21 March 2019 - Article
Football clubs often pay headline-grabbing fees to sign new players, but it’s been a very different story where managers and coaches are concerned. To level the playing field, Marc Kosicke set up Projekt B with Oliver Bierhoff, a unique agency that provides professional support to managers throughout their careers… including advising Jürgen Klopp
on his 2015 move to Liverpool FC.
Back in 2007, the mismatch between the way football clubs sign their players and their managers struck Marc Kosicke as both illogical and unfair. Based on that conviction, he launched Projekt B, the first German agency to represent managers – and the catalyst since then for a whole new approach to this core talent group.
Marc picks up the story: “It’s still true that there are plenty of agents for players, while managers are not served in the same way at all. But back then, the situation was far more pronounced.” Having worked in sports sponsorship for over a decade, he already knew the market well. His first client in 2007 – and simultaneously, his business partner – was Oliver Bierhoff (then manager of the German national football team).
He’d started at the top, and that’s where Projekt B has remained. “Since then, we’ve built a business on providing professional support to top managers and coaches throughout their careers,” says Marc, continuing: “plenty of other agencies have been set up with the same mission, but we’ve been able to maintain the clearest profile for this work in the German football market.”
The right philosophy
“We take a holistic approach to working with our clients. Where that’s a football club, we begin by evaluating the message and values of the club and then focus on developing the brand around this. It’s only by understanding the philosophy of the club that Projekt B can help them find the right coach for their team. That makes sense. After all, the club’s fans are loyal to the brand of the club, rather than the individual players and managers.”
Projekt B works with a combination of clubs and individuals. Marc prefers to keep it this way. It adds to the interest and creates interesting offshoot opportunities: “Out of this work, we’ve developed a further business stream in offering speakers for corporate events. Because of our network of contacts, we can provide speakers from leading individuals in athletics, football and beyond, including players, managers, psychologists, nutritionists, sports broadcasters and much more.”
Working with Jürgen Klopp
All Marc’s business deals are sealed with a handshake. However high profile the assignment, there are no contracts tying clients to Projekt B… and one recent placement was as high profile as they come. Jürgen Klopp had been a brand ambassador at Nike when Marc worked with the brand, and they’d got to know each other well. “When I moved to launch Projekt B, Jürgen asked me to help negotiate brand management contracts, and he became our second client.”
From that point, Marc has supported Klopp throughout his career. And he’s a great admirer of the famous ‘Klopp style’: “He’s a skilled manager because he knows what he’s talking about – he knows everything there is to know about football! He’s an expert on training and he knows exactly the right squad to put on the pitch. Soft skills are very important for a team manager, and Jürgen invests the time to make sure that he knows everything about his players.”
“He never reads about himself in the newspaper, as the stress of doing so and worrying about criticism takes up too much time. His attitude is simple: focus on solving issues 80 percent of the time, rather than complaining about the things you can’t solve. That’s a big part of his strength. If his team has had a bad game, he looks to move on to the next challenge, rather than dwell on the past.”
The Liverpool scene
Klopp’s 2015 move to Liverpool was trailed in the world’s press for months in advance. Marc knows the story inside-out: “The first factor was that the club had always been Jürgen’s second favourite, after VfB Stuttgart. As a child, he dreamed of playing for the team and he’s always admired Liverpool’s spirit.”
When the appointment was under consideration, Marc continues: “Jürgen got to know the owners and discovered they were looking to develop the club and evolve something new. He’s an evolver and developer by nature, so it was a great fit on that level. I know that early on he expressed concerns to Liverpool’s owners about his English language skills. They replied ‘don’t worry, 80 to 90 percent of our players speak English worse than you!’”
Marc worked closely with his friend and client to assess the opportunity at Liverpool. “I gave him an overview of the club and its players, the strengths of the squad, the value of the players, the club’s budget – everything, in fact, that he needed to make the decision at a business level.”
As the hiring process picked up steam, Marc provided guidance and support on the remuneration package and endorsement rights, and he handled contract negotiations from start to finish, as well as helping to tie up marketing opportunities with sponsors that provided the best fit with Jürgen’s values.
Assembling the ‘A’ team
This was the first time Marc had handled a move to a Premier League club. On such a big deal, he explains, he needed a team that could cover all the angles: “We needed a skilled linguist with a complete understanding of the nuances of English and German, a tax adviser and, last but not least, a seasoned lawyer and negotiator. That’s where Luca Ferrari, Withers’ Global Head of Sport, was indispensable. He understands the specific culture and issues of the sports sector, and he’s also discreet – confidentiality is the most important factor in an adviser on a deal like this. Withers’ US team also played an important part, allowing the deal to be worked on 24 hours a day, across time zones, and ensuring that it completed on deadline.”
When the negotiations with Liverpool were successfully concluded, Sir Alex Ferguson commented: “He (Jürgen Klopp) is going to make a difference at that club with his personality, drive and knowledge.” And that prediction’s been proved right, as any football fan will tell you. In fact, whoever they support, they’ll agree on one thing: any team managed by Jürgen Klopp could never be boring.