WHY now? That was the only question in my mind after Liverpool announced that key man Zeljko Buvac has stepped away as Jurgen Klopp’s assistant.
o matter what way you add it up, it is a significant blow to Klopp and Liverpool that a man who has been with him for 17 years through thick and thin steps aside on the eve of such an enormous fixture as the return leg of their Champions League semi-final with Roma.
Usually, the only time we talk about men like Buvac is when they emerge from the shadows to try their hand at management themselves and rarely with any great success.
Up to now, I had no reason to think that about Buvac at all, if I’m honest. Klopp is paid the big salary and he gets the plaudits and the criticism.
There is a long list of No 2s who struck out on their own only to find the responsibility and pressure of frontline management too much to handle.
Brian Kidd and Steve McClaren were always seen as big contributors to Manchester United’s glory years under Alex Ferguson but when they went solo, it didn’t go so well.
As we knew then and know now, most No 2s are in that position for a reason and most of them are more than happy with their lot.
There is no indication that Buvac has had an offer to manage himself and this seems to be about a personal clash with Klopp, a disagreement which has been building steadily for a few months and became unmanageable after the 0-0 draw with Stoke at the weekend.
Klopp obviously believes it can still be resolved because he has kept the position open and perhaps this is a storm in a teacup but I have to say, it is very strange timing.
Buvac has been described as the brains behind Klopp’s operation but I don’t know whether that is true or not.
What I do know is that they have been together for 17 years and have formed a very close relationship.
At the very least, Buvac is a major influence on Klopp’s philosophy and the timing of this could not really be worse. I don’t have any particular insight into this situation but it almost seems vindictive that he would step down at such a sensitive time.
At the very least it seems petulant. In any team set-up, the individual is never as important as the group and the only thing that matters is what happens on the pitch.
Anything that gets in the way of the team performing is a problem and in this case, Liverpool’s Champions League hopes are on the line.
The assistant boss has many different functions and one of the most important is to act as a bridge to the manager.
Again, I don’t know what Buvac’s relationship with the players is like but from what I see on the pitch, morale is very good and I’m not sure there has been even one example of unrest of any description in the camp since Klopp took the job.
Before this news broke, my thoughts on the second leg were the same as they have been about Liverpool and Klopp from the first few games under his command all the way through to the 5-2 win over Roma at Anfield last week.
If they play as well as they can, they will ease comfortably into the final but I have a permanent asterisk attached to Liverpool in my mind and I think most neutrals would feel the same niggle about Klopp’s defence.
Now, if I add this very peculiar Buvac situation to the mix, I would be even more nervous for Liverpool fans who are in a permanent state of anxiety about their team at the best of times.
We all saw what happened a week ago when Roma, after starting well and then collapsing under the overwhelming weight of Liverpool’s front-foot football, found a way back into the game and the tie by scoring two late goals to make the second-leg a contest.
At 5-0, even Liverpool’s habit of defensive inconsistency wouldn’t dent confidence that they could seal the deal in Rome but those two away goals have made the second-leg an intriguing prospect from a neutral point of view.
Roma must attack Liverpool from the first whistle and in the first-leg, they hit the post and came very close on a couple of other occasions during the opening blows.
I can’t see Klopp shutting up shop and I wouldn’t recommend it anyway. This is not the time to do anything different than he has been doing all along.