The right man to rebuild Liverpool? Meet new sporting director Jorg Schmadtke
It is fair to say that of all the names linked with the sporting director’s job at Liverpool in recent months, Jorg Schmadtke came as something of a surprise. He wasn’t an obvious candidate, or a well-touted one, that’s for sure.
The 59-year-old, though, has been installed as Julian Ward’s successor at Anfield following an announcement on Tuesday. He has signed a short-term deal, which will begin when the summer transfer window opens in June.
There will be an option to extend it should both parties wish to, and Schmadtke can expect to be busy straight away as Liverpool look to strengthen their squad significantly in the coming weeks. The likes of Alexis Mac Allister, Mason Mount and Ryan Gravenberch are all on the club’s list of targets, with work already well advanced in terms of lining up summer deals.
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Where has Schmadtke worked previously?
Schmadtke brings with him a wealth of experience from Germany, having previously worked at Alemannia Aachen, Hannover 96, FC Koln and, most recently, as director of sport at Wolfsburg.
A former goalkeeper, who played for the likes of Fortuna Dusseldorf and Freiburg, he is known as a charismatic and confrontational character in his homeland, and one who has generally been successful at executive level.
At Aachen, he earned promotion to the Bundesliga, reached the German Cup final and qualified for Europe, and he helped take both Hannover and Koln into the Europa League too. At Wolfsburg, he secured Champions League qualification for the 2021-22 season before stepping down in January of this year.
“I want to see a bit of the world,” Schmadtke said in an interview with Suddeutsche Zeitung at the time. “There are also a few books that I want to read, and I have some other tasks in my life that have nothing to do with football.”
Presumably, a few months on, he has completed those tasks...
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What is Schmadtke's transfer record like?
Schmadtke’s tactic, according to a recent article in The Athletic, was “to make fewer mistakes than others” in terms of buying players and appointing coaches, and while his list of transfer hits does not contain too many household names, it is clear that he is able to spot a player that can make an impact.
At Hannover, for example, he recruited Lars Stindl from 2.Bundesliga side Karlsruher. The attacking midfielder would go on to make 150 appearances for the club before establishing himself as a star at Borussia Moenchengladbach.
At Aachen, he signed the likes of Simon Rolfes and Vedad Ibisevic, who would go onto become household Bundesliga names, while he brought Anthony Modeste to Koln in 2015, the French striker paying him back by scoring 45 goals across the next two seasons.
Wolfsburg’s successes under him included Wout Weghorst, signed from AZ Alkmaar in 2018, Felix and Lukas Nmecha, and the highly-rated Danish international Jonas Wind, with Schmadtke generally operating with a summer budget of around £30 million ($37m) throughout his time with the club.
There has been the odd misstep too, of course. He allowed Victor Osimhen to leave Wolfsburg for Charleroi for around £3m ($3.8m) in 2019. The Belgian side subsequently sold him to Lille for £19m ($24m) a few weeks later.
“It wasn’t a good move, in hindsight,” Schmadtke would later tell Kicker magazine. "When I came, he was limping and running in circles. I was told that the strikers we had weren’t good enough. The most important lesson is that you have to be patient with some transfers.”
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How does Schmadtke get on with his managers?
“Abrasive,” would be the best way to describe Schmadtke’s style when it comes to working with coaches, and he has earned a reputation in Germany as someone who is happy to discuss such issues in public.
He fell out with Mirko Slomka at Hannover, and with Peter Stoger at Koln. At Wolfsburg, he and Bruno Labbadia also had a strained relationship - “I won’t exchange cooking recipes and plan a holiday with him,” he memorably said - and he also struggled to get on with Labbadia’s successor, Oliver Glasner, accusing the Austrian of having unrealistic demands around transfers.
He insists he is not as cantankerous as his media persona would suggest, but it is clear that confrontation is not something that bothers him. He was once fined for throwing chewing gum at the then-Hoffenheim manager, Julian Nagelsmann, and he has a history of bad-tempered media interviews.
