German is the most important man at Liverpool and he can refresh this team
The former Borussia Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke recently made a statement which should resonate with anyone who is starting to doubt Jurgen Klopp. On Klopp’s Dortmund exit in 2015, Watzke said this: “Maybe it would have been better if we had changed the whole team instead of the coach. There are so many good players but not many great coaches. People are always wise after the event.”
A lot of people are focusing on the decline in Klopp’s last year at Dortmund. There should be more attention on how long it has taken them to get over his departure. Liverpool’s owners Fenway Sports Group were never going to make the same mistake as their German counterparts, no matter how much results deteriorate this season.
As a renowned strategist, John W Henry would always ask himself this: who benefits most when Klopp leaves Liverpool? The champagne would flow in the boardrooms of Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton, anticipating the return of the pre-Klopp period in Anfield history when the club spent one of five years in the Champions League.
At Liverpool, the response of modern supporters would be comparable to the departure of Kenny Dalglish in 1991, or Bill Shankly in 1974. The reaction to the last two months has made me realise that no matter how often those of us connected to the club reiterate that, either the message has not been received beyond Merseyside or there is a baffling ignorance of it.
This column is not a kneejerk reaction to Liverpool’s timely win over RB Leipzig in the Champions League. I decided to write it earlier this week having been irritated by the fact that Klopp’s future was even on the news agenda.
I understand why the reassurance was necessary for those Liverpool fans who perhaps believe too much false or ill-informed content, but when the criticism of the manager is such that owners Fenway Sports Group and Klopp feel compelled to clarify there is no danger of a change this summer, a reality check is needed.
The flak was bound to intensify after a sixth consecutive home defeat, and I stand by criticism of Liverpool in recent weeks. The players’ response, even when accounting for key absentees, and four-week delay recruiting two defenders disappointed me. Without on-field leaders such as Virgil van Dijk, Jordan Henderson and James Milner, there has been a surprising mental fragility during adversity. Do not mistake that for an erosion of trust or belief in the manager.
Nobody else could have achieved what Klopp has since 2015, delivering trophies and connecting with the fans. That is why – as a Liverpool supporter – I would not want anyone else in charge of the club under this particular ownership model. I include Pep Guardiola.
Klopp’s net spend in his time at Anfield is £110m – far less than Manchester City, United, Spurs, Arsenal and even Everton during the same period.
Since winning the Champions League in 2019, Liverpool have spent £94m to City’s £300m. These numbers are often ‘balanced’ with comments about earlier world-record fees for Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker, even though the comparison does not hold given Liverpool raised funds by selling their best player in 2018, Philippe Coutinho. The equivalent would have been Guardiola having to sell Kevin De Bruyne to afford Ederson and Aymeric Laporte.
Klopp has been accused of working his squad so hard over the last three years they have been found out, or even burnt out. If that is the case, there is an obvious solution. Refresh and exhaust a set of new players over the next three years. I imagine Man United, Arsenal and Everton fans would love a manager who will make his players run harder and get every bead of sweat from them between now and 2024, delivering a Premier League and Champions League in the process.
Liverpool were 10th on the day Klopp was appointed. The evidence is there he can take a rejuvenated squad from eighth to first before his contract expires.
The accusation Klopp is one-dimensional does not stand up to scrutiny, either. Liverpool did not win the Premier League title without evolving, Klopp creating a side which shifted through the gears, picking its moment to go ‘full throttle’ as he liked to describe, before reducing the temperature to manage games. There is more to Klopp’s teams than high pressing and counter-pressing. Only City dominate possession more. Those players most adept at knowing when and how to change the tempo – Van Dijk, Henderson and Fabinho – are those Klopp has most missed this season.
If this reads like hero-worshipping of the Liverpool coach, I make no apology. It is no less true. Steven Gerrard, aware of the reports linking him with the Anfield job, summed it up.
“The Liverpool fans want Jurgen Klopp to continue to be the Liverpool manager for many years. And I’m totally with all of them,” he said.
Such comments seem to confuse, or even upset those who consider ex-players too supportive, or my former club of being too sentimental, over-romantic and prone to exaggerate a notion of loyalty separating them from most of the other big clubs in England.
On many occasions I have seen or heard it asked, “What makes you think Liverpool are so different?”
Yet it is at a moment like this when the differences are so obvious, particularly with the fans’ relationship to its manager.
Since Shankly, the man in charge at Anfield must demonstrate more than sporting excellence. His values must reflect those who are so emotionally invested in the team’s success. When the trust is there, those bonds have proven to be stronger than at certain other clubs. At Anfield, a manager who delivers will always be king. It needs more than a bad two years, never mind two poor months, to threaten that.
Liverpool fans would never accept their coach being sacked within a season of winning the Premier League and Champions League, as has been the case for several Chelsea managers, Roberto Mancini at Manchester City and Claudio Ranieri at Leicester.
They would not tolerate their manager leaving within six months of reaching a Champions League final as happened at Spurs with Mauricio Pochettino. Remember how many fans marched on Anfield on behalf of Rafa Benitez in 2007 after Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr considered replacing him with Jurgen Klinsmann not long after defeat to AC Milan in the Athens Champions League final?
At Chelsea and Spurs, it was calculated it was cheaper to get rid of the coach than rebuild the team. Culturally, that seems to work at Stamford Bridge. Good for them. Maybe Spurs fans are still of the opinion Pochettino could take his team no further. I suspect a few wish the manager had stayed and more players left.
At Anfield, when a manager is as loved as Klopp, the supporters will always call on the board and badly performing players to go first. FSG understands that. That’s why when Klopp plots the route to recovery this summer, the focus will be on them more than him.
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