Thursday 16 August 2018

Comment: There will be no excuses for Jurgen Klopp in quest to rediscover some of Liverpool's lost glory

Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA
Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA
James Lawton

James Lawton

Who in the prime of his football life wouldn't want to be Jurgen Klopp - a man of destiny for whom, finally, all the right pieces may just be coming into place?

Who wouldn't want one of the game's most passionate and expectant strongholds to believe you are the new Bill Shankly, the new Bob Paisley and, with due respect to the last Liverpool manager who delivered the English title 28 years ago, the new Kenny Dalglish?

A lot depends on how easily you carry the dreams around you, and your own.

And, if Klopp can sometimes display astonishing amiability at moments of high pressure - think Jose Mourinho and back to one of Arsene Wenger's particularly bad days - there is no doubt his sufferings have also run deep.

They were excruciating at Wembley five years ago when, after successive swoops by his Borussia Dortmund on the Bundesliga title property of Bayern Munich in the two previous seasons, he lost the Champions League to a late strike by Arjen Robben.

Bayern also regained their domestic title that year. Instead of champagne, Klopp had the taste of ashes in his mouth and some believe that behind the beguiling smile and jaunty manner those wounds still smart and flare.

No doubt he felt them again in Kiev in another Champions League final when after a season which at times touched hardly less than fantasy, Mohamed Salah was cynically wrecked by Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos and then he saw his goalkeeper Loris Karius perform something very close to gross misconduct.

In one sense this is Klopp's third coming after he won the big job at Dortmund by guiding his old club Mainz into the top league. Wembley was ultimately crushing and Kiev a quagmire of accumulating disaster.

Now he must nail it with his third shot. But how does he best do it?

Not, at least entirely, by the other worldly menace of Salah and Sadio Mane and the consistent brilliance of Robert Firmino, but the game-in, game-out competitive surety and rhythm, which is the only guaranteed way of preventing Pep Guardiola's Manchester City disappearing into the middle distance by Christmas.

Most valuably of all, he must do for Liverpool what he did twice for Dortmund. He must win the title.

He must take them to terrain from which they have been too long separated.

Yes, they have been champions of Europe five times - the last time in the most freakish circumstances in Istanbul 13 years ago - but there is something in the Liverpool psyche which makes it so yearn to announce itself after so long as champions of England.

The statistics in the matter are in some ways as bizarre as they are sad.

When Dalglish delivered that last title, Liverpool's 18th, he was still coming to terms with the emotional devastation of Hillsborough.

At that point their ferocious rivals Manchester United were growing stronger under Alex Ferguson and about to end a 26-year title drought, but they still trailed behind Liverpool by an extraordinary 11 titles.

Since then, stunningly, they have won 13 Premier League titles and two Champions Leagues.

salll.jpg
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates his goal against Manchester City during the second half of an International Champions Cup soccer match at MetLife Stadium

It means that Klopp faces rather more than a season-long charge for some of Liverpool's lost glory in the hierarchy of English football.

He must re-enfranchise a way of thinking about themselves, of believing not in some passing, scuffling success - or fiercely illuminating in the case of a Salah - but the growing likelihood of one success piled upon another.

With £170m worth of summer investment, with the moaning of Jose Mourinho loud in his ears, nobody needs to tell Klopp that this cannot be another season of unfulfilled glories, however sublimely etched at times.

It must be a winning season - Klopp cannot afford another beautiful near miss - and starting with West Ham next weekend the tempo needs to be unrelenting.

In Dublin against Napoli today Klopp can show off some impressive new wares.

Xherdan Shaqiri, the least expensive of the summer signings, has plainly come as a shock trooper, one guaranteed to enliven a lull in any proceedings - as he proved in the World Cup - but the core of the recruitment lies in the new goal-line security offered by the Brazilian Alisson and the deepening of midfield with Naby Keita from Leipzig and Monaco's Fabinho.

By nature, Klopp is not a seeker of alibis or excuses and it is just as well because, let's face it, they are not littering the Anfield ground.

The American owners, sufficiently excited by last season's progress, may have seen finally that platitudes do not make great sports clubs. A great coach, off the leash and able to handpick the players he believes in, does.

But then of course this brings us to the ultimate question around which the Fenway Sports Group and so many of the Liverpool faithful already appear to have found a positive answer.

Is Klopp a great coach? Or is he a quick fix - two or three years - of heightened emotion and lofty, inspiring ambition.

No doubt he can win a player's affection and for a while at least point him to the stars. He certainly did that in the Ruhr Valley and there are many on Merseyside who believe they see in him the foundation of another dynasty.

The temptation here, certainly, is to join in the leap of faith. Not the least of his achievements is the one held in such high regard by the man who first made the spirit which Klopp often re-imagines so skilfully.

The first job of a football manager and his team is, said Shankly, is to engage the interest of the people, then the love.

So far, so good for Jurgen Klopp. He has conjured the interest, yes, even the love, but then he is surely smart enough to know that all of this soon enough depends on the most vital trick of all. It is winning.

Ideally, this season it would be a long and liberating run to Liverpool's 19th league title.

Irish Independent

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