and facilities available to the players.

He also selected teams who could mimic the styles of Tottenham and Ajax. When Tottenham made the final Benfica B were contacted for a practice fixture. He believed they would represent the best parallel to what they would come up against on June 1. Clearly this preparation worked.

With matching coaching philosophies and a forward thinking approach, this method has continued to be successful. Liverpool are now UEFA Super Cup, European and world champions and on the verge of being Premier League champions. To say this has worked well would be an understatement and would do a disservice to how well this coaching combination has worked.

With another positive campaign drawing to a close, this partnership can only continue to thrive and we hope that they provide several more successful seasons down the line.

Who knows? Perhaps Lijnders could be the man to step into the top job one day when Klopp decides it’s time for him to leave.

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Oliver Lawrenson

First Class in BA (Hons) Football Business & Media from UCFB. Aspiring content creator. Dedicated much of my life to following the Reds.

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