Thursday 23 November 2017

Ronnie Whelan: Jurgen Klopp has performed a minor miracle with his Liverpool players

Read Ronnie Whelan's column exclusively in The Herald every Monday

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates at the end of the Chelsea match with his players
Reuters / Philip Brown
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates at the end of the Chelsea match with his players Reuters / Philip Brown
Ronnie Whelan

Ronnie Whelan

IT was a great relief to hear Jurgen Klopp talk about fear within the Liverpool squad a few days after landing in Liverpool. What I didn’t expect was a solution to the problem within a week.

He has worked a little miracle and players who were down in the mouth and insecure just a few shorts weeks ago looked hungry, full of energy and, most important of all, full of confidence on the way to a big win over Chelsea.

There’s a bit if gossip doing the rounds on Merseyside at the moment which suggests that John Henry and the rest of the club owners have had their eye on the German for a while now.

If the grapevine is right, Liverpool paid £1m to make sure Klopp would talk to nobody else while he was on his sabbatical.

It sounds like a lot of money for someone to do nothing and I’d be a bit sceptical but if there is any truth in it, it was a seriously good bit of business – even if that is very hard on Brendan Rodgers.

I said when he was sacked that I thought he had earned more time but I can’t really find fault with such an approach to Klopp. It was common sense.

Even at the worst of times, I would find it very difficult to be critical of men who ploughed over £300m into the transfer market. I don’t like the way it was used and the players the club bought but they were prepared to spend and I believe they will spend a good deal more.

I was critical of the club and Rodgers for not doing enough planning and preparation for the inevitable moment when Luis Suarez left and ending up with Mario Balotelli mooching around Melwood.

So I can hardly find fault if they were quietly preparing for the day when they felt Rodgers had to go.

I’ve come around to the view that a change was needed and Klopp helped me do that. The moment he arrived he saw that his players were terrified by the shirt they were wearing.

Maybe it took someone with an independent perspective to put it into words but when Klopp wondered about the fact that players who prepared well, had obvious class, but froze in the headlights of a Premier League game on their own ground, a light went off in my head.

I realised that Rodgers and Liverpool simply didn’t know what to do when Suarez left and that they were all, including the manager, winging it until the moment someone put in a call to Klopp and offered him the job.

Liverpool beat Chelsea well at Stamford Bridge on Saturday and while most eyes were on Jose Mourinho to see how his extraordinary meltdown was progressing, I only had eyes for Klopp

It’s a handful of matches and usually I would avoid snap judgements in such circumstances, but the difference between Liverpool  in this game against Chelsea and any one of the final half dozen under Rodgers was like night and day.

The possession stats for the first half gave Liverpool three times more of the ball than Chelsea and best of all they kicked on after half-time and got better and better as their confidence grew and the goals went in.

We may well look back at this game in years to come as the 90 minutes which produced a fundamental shift in mindset and definitely for the better.

As far as Mourinho and Chelsea go, this is a collapse on a scale similar to what Manchester United supporters experienced a few seasons back. But Old Trafford had lost Alex Ferguson and the season was to be a painful remainder of that fact. A squad which had won the title lost their mojo under David Moyes.

Mourinho should be in his pomp after winning a title he had no right to win last season but instead he’s in a very, very dark place and visibly diminishing under the pressure.

I’m taken aback by how far out on a limb he has travelled just six months after he was lifting the Premier League trophy.

Whatever about the underlying reasons for his disquiet, he has created an almost unstoppable momentum towards his own sacking by making bad situations worse.

His ‘no comment’ press conference told me one thing. He has been told to shut up.

He wanted to sound smart and in control but there’s only one man in the owner’s chair at Stamford Bridge.

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