Jurgen Klopp gave Liverpool new life when he was appointed in 2015 and has steered the Reds back to the Champions League.Soccer 360 Magazines Andrew Tuft considers the Anfield revolution…
There were few Coaches as in-demand as Jurgen Klopp when the ex-Borussia Dortmund boss took over at Liverpool in October 2015, and there were few Coaches who seemed as well suited to the Reds as the passionate German.
Brendan Rodgers’ middle-management approach to football, replete with 1990s motivational tricks such as the never-revealed names of the players who would let the team down in envelopes [hint: there never were any names], only briefly found favour with the Anfield hordes. And that was when the frenetic street football of Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge caught fire, in stark contrast to the glossy but anaemic business-speak off it. When Sterling, Suarez and Sturridge combined the fans roared, but when Rodgers opened his mouth, they rolled their eyes.
Klopp was immediately different to his predecessor, Rodgers sacked only a few months into the 2015-16 season immediately after a Merseyside derby draw at Everton. Rodgers forever gave the impression he was looking for a soundbite any time he came near a microphone, while for Klopp, the words came easily, even in his second language. “Does anyone in this room think I can do wonders? No. I am a normal guy,” he told reporters at his first Press conference. “I am the Normal One.” Most other managers would be guilty of false modesty, but not Klopp.
But charisma could only take Klopp so far. Even someone so immediately well-liked — and not just by Liverpool fans — had to deliver results. A goalless draw away at Tottenham Hotspur in his first game was considered progress for a side that was floundering in 10th under Rodgers. A first Premier League win, at Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea with an away support with a long memory back to the Reds and the Blues battling it out in the Champions League a decade earlier, was welcomed as a sign of things to come.
Indeed, of Klopp’s first 11 games in charge, Liverpool lost only once, to Crystal Palace and a late Scott Dann goal. A 6-1 League Cup thrashing of Southampton on the south coast suggested the German’s ‘heavy metal football’ had taken root. But then Liverpool went four games without a win, including limp defeats at Newcastle and Watford, and a home draw with West Brom when only a late Divock Origi goal salvaged a point. It was clear there was a lot of work still to do.
The tone was set for the rest of the season. When Liverpool were good — such as in hammering Aston Villa 6-0 at Villa Park — they were very good. When they were bad — blowing a two-goal lead at Southampton and losing 3-2 — they were very bad. The Europa League, which saw Klopp face Dortmund in the quarter-finals and eliminate his previous employers after an epic home second leg, provided more encouragement than Liverpool’s meandering league form.
It didn’t provide a first trophy, though, as Liverpool fell to Europa League specialists Sevilla in the final. Daniel Sturridge gave Liverpool the lead but Sevilla scored three second-half goals to win the competition for the third straight season and reach the Champions League. Speaking a few months later, Klopp pinpointed what went wrong. “We conceded a goal too early in that second half from a little mistake,” he acknowledged. “It was 1-1 and for us it was a shock. You could see it. It was a shock for everybody.”
Liverpool finished eighth that season, missing out on a return to European football. Klopp had a good seven months to run the rule over the squad he inherited from Rodgers, and wasted little time in making changes. Six players were brought in. Four of them — Loris Karius, Alex Manninger, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan — came from the Bundesliga. The other two, Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum, were recruited from Southampton and Newcastle respectively.
It was in players leaving Liverpool that Klopp made his biggest mark. There were 14 permanent departures, including stalwart defender Martin Skrtel and Joe Allen, fresh from an impressive Euro 2016 with Wales and, having been almost the poster boy of Rodgers’ patient passing style, confirmation that times were changing at Anfield.
Klopp suggested at the time of Allen’s move to Stoke that financial considerations were a factor too. “We have to make decisions, we have to find solutions. We have to…think about our situation,” he said, Allen’s £11m sale coming days after Wijnaldum’s £23m arrival. No Premier League club raised more money through sales than Liverpool, but they were only sixth when it came to money spent, Klopp operating on a different financial level to the Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
Despite being outspent by six clubs, the consensus was that Champions League qualification was the aim for Liverpool in 2016-17. Liverpool had been out of the competition since 2014-15, a one-season end to a drought that went back to 2010, a lifetime for a club that measures itself as much by its European success as its domestic achievements.
