Thursday 26 April 2018

James Lawton: Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool revolution has £200m price tag

Even inspiring managers like Jurgen Klopp can only take a club so far. Photo: Reuters
Liverpool's Roberto Firmino celebrates scoring against Arsenal. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty
James Lawton

James Lawton

There was more than a touch of kindred spirit when Jurgen Klopp this week described Arsene Wenger as a soccer maniac shortly before engaging him in the Anfield collision which at times could only be seen as football's version of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'.

But then how do you describe the prospect of Klopp versus Louis van Gaal at the same theatre on Sunday afternoon? It has to be something like the German Messiah versus the Old - and somewhat faded - Dutch Master.

In many ways it is potentially more compelling than Wenger's next title test of his Arsenal at Stoke a couple of hours later.

We know Wenger's team, its strength and its weakness, its glories and betrayals, but there are two huge and fascinating questions surrounding Van Gaal's United and Klopp's Liverpool.

Read more here:

The first concerns how long United will remain Van Gaal's. The second is quite how lengthy and expensive will be the shopping list Klopp is preparing for Liverpool's American owners.

And maybe there is another one which is far from the least intriguing of a Premier League season which, for all its technical flaws and inconsistency, is providing so many extraordinary plot lines.

Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal Action Images via Reuters / Carl Recine

This one asks what might have happened if United, having earlier rejected the claims of Jose Mourinho, had turned not to the apparently safe hands of the veteran Van Gaal but the proven inspirational powers of Klopp.

Certainly something resembling terminal boredom might not have taken a grip on the terraces of Old Trafford, nor, you suspect, would such iconic names as Paul Scholes and Gary Neville have despaired so deeply and so publicly over their old team's near total loss of identity.

Klopp's style and competitive character would, from the word go, have precluded any possibility of so many performances devoid of rhyme, or arresting rhythm or even a hint of authentic passion.

The German, you have to believe, would have driven much harder, and more surely, to exploit the proven attacking prowess of such as Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and the startlingly able finisher Anthony Martial. He would have rejoiced in the residual swagger of his compatriot Bastian Schweinsteiger and the craft of Michael Carrick. He would have inherited David de Gea rather than Simon Mignolet and, of course, whole managerial careers have been shaped on less generous gifts of fate.

But then Klopp's misfortune in the matter of goalkeeping weakness - he defended his man after fresh disasters in the Arsenal game but didn't begin to obscure the most recent evidence of his weakness - is just a detail in the problem of his inheritance. It means that the shopping list posted to Boston will have some of the characteristics of a Mayday signal.

It will reflect the huge division between Klopp's ambition to play striking, high pressure football and with the necessary quality required for such a task. So far those members of his squad who have given unequivocal evidence that they are up to the job, and the developing demands on both their energy and talent, do not amount to the number of fingers on one of his frequently gesticulating hands.

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino celebrates scoring against Arsenal. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty

In the always absorbing but defensively chaotic 3-3 draw with Arsenal, the £29million Brazilian Roberto Firmino surely elected himself to that company. The best of his form has been elusive - certainly nothing like as consistent as the phase of his Bundesliga career which deeply impressed his new manager - but there have been flashes of genuine brilliance. These included the early goals that threatened to pole-axe Arsenal before Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud responded with exceptional goals of their own, albeit with the help of shockingly flawed defence.

Firmino has made an unanswerable case, along with Philippe Coutinho and Emre Can. Here, indeed, are players who have shown the skill and the imagination to profit under the most demanding of regimes. They have the second half the season to confirm their acceptance of all that Klopp asks. It is a lot, no doubt, and there have to be varying degrees of doubt about the capacity of so many of their squad-mates to provide satisfactory answers.

James Milner celebrate after scoring the winner

In the captain Jordan Henderson and James Milner there is no doubt, the virtue of the strongest commitment but is there the sharpness of thought and reflex which is so much part of Klopp's vision of the game?

Against Arsenal the defence caved in quite embarrassingly and here there is the most pressing of cases for seriously expensive refurbishment.

So what kind of price do we put on the Klopp renovation? The most critical assessment, given the injury malaise of Daniel Sturridge and the failure of Christian Benteke to justify the faith of Klopp's predecessor Brendan Rodgers, surely carries us beyond the £200m mark. Will owner John W Henry, whose rescue work at the fabled Boston Red Sox baseball franchise is the source of great personal pride, hold his nerve at the most formative phase of his manager's proposed revolution? It is the kind of question that Wenger, the object of Klopp's reverence before this week's game, was able to assign to his past some time ago.

The degree of his options plainly impressed the Liverpool manager when he declared: "My respect for Arsene Wenger goes up day by day because it's really intensive work in the Premier League, especially with a team whose players are also involved in so many international matches.

Read more here:

"He's always had my respect but it's bigger now that I'm here. It's really a brilliant job he has done - 19-and-a-half years. He's a high quality manager and one of the best in the world for sure. He is a football maniac in the best way. It is always a challenge to play against him - and it is one I'm looking forward to in the future."

Whether he will be able to do it with a little more of the equanimity which sometimes deserted him on the touchline when Arsenal unfurled the best of their talent is something he will know better in the next few months. He will have drawn out the best that is available to him - and itemised all that he needs to prosecute a task that he probably did not expect to be quite so formidable.

So far he has a primed a large and expectant appetite. But if he didn't know before, he certainly knows it now. Even the greatest, most inspiring of coaches can take a team only so far. He can change its horizons and he can point the way ahead.

But in the end he will always live by the strength of his players, their will and, ultimately, their talent.

This surely will be implicit in every line of that shopping list that he is knows he is now obliged to submit. It will not be so much a strategic submission as an extremely basic cry for help.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport