It is in the moment when Mats Hummels starts waving his arms and his eyes widen that you really begin to understand his relationship with Jurgen Klopp.
We are tucked away in a small room at Bayern Munich’s training ground and the course of this conversation will go in many directions — from his love of watching American box sets to the World Cup and, more seriously, Common Goal and UNICEF — but first let us begin with an insight into his mentor.
Hummels, the totem at the heart of Bayern and Germany’s defence, has a reputation for straight-talking.
Mats Hummels cuts a sharp figure as he arrives for his photo shoot with Hugo Boss
Klopp, with whom he won the Bundesliga twice at Borussia Dortmund, is similarly no-nonsense. It ensured there was rarely a dull day when they were together.
‘It was almost like family between us,’ says Hummels, with a glint in his eye. ‘Of course we had our issues from time to time. One day we would be there, screaming at each other. But the next day? It was all fine. He understood me, I understood him.
‘Each of us would know why the other one would act like he did. We never, ever had a big problem. He always considers what you say. He doesn’t always agree and he has the final word. But he considers it and he will say “OK” or… “Think about it again.” He is the boss.’
There may come a point in the next few weeks when Hummels and ‘The Boss’ are reunited. Should that be the case, Liverpool and Bayern will have negotiated their respective assignments in the Champions League and be homing in on a sixth European title.
Hummels remembers a Jurgen Klopp that always listened, but made sure he had the final word
Hummels has already experienced the force of Klopp’s Liverpool in a Europa League defeat
The meeting Hummels actually wanted in the quarter-finals was with a player who works 35 miles down the road from Klopp. Juan Mata and Hummels have never spent time in each other’s company but that has not stopped him and the Manchester United star developing a bond.
It was formed after Hummels returned from Malawi last summer, where he had been working with UNICEF. It was a profound experience helping underprivileged children. He spent four days there because, he says, any shorter trip would not have helped him understand.
‘If you do something for UNICEF it shouldn’t be less than three or four days,’ says Hummels. ‘In this time we were really diligent and did what we could. It was from sunset to sundown, at a school with the children.
‘I saw how the children and the people live there. We had a long drive to the school. It was way more intense, the poverty, than anything I’d seen in Europe. There are so many places like this, unfortunately.’
This is not a conventional conversation. Hummels, as illustrated by that first story about Klopp, has his own mind. He could not live in a bubble, shut off from issues that matter, so when he saw the steps Mata was taking not long after he had returned from Africa his senses were pricked.
Mata had devised Common Goal in the hope that footballers around the world would donate one per cent of their earnings to charity and Hummels, who became a father in January, wanted in. Juventus’ Giorgio Chiellini, another defensive linchpin, joined the troop.
‘Juan is someone who I admire, as a person and a footballer, so it was very convincing for me,’ says Hummels. ‘I want to be part of it. Maybe if this helps getting more players and personalities from football in there, good. So far it has worked out really well.
‘There are times when I like typical things: Instagram and having a good time. But there are times when I want to help and I try to combine these things. Not everyone is the same. For me, to balance it all, it is important. And I’ll keep on saying what I think.’
Hummels will collect a domestic title with Bayern Munich, but is eyeing European glory
The defender was victorious against his former club on Saturday with Bayern sealing a 6-0 win
The only topic Hummels will not broach is Brexit — ‘Aaah! I’m not that well informed that I can say it is an improvement or whatever,’ is his considered reply. When the talk turns to football he is similarly engaging.
The season has reached that point where every game matters and, quietly, Bayern have crept into a position where they are being regarded as potential winners of a competition that is not so much an ambition in Bavaria but an obsession.
From the early part of the season, when they looked to have stagnated under Carlo Ancelotti, the return of Jupp Heynckes on October 6 has been the catalyst for a remarkable sequence of results that read 24 wins from 27. On Saturday night, Hummels’ old club Dortmund were dispatched 6-0.
‘He sees the things when they are not working out on the pitch,’ says Hummels of Heynckes. ‘He talks about it afterwards and tries to change it. You can see why he has been successful. He is quieter than Klopp but not as quiet as you may think. He is not loud but he is direct.
‘You can say it loud, you can say it quietly… what matters is that the things you say make sense. We have to be at our peak. It feels like we have been there, from time to time, but not for weeks and months.’
Bayern Munich’s season experienced a remarkable turnaround when Jupp Heynckes returned
And the best moment, he recognises, is approaching. Bayern are favourites to see off Sevilla to reach the Champions League semi-finals. He will be watching with interest to see whether it is Liverpool or Manchester City who join them. There is no surprise where his allegiances lie.
‘I know how strong Klopp’s teams are,’ says Hummels, who played in the 2013 Champions League final that Dortmund lost to Bayern. ‘I know how good his teams are when they get to this level. Sometimes it is a bit more difficult against the teams in the lower half of the schedule.
‘But his teams always perform at the highest when they face the best teams. That’s for certain. I don’t think there was a team remaining who wanted to face Liverpool. They work so hard, they play so intense and aggressively with the quality of players they have — especially up front.’
Before he goes Hummels talks about how his favourite series is Fargo as he can no longer watch Modern Family because he has seen ‘every episode three times’. He adds that his ambition is to try to improve his Spanish. But the most pressing ambition revolves around a trip to Kiev on May 26.
‘The highest, the biggest trophy in club football,’ he says. ‘It is the hardest competition there is. We want to win it.’
Hummels was on the wrong side the last time Bayern lifted the Champions League in 2013