Thursday 19 September 2019

Players in shock as Klopp’s No 2 walks out

'Brain' behind Liverpool manager misses season-defining clash in Rome

The relationship between Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and his assistant Zeljko Buvac has become more distant recently. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images
The relationship between Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and his assistant Zeljko Buvac has become more distant recently. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Chris Bascombe

Liverpool have suffered an extraordinary setback ahead of their biggest Champions League game, with one of Jurgen Klopp's most trusted lieutenants having stood down from his job.

Zeljko Buvac, Klopp's long-time assistant, will not join the squad on their flight to Rome today ahead of their second-leg semi-final, having been relieved of his coaching duties for the rest of the season.

Klopp and Buvac decided over the weekend to temporarily suspend their working relationship. Given Liverpool are preparing to protect a 5-2 lead against AS Roma, the timing of their split - whether temporary or permanent - is astonishing.

The pair have worked closely for 17 years at three different clubs. Now, on the verge of celebrating what would be one of their most notable achievements, should Liverpool reach the final, their professional relationship is in crisis.

Liverpool confirmed that the 56-year-old Bosnian will not be part of their staff for the two remaining Premier League games and the rest of the European campaign after growing tensions came to a head following Saturday's goalless draw with Stoke City.

According to the Merseyside club, Buvac is taking time out of the first-team environment for "personal reasons". There is no doubt, however, those reasons are work-related. The club left open the possibility of his return before the start of next season, although privately that has been conceded to be unlikely.

Liverpool's players were shocked to be informed of the development at their Melwood training ground on Sunday.

Buvac takes much of the responsibility, along with Klopp, for overseeing training. Buvac's sudden departure appears to have been agreed between him and Klopp for the good of the team.

The Bosnian has previously been an animated and influential figure. His nickname is 'the brain', which he earned as part of Klopp's back-room team in Germany.


However, in recent months, it has been noted that all was not as it was. Buvac has seemed more distant and less communicative.

Liverpool have not moved to replace Buvac for tomorrow's tie. The door has been left open for further discussion at the end of the campaign.

It remains to be seen how much the Merseyside club will feel Buvac's departure. He started working alongside Klopp at the start of the Liverpool manager's coaching career and Klopp has often spoken of working as part of a unit.

When he extended his Liverpool deal in the summer of 2016, he insisted Buvac and his other assistant, Peter Krawietz, be given the same six-year extension.

They worked as a team at Mainz and Borussia Dortmund prior to making the move to Anfield.

Tensions have surfaced recently as Klopp continues to evolve his backroom set-up. Buvac is not the first significant departure this season, although he is certainly the most high-profile and influential.

Klopp has already been planning for more change at the end of the season, especially in the physiotherapy department. In October, Andy Renshaw, the head of physiotherapy, left the club suddenly and there are ongoing discussions about who should replace him.

Zeljko is also the second member of the senior coaching staff to leave this year. In January, Pep Lijnders left his coaching role at Anfield to become head coach at NEC Nijmegen. The timing during mid-season was curious and Lijnders had previously been presented as a key figure behind the scenes.

Liverpool fans will be worried that history is repeating itself. It seems whenever Liverpool enjoy a stunning European run, the tranquillity is upset in the back room.

In 2001, after Gerard Houllier's side won a treble including the Uefa Cup, he lost his assistant Patrice Bergues, a key architect in the rebuilding of the squad.

Although the significance of his decision to return to France was played down at the time, Houllier would later try to bring him back as he could not establish the same trust with his replacements. His 2001 success was never replicated.

There was similar disturbance the last time Liverpool reached the Champions League final in 2007. Rafael Benitez had an impressive back-room team, including assistant manager Pako Ayestaran. Ayestaran was considering his position by the summer of 2007 and left shortly afterwards.

Liverpool never reached another final during the Benitez era, Ayestaran's influence being missed in the dressing room.

While Buvac's future is in doubt, so too is that of Steven Gerrard as U-18s coach. The club's former captain remains in talks with Rangers, contemplating whether his first senior management position is a golden opportunity or a poisoned chalice. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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