Today the news broke that Jurgen Klopp will put pen to paper and become Liverpool Football Club’s new manager, with a press conference announced for 10am tomorrow. The 48 year old becomes the first German to take control over the club and only the third non-Brit to sit in the Anfield hot seat.
What will he bring to Liverpool? What does he need to do to get the Reds back on track? Is he the season changing appointment that many think, or will he prove to be a disappointment like other managers before him? We ask all of the big questions about Liverpool’s new manager and explain why we think he’ll be a great addition to the Merseyside club.
Klopp v Rodgers: How Big Of An Upgrade Is It?
When Brendan Rodgers arrived at Liverpool Football Club he was always going to find it difficult to win over the doubters. The club had been in a state of flux for too long, fighting too many battles on too many fronts to come out swinging without hitting a couple of speed bumps along the way. From Rafa Benitez running himself into the ground to save the very soul of the football club, through to Fenway Sports Group needing to go to the high court in order to rescue the club from the hands of two cowboys desperately trying to bleed it dry, Liverpool FC has been put through the wringer in its recent history.
When they arrived in 2010 and realised that Roy Hodgson was an absolutely clown who should never have been allowed anywhere near the Anfield dugout, FSG apparently wanted to try to persuade Jurgen Klopp to leave his post at Borussia Dortmund and see if he could work his magic again on Merseyside. They failed in their attempts to lure him there then and they also failed when they tried it again in 2012 – Klopp, it seems, is a man of loyalty.
So if they couldn’t get Jurgen Klopp himself why not try to make their own version? All you need to do is find a forward thinking, progressive manager who hasn’t achieved much but is heading in the right direction, give him support and the right tools and he’ll be able to propel the team straight to the top, right? Well, almost.
In some ways FSG really did get close to creating their own Jurgen Klopp. In the aftermath of his dismissal it’s easy to think that Rodgers’ entire Liverpool career was one long disappointment; that the whole time he spent at Anfield was just like the last fifteen to eighteen months. Yet the reality is that the second half of Rodgers’ first seen was one full of excitement and progression – not enough to suggest what was going to come next, of course, but progression nevertheless. We all know what happened next.
The Northern Irishman’s second season came agonisingly close to being perfect. It was a win against Chelsea away from being the most improbable league victory of Liverpool’s entire history. Rodgers came achingly near to writing himself into the history books as the first manager to win Liverpool a Premier League title.
When his team missed out on it and started to be disbanded was when the wheels began to fall off the wagon. From Suarez to Barcelona to Sturridge to injury, Rodgers lost his best players and then lost his way. If he had won the title in 2013 – 2014 would he have been given his notice last week? Would the players have given him more faith and trust than they appear to have done over the last couple of months? Would the fans? Would he have become Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp? It’s possible, but sadly for everyone connected with the club it didn’t happen.
Rodgers was always likely to struggle to win over the fans because of his lack of experience; the only trophy he’d won was the Championship Play Off Trophy before he succeeded in establishing Swansea as a Premier League team. Klopp might have had some sympathy with his predicament.
The German started his career at Mainz when he was made their player-manager and he led them to their first appearance ever in the Bundesliga. He also oversaw their relegation from Germany’s top flight and left the club when he failed to get them back up again. When he joined Borussia Dortmund in 2008 he arrived at a club that had finished thirteenth the year before. It was a club with a storied history; a place where the fans expected them to be fighting for honours at the top of the table despite the fact that they an outlay similar to Queens Park Rangers. Sound familiar?
The Dortmund fans weren’t initially blown away by the appointment of Klopp. After all his only real experience was getting a lower league club into the Bundesliga before promptly getting them relegated again. He started slowly there, too, taking time to get them playing the type of football that he wanted to instil in them, but crucially he guided the team to victory in the T-Home Supercup, defeating German giants Bayern Munich in the process. They finished sixth in his first season in charge and moved up to fifth in his second. Unlike with Rodgers at Liverpool the progression was slow and he showed that he could make them winners at the first time of asking. It was enough to convince the Dortmund fans to give him their support.
FSG wanted to find their own Klopp when they couldn’t get the man himself and Rodgers arrived at Liverpool with a not dissimilar CV to his German counterpart’s when he arrived at Dortmund. He came close to replicating Klopp’s achievements but failed, meaning he had nothing to fall back on when things went wrong. The Reds have now gone from appointing a Klopp-like figure from the start of his Dortmund career to the master of all he surveys at the end of it.
