Wednesday 13 December 2017

James Lawton: Jurgen Klopp invokes spirit of the great Bill Shankly in Liverpool revolution

German boss has Merseyside dreaming

Jurgen Klopp has been compared to Bill Shankly
Jurgen Klopp has been compared to Bill Shankly
Jurgen Klopp continues to be compared favourably with Liverpool legend Bill Shankly, who is still honoured at Anfield. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters
James Lawton

James Lawton

It may be a little early to erect a statue of Jurgen Klopp alongside the one of Bill Shankly which stands behind the Kop and has the inscription: He made the people happy.

There is no doubt, however, about the soaring belief on Merseyside that Klopp is bringing a glorious, if half-forgotten, past back to vibrant life.

Pep Guardiola, who takes his Manchester City into one of the season's most vital games at Anfield tomorrow night, has already felt the force of the Klopp revolution this week.

Guardiola passed on his usual exhaustive examination of video evidence in a darkened room and instead experienced the extraordinary atmosphere of excitement and renewal in the flesh as he watched Liverpool crush Stoke City.

And beneath a hat pulled down to his brow, his face registered as much wonder as concern.

Wonder at the thunder coming down from the Kop, maybe, and concern at the exuberant ease with which Klopp's men stripped Stoke of their early determination.

A banner in memory of late manager Bill Shankly. Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
A banner in memory of late manager Bill Shankly. Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

At the very least, it explained why the link between the man carved in bronze with his arms reaching out to the football heavens and Klopp is being proclaimed with growing conviction by some of the biggest names in the club's history.

http://migration-ece4.independent.ie:8085/migrator/ws/publication/independentDublin/resource/binary/1053308
Kenny Dalglish

Kenny Dalglish (above) and Steve Heighway have been on the record for some time with their view that a key to the some of the best of Liverpool's past may well have been found as Klopp's team announce themselves as the most potent threat to the Chelsea juggernaut of Antonio Conte.

Now they have been joined by the iconic Ian St John - Shankly's first great signing and over the years maybe the most persistent and lacerating critic of the club's failure to reproduce the standards set by Liverpool's Scottish folk hero and his superb successor and former number two Bob Paisley.

St John was loathed by Gerard Houllier for his assertion that, despite the hat-trick of League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup wins in 2001, the Frenchman had little understanding of what was required of a Liverpool team that once so consistently made the people happy.

The Bill Shankly statue is seen prior to the Premier League match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
The Bill Shankly statue is seen prior to the Premier League match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

He reached similar opinion on Rafa Benitez, despite the Spaniard's extraordinary success in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul.

St John, like so many of his old team-mates and the players who followed them down the years, believed that something basic to the success of Liverpool had been mislaid. It was a way of playing and thinking, a cast of the mind and a reach of the spirit.

His approval rating of Klopp, however, could hardly be higher after just 18 months in the job and, thus far, the modest high water mark of last season's defeat in the League Cup final.

Before the potentially pivotal home game with City, St John joined Dalglish and Heighway in the belief that the German's entire coaching career, and especially his dramatic impact in Dortmund, might have been fashioned with a Liverpool revival in mind.

"At Dortmund he inspired both the players and the people brilliantly and the same thing is happening at Anfield," said St John.

"These are early days, of course, and no doubt there is fine-tuning to be done, but, however you look at Klopp and his work, you see the kind of passion - and knowledge of players - which were the very foundations of Liverpool's success. It is great to see them back in place."

p59klopp.jpg
Jurgen Klopp continues to be compared favourably with Liverpool legend Bill Shankly, who is still honoured at Anfield. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters

Dalglish, arguably the most accomplished Liverpool player of all time, with six league titles and three European Cup wins, and a winner of three titles as an Anfield manager, has been no less effusive.

He said recently: "Jurgen is someone the supporters can relate to. He is not someone who is full of his own importance but is accepting [the responsibilities] of the job.

"I don't think you can compare teams from 30 years ago to now but the way they are playing is really exciting.

"The attitude and the commitment of the players with the manager is also very exciting.

"You can play whatever style you want but the only way that is the wrong way is if it does not suit your players. Everybody is happy at the club."

These are formidable endorsements from the peaks of Liverpool's prodigious history and if Klopp's team have yet to fulfil one of Shankly's dearest wishes their confidence and freedom of ambition has become as palpable as the cold wind off the Mersey.

Shankly's desire, announced after he had clambered on to his desk in his little office beneath the main Anfield stand, was that a new Liverpool team would "go off like a great bloody bomb in the sky".

What chance of a detonation tomorrow night? The hard-driving Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum rates it highly likely.

He acknowledges the scoring potency of the returning Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva but believes Liverpool have a wider range of strike potential in an Anfield atmosphere guaranteed to unnerve the most accomplished, experienced teams.

"Yes, City have some great players but they also have a lot of reasons to worry about us.

"What we see in ourselves is a lot of confidence building during the season and we are learning quickly in situations and games.

"We have to learn not to concede but we have so many players who can score goals.

"That gives you a lot of confidence in every situation. The manager's gift to us is a belief that we can win in any situations we find.

"You have to respect players of the talent of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne but they have to look at us and see how many potential scorers we have.

"They will also be aware of our crowd and what they expect. This is a reason for any visiting team to be scared when they come to us, however talented they are."

This, Guardiola might confide to his dressing room after his live research, is more than mere points scoring from Wijnaldum. The inventions of Roberto Firmino, the swagger of Adam Lallana and, supremely, Sadio Mane's lightning awareness of the most fleeting opportunity would amount to comprehensive worry in any place, any circumstances.

In those created by Jurgen Klopp at Anfield they might indeed just go off like a bomb in the winter sky.

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