Early indications were good. Arsenal were vanquished at the Emirates Stadium to start the season in a seven-goal thriller, and after a frustrating defeat at Burnley, Liverpool dropped only six points from their next 10 games, taking 24 from a possible 30. By the end of November, after 13 games, Klopp’s team were second, a point behind eventual champions Chelsea and six clear of runners-up Tottenham. Never mind the Champions League — Liverpool were in the title race.
It was the New Year that did for Liverpool’s fleeting challenge, dropped points against Sunderland, Swansea City and Hull City in-keeping with the Burnley result back in August, and at a time when Mane, without question the most successful of Klopp’s summer signing, was at the African Cup of Nations. “It was such a hard moment in January. We had these games, it was not the freshest moment of the season,” Klopp said later. “Missing Sadio in the shape he was, was not perfect.”
A season-ending injury in April again highlighted the Senegal international’s importance as even the inspired form of Philippe Coutinho couldn’t close the gap on the very top of the table. Liverpool ended the season strongly, clinching a top-four finish ahead of Arsenal, but the admiring glances cast towards Coutinho from Barcelona made for some concern.
Klopp, though, was elated with Champions League qualification. “For me it’s the best competition, you want to be there and Liverpool needs to be there consistently,” he said. “We have to make steps, and make the step for us to be around the best teams in the world, because we are one of the best clubs.”
To get there, Klopp has plenty of problems left to solve. After swapping between Karius and Mignolet, a decision has to be made on his first-choice goalkeeper. So too a partner for Matip, a long-term left-back to replace James Milner and over the future of Sturridge, restricted to only 11 starts in all competitions through injury and non-selection. Liverpool scored fewer goals and conceded more than the three teams above them, suggestingsignificant improvement is needed at both ends of the pitch.
The appeal of Champions League football will help attract new players, and keep existing stars such as Coutinho. But the Champions League isn’t the end for Klopp, who wants qualification through an even better league finish. “I think fourth place…is second best. We learned a lot in this year about ourselves,” he admitted. “I could start tomorrow. I’m already looking forward to what we can do.” The Normal One has spoken.
Jurgen Klopp may have only just started the process of returning Liverpool to their former glory but he’s already looking to the future — to the time someone else sits in the Anfield dugout, and Klopp knows who it should be: Steven Gerrard.
“I told him when I leave, or the club sack me, I don’t care of course who’ll be my successor, but I’d love that he’d be it,” Klopp revealed. “I’ll do everything I can to make sure he gets all the information he needs. The future of this club needs legends like Steven Gerrard in decisive positions.”
Gerrard has only recently returned to the Liverpool fold, taking a role with the Academy in February after retiring as a player in November 2016. Barring a brief stay at the LA Galaxy, Gerrard spent his entire career with the Reds, some 710 games, 186 goals and a haul of silverware.
“It feels like completing the circle, returning to the place where professionally it all began,” Gerrard. “However, this isn’t a decision based on emotion — it’s about what I can offer and contribute to Liverpool.”
Gerrard will take over Liverpool’s Under-18 side for next season and has already received praise for his handling of the youngsters in his charge, while rejecting more than one offer to become a manager elsewhere. “It would have been learning on the job in at the deep end and I probably wasn’t ready,” Gerrard admitted. A few years shadowing Klopp, though, could see Gerrard go from the last Liverpool captain to lift the Champions League to the next Liverpool manager to win it.
Name: Jurgen Klopp
Born: June 16, 1967 (Stuttgart, Germany)
Ht / Wt: 1.93m/83kg
Years Club Played Won Drew Lost Win %
2001-2008 Mainz 270 109 78 83 40%
2008-2015 Borussia Dortmund 318 179 69 70 56%
2015- Liverpool 99 50 28 21 50%
Correct to May 23
QUOTE-OUT: “Does anyone in this room think I can do wonders? No. I am a normal guy”
QUOTE-OUT: “The Champions League is best competition, you want to be there and Liverpool needs to be there consistently”
QUOTE-OUT: “We learned a lot this year about ourselves…I’m already looking forward to what we can do”
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