Jurgen Klopp oozes chutzpah and charisma - exactly what Liverpool fans crave
Anfield's new manager faces an almighty struggle to restore the club to past glories - but this was a superb start
When Jose Mourinho declared himself “the special one” at Chelsea in the summer of 2004, Sir Alex Ferguson thought: “What a cheeky young sod.”
But the respect was instant because Manchester United’s manager knew the dangers of sounding ever so ‘umble to be at a big club.
The way to arrive, Ferguson thought, was breathing fire. Jurgen Klopp’s unveiling at Liverpool was easily the most dramatic managerial ‘happening’ since Mourinho’s first stint at Chelsea. So theatrical, in fact, that it almost veered into parody, with his old club Borussia Dortmund tweeting a mocked-up picture of him crossing Abbey Road like the Beatles.
The Messiah routine was half expectation, half larking about. But underneath it was a powerful sense that Liverpool’s fans have what they yearned for: charisma. Lurking in every Koppite’s mind is the painful realisation that the league title last found its way to Anfield 25 years ago, in the 1989-90 season, before the Premier League was even born.
The balm has always been the 2005 Champions League win in Istanbul – the club’s fifth European title – but since then Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal have pulled away from the club who dominated England in the 1970s and 80s.
This is Klopp’s real mission, not charming the supporters or media, who annoyed him on day minus-one by taking snaps of him at his hotel, before he could be formally introduced. Since Rafa Benitez left, Liverpool have tried the old English wisdom of Roy Hodgson, the retro aura of Kenny Dalglish and the Spanish-derived long-termism of Brendan Rodgers. At no stage in those cycles has the transfer trading been good enough to peg back the division’s four current heavyweights.
As press conferences go, though, Klopp’s was sensational. And this is a good time to be quantifying the effect of personality on teams. In Madrid, Rafa Benitez, once of Liverpool, is accused of sucking the life out of Real’s attacking play with his tactical obsessions. At Chelsea, Mourinho’s genius has come under strain as the players appear no longer inspired by his character or his messages.
This week, too, brought the release of a film about Brian Clough’s great Nottingham Forest sides, who played with some of the pace and purpose Klopp talked about at Anfield on a day he described as “absolutely crazy.”
In ‘I Believe in Miracles’, the movie about Forest and Clough, John Robertson says: “The day that man walked into the town – everything changed.”
The images burst from the screen of Clough with his mischievous expression promising “success” and good players arriving from all over Britain: many signed at Scotch Corner or in provincial hotels. Clough and Peter Taylor had an eye for talent; not just for signing it but liberating it in a scheme that was light on tactical theory and heavy on exuberance.
Part of Clough’s brilliance was to see that encouraging good players to surpass themselves would have the desired effect on the scoreboard. Robertson was a classic case: a self-doubter who needed to be convinced how good he could be. “We think you can play,” Taylor told him. Soon Robertson was weaving hellish patterns around defenders.
There was a trace of this when Klopp said – first on Liverpool TV and then in the Anfield press conference - “We have to change from doubter to believer.” Every great manager starts with this, but few articulate it so well. Timidity is anathema to a successful leader – especially one who insists on high intensity ‘lightning transitions’, as Klopp does. You need confidence to turn defence into attack.
Klopp poses with the shirt (GETTY)
Thus he promises “very emotional football” in line with the very emotional nature of Anfield. Asked what style of play the fans can expect he says “the wild one”, evoking the Marlon Brando film, and then laughs, mainly at himself. You can see him wanting to buy into the Liverpool “tradition” but also wanting to puncture its sometimes excessive earnestness.
"History is only the base for us,” Klopp said. “You can't carry it in your backpack every day."
But what a performance. He is, he said, “back in the race” – which brought Sinatra’s ‘That’s Life’ to mind. “I’m a real lucky guy.”
Even Tom Werner, the Liverpool chairman, made a point of emphasising “personality and charisma” in his statement. Ian Ayre, the chief executive, extolled “the size, the might, ambition of the club.”
This is high-stakes rhetoric. Some have theorised that if Klopp cannot revive Liverpool as a Premier League force then they will go the way of Nottingham Forest, but with five European Cups instead of two. This is too pessimistic for a club who almost won the championship 17 months ago. But there is no disguising Liverpool’s struggle to stay on the heels of the superpowers who can snatch a Raheem Sterling or Luis Suarez away.
As Klopp said, “this would be a good moment for a re-start.” To achieve it he will first have to energise those players treading water at Anfield and then attract elite players. His big idea (transitions) and charisma lifted Dortmund above Bayern Munich in the German hierarchy.
Some feat, but there, too, his best players were spirited away by a richer rival (Bayern), so he knows how that feels.
Still, in today’s crazy transfer market (£20m for Lazar Markovic) you can acquire Jurgen Klopp for £7m a year.
Day one was a smash hit. Now for the hard part.