We know as much as there is to know about Jürgen Klopp but what do we know about his assistant, Željko Buvač?
Željko Buvač was born in Banja Luka on 13th September 1961. Bosnian by birth, he played for Rudar Ljubija before joining Buvac Baja Luka which is a first division Yugoslav team where he won the Yugoslav Cup in 1988 aged 27.
Željko moved to Germany in 1991 to play for FC Rot-Weiss Erfurt and Mainz 05. He first met Klopp in 1992 when they were team mates at Mainz. Buvac was an attacking midfielder and has a football brain like Klopp so it wasn’t long before Klopp and Buvac’s friendship grew strong.
Buvac finished his playing career at Neukirchen, a team in the fourth tier of German football. Aged 36 he went on to manage the club in 1998 where he would stay for three seasons.
During his time at Mainz, both he and Klopp made a promise to each other to stick together. Jürgen hung up his boots in 2001 and shortly afterwards he was offered a job as manager at Mainz. He knew straight away who he wanted as his number two – his friend Zeljko Buvac.
Buvac said recently in an interview with the Sunday Express:
“Both of us were looking to become managers and we promised each other, ‘If I am the first manager, I will take you and if you are the first manager you will take me’.”
For seven years they stayed at Mainz steering them towards promotion to the Bundesliga and European qualification. Mainz was relegated in 2007 and after a year of trying to revive their fortunes, Buvac and Klopp left in 2008.
But Klopp and his faithful number two were soon snapped up by Borussia Dortmund in 2008 who were lying in 13th position when they took over.
Klopp is a very emotional man he always wants to win and do better. Zeljko on the other hand is calm and a great tactician. Together they created the football we see Dortmund playing today; fast attacking football where counter pressing is the key when possession is lost. This high energy, quick movement and passing forces the team forward together getting bodies around the ball creating opportunities. It is breath-taking to watch the speed of the play on the break and Klopp merits Buvac, known as the ‘brain’, with its development.
September 2013 saw Klopp sent off receiving a touch line ban. Buvac took over in the dug out. According to the Mirror, Nuri Sahin who was on loan at Liverpool, said back then:
“Zeljko Buvac is basically Klopp’s twin and he’ll be on the bench. Both of them see football exactly the same way.”
Klopp once described Buvac as the “master of every form of training”. It is true that Buvac and Klopp discuss every aspect of training before and after the session has taken place. Zeljko watches players in training as well as training itself. If he feels it needs to change he tells Klopp. Liverpool’s current manager and his right hand won a string of trophies with Dortmund playing this style of football including back to back Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012, the DFL Super Cup in 2008, 2013, 2014 and the DFB-Pokal in 2012.
In 2013 they reached their second Champions League final having beaten Real Madrid 4-3 on aggregate on the way. They lost the final to Bayern Munich who won 2-1. In October 2013 Buvac became head coach of Republika Srpska. He continued his work with Dortmund and he is still head coach to this day.
Lewandowski signed a 5 year pre-contract agreement with Bayern Munich on January 4 2014. Dortmund never recovered from the loss of their star striker. The Bundesliga outfit slipped into a relegation battle while Buvac and Klopp worked hard to lift the team as a late flurry of wins saw Dortmund finish 7th. It was to be Buvac and Klopp’s last season.
On the 9th of October 2015 Klopp took charge of Liverpool after Brendan Rodgers was sacked. Buvac was having trouble getting a work permit but it came through just in time for their first game against Spurs. The Serbian believed the standard of the players at Liverpool when he arrived was better than at Dortmund when they took over in 2008.
We wait in anticipation for what surely will be a roller-coaster ride where the three tier philosophy of counter attacking, closing down the opposition and attacking balance will become the trademark of Liverpool.
Liverpool have added Mainz to their pre-season friendlies on August 7th at Mainz’ newly named Opel Stadium. Buvac and Klopp will have fond memories of the club where they first met.