It will be interesting, then, to see what kind of dynamic he can build with Jurgen Klopp, a manager whose fame and power far outweighs any he has worked with previously. Klopp has spoken previously about how different the German sporting director model is to the English one, with Ward and predecessor Michael Edwards never giving interviews. We could be hearing a lot more from Schmadtke.
Do Schmadtke and Klopp know each other?
It was interesting that, speaking to reporters ahead of Liverpool’s recent game with Aston Villa, Klopp sought to distance himself from suggestions he had directly influenced the appointment of Schmadtke. "If it happens, it would not be a Jurgen Klopp signing because we are both German or both know each other,” Klopp insisted. “That would have nothing to do with it. I can say that.”
There are, however, clear connections. Klopp’s agent, Marc Kosicke, represents Florian Kohfedt, who worked as coach under Schmadtke at Wolfsburg last season, and Klopp himself paid tribute to Schmadtke when he ‘retired’ from football in January, giving an interview to Wolfsburger Allgemeine Zeitung in which he said “I would have liked to work with him, [and] I’m sure it would have worked out well.”
Before Schmadtke's appointment was confirmed, he gave a little more insight to reporters. “Jorg Schmadtke, I have known for a long, long time,” Klopp said. “He knows me probably not as long as I know him, because he was a much better player, but we started our second career in a similar moment . "I became a coach at Mainz [in 2001] and he became sporting director at Aachen, two teams of similar status, so from there we know each other a little bit.
“I know he is a good guy and a smart guy. Very good at what he did in Germany, definitely, very successful. His character is good, his personality is good, his humour is good. I know that from a few moments next to the pitch."
Why have Liverpool appointed Schmadtke?
It is understood that Liverpool considered numerous options once Ward informed them, all the way back in November, of his intention to step down at the end of the season. The likes of Sven Mislintat, very much a Klopp ally, and Paul Mitchell, the sporting director of Monaco, were linked, as was Markus Krosche of Eintracht Frankfurt, with Reds chief executive Billy Hogan and owner Mike Gordon leading the search.
Schmadtke’s appointment, then, will surprise plenty. It is less than five months since he announced his retirement, and the fact that his contract is a short-term one initially suggests a degree of doubt, either on the part of the club, Schmadtke or both.
Liverpool were caught out by Ward’s decision to leave after only a year in the role, but have had plenty of time since to formulate a plan. It is a surprise, but not necessarily a mistake, that they have turned to Schmadtke.
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What does Schmadtke have to do at Liverpool this summer?
There is no doubt that Schmadtke will be a busy man. Liverpool have plenty of work to do this summer, in terms of incomings and outgoings, as Klopp looks to shape a new-look squad capable of challenging for major honours.
It is understood that Schmadtke will work alongside chief scout Barry Hunter and head of recruitment Dave Fallows, while academy scout Matt Newberry will step up, temporarily, to replace another departee, David Woodfine, as the club’s director of loans.
Four players are definitely leaving, with Roberto Firmino, James Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all being given free transfers. Joel Matip and Nat Phillips could be sold, while there is expected to be interest in Caoimhin Kelleher, Kostas Tsimikas and Fabio Carvalho.
Signing at least two new midfielders is a priority. Mac Allister of Brighton is a key target, and Liverpool believe they have a chance of landing Chelsea star Mount. Gravenberch would be of interest if Bayern Munich opted to sell, while Teun Koopmeiners (Atalanta), Matheus Nunes (Wolves) and Khephren Thuram (Nice) are among those admired.
Defensive reinforcement would also be desirable, particularly if Matip and Phillips were to leave. Jurrien Timber of Ajax has been linked, while Nayef Aguerd (West Ham) and Levi Colwill (Chelsea, on loan at Brighton) are well liked.
It promises, then, to be something of a baptism of fire for Schmadtke. Some retirement, hey?