Friday 23 August 2019

Klopp: We have to become a club nobody wants to leave

Simon Hughes

It has lain concealed somewhere inside Anfield or Melwood, squashed beneath the buttresses of the main stand perhaps, or shoved to the very back of the desk of drawers in the manager's office.

It has been present for some time: a problem that would have remained had someone with considerable influence not been perceptive enough to recognise it was there.

Liverpool used to be a club that dispensed with players as soon as they showed signs of being on a downturn but before anyone else really noticed.

Since 2009 or 2010 it has been a club that players leave at their peak. Last summer, when Raheem Sterling forced a departure, it became a club that loses its best long before their potential has even been realised.

This week, Jurgen Klopp displayed the clearest sign that his mind is not consumed by denial and, indeed, his eye is trained. He whispered slightly and began to speak more slowly towards the end of questioning, taking those around him into his confidence, after he was asked about his most exciting period at Borussia Dortmund.

This was before Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski left for the same national rival in successive summers, causing Bayern Munich to become stronger and stronger while simultaneously weakening the club Klopp had built.

Klopp: 'It’s better you have players in your own squad that are worth £100m but don’t want to leave – that’s the best thing'
Klopp: 'It’s better you have players in your own squad that are worth £100m but don’t want to leave – that’s the best thing'

Klopp related the experience to the prospect of facing Manchester City and Sterling today, as well as the challenge of competing with them in the future.

"Always, the will of the player is very important," he began. "I don't know anything about Sterling's story but I know about similar stories. The only thing is how you react on this."

The key observation came next: "We have to try to become a club in the future that nobody wants to leave. Then we have the problems that we have to send some players because we have too much! That is ultimately what we have to do. And it's possible. It is a long, long journey. But we have started it and we want to do this.

"We don't have to talk about the past and not with Sterling. He's a brilliant player - everybody knows this. Now he's at Man City. Now we close the book. We have other good players, really good players, and that is what we have to think about."

There are nuances but Liverpool's deepest problems are linked. Klopp has already established that the atmosphere inside Anfield can become sterile, especially when Liverpool are trailing - as he mentioned after his first defeat, to Crystal Palace.

By saying Liverpool must become the "club every Scouse boy wants to play for," academy director Alex Inglethorpe implied this week that it is not the case at the moment.

Critics would have good reason to claim this might be the only way youngsters from the local area will be able to afford to get into the stadium in the future - if it is not the case already - unless ticketing arrangements change.

Finance is at the core of every issue at Liverpool, but so are vision and execution.

While conversations began in the mid-1990s on the sensitive subject of whether to move elsewhere or whether Anfield could be redeveloped, City - their opponents this evening - have in that time moved to a new stadium and then built a state-of-the-art training facility and youth academy with its own arena over the road.

The latter happened while a new tier on the South Stand appeared quietly, its rise helped by the support of Etihad, whose sponsorship of the ground brings in more income.

Anfield, however, remains Anfield, albeit with an extended Main Stand due for completion for the start of next season, an extension which has been delivered with some fanfare, even though it will still leave the capacity behind competitors' venues.

It is Liverpool's policy to spend generously on transfer fees but not so much on wages, contributing to a distortion of the transfer market and creating a perception that the club sits in the biggest of big leagues financially even though it does not.

To a large extent, the approach explains why Sterling was sold for £49m to City last summer while James Milner - the other player who will be facing his former club in this evening's game - arrived from City on a free.

Klopp confessed he could not imagine committing a sum such as the one that took Sterling away from Liverpool but he stressed that does not mean he is a romantic.

"If we want a player and that's the price, we have to think about it," he said.

"It's better you have players in your own squad that are worth £100m but don't want to leave - that's the best thing."

Klopp was clearly keen to deviate from the narrative of economics dictating success, of this encounter being a game between the very rich and the not so very rich.

On his introduction as Liverpool's manager, he spoke about the Premier League's "obsession" with wealth and there is a sense that he does not want to focus on what can too often be presented by others as an excuse for failure rather than a difficult challenge that can be surmounted.

"It's not important what you spend, it's not important who you are; it's only important what you want to do - what you want to do together," Klopp said.

"Money is only one part of success. The rest is work. That is what we are doing."

Independent News Service

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