If things don’t work out for the eccentric German immediately he has got two Bundesliga titles, four German cup medals, a Champion’s League runners up medal, two German Football Manager Of The Year awards and a second place finish in the FIFA World Coach Of The Year awards to fall back on. In a recent fourfourtwo.com article he was voted the sixth best coach in world football. In short, he’s one hell of an upgrade on Brendan Rodgers.
Why Is He So Right For Liverpool Football Club?
Liverpool is a very special football club. Their critics might not like to admit it, but it’s true. It not only has an incredible history that is rivalled by only one club in the entire country, it also has a large and loyal fan base that will never allow the club to slip below the standards they expect of it. Fans of other clubs are quick to call Liverpool’s supporters ‘deluded’, keen to point out that the club has only won one League Cup since 2007. But it’s that willingness to be deluded that not only allows Liverpool’s fans to keep going but also to achieve the impossible. Here’s Roy Henderson on Twitter:
If a football club, or anything else in life, is gonna overachieve, the starting point is everyone having unreasonable expectations.
— Roy Henderson (@royhendo) October 7, 2015
In other words, if you want to have the fifth highest wage bill in the league and then go on to win the championship then you need to be completely deluded in order to even think it might be possible in the first place. Jurgen Klopp is the type of manager that can offer exactly that sort of delusion to players and fans that are desperate to believe. There’s also something particularly unique about Liverpool’s fans and the way they view their manager. In many ways it can be a destructive thing; the cult of the manager is such on Merseyside that every problem at the club can be laid at his feet.
Though we now know the destruction that was being wrought on the club by Hicks and Gillett when Rafa was trying to take the Reds to their first title in 2008 – 2009, many supporters at the time felt any problems at Anfield were the fault of the Spaniard and not the American cowboys. Perhaps it’s because of the way Bill Shankly changed Liverpool from a mediocre team into the best team in the country. Maybe it’s because Bob Paisley changed the team from the best in the country to the best in the world. It could be down to how Kenny Dalglish took the woes of the city of Liverpool onto his shoulders in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster. Whatever the reason, Liverpool supporters love managers who offer some character and personality from the Anfield hot seat.
It is that ability to ignite the passion of the Anfield crowd that those who question Klopp’s appointment fail to understand. He made a connection with the Dortmund fans to the extent that they refused to call for his sacking even when they were in the relegation zone for most of his final season. They said, “You gave us our best times so we’ll stick with you in your worst times”. Jurgen Klopp will tap into the same working class vein of wanting to succeed at Liverpool as he did in Dortmund. He will give the fans something to believe in, something to shout about. He is the very definition of the sort of manager that not only has a bit of a cult about him but also actively encourages the development of it.
There’s a suggestion that Liverpool have not been the same team since they lost the irrepressible spirit of Luis Suarez and that they won’t return to being the same force on the pitch unless they can bring in someone with the same effervescence. But what it is to say that that irrepressibility necessarily needs to be on the pitch itself? Can a never say die attitude and desire to win at all costs not be supplied from the sidelines? Here’s a quote from Klopp about his time at Dortmund but one that could so easily apply to his new time at Liverpool:
“It’s what I do and what I love, so I found it very attractive that football takes centre stage here and that people live the game so intensely. There are some regions where you have to play and live the game in a certain way, where you have to charge, where you can’t sit back and just knock the ball about. There are some places where, when you do that, people will say: well, if that’s your football, I’d rather have no football at all. And this here is one of those places. Here, you have to give the people a certain kind of football, the kind that is close to my heart: intense to the last minute, highly emotional. Football you will remember”.
In a Premier League that is formed up either of the bland and uninspiring like Arsene Wenger or the self-obsessed and vomit inducing like Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp will be a breath of fresh air. He is, above all else, lots and lots of fun.
There’s also the style of play that he likes his teams to embrace. He referred to Wenger’s Arsenal as being like a ‘silent orchestra’, saying that he much prefers ‘heavy metal’. He believes in the notion of his teams being ferocious and intense, never letting up and never giving in. Anfield has, for far too long, been something more akin to a morgue than a place of celebration and joy. It’s not that the crowd don’t want to sing and shout, it’s just that they’ve had nothing to sing and shout about.
Games in front of the Kop are often silent affairs nowadays, punctuated by the occasional bit of spirit shown when a player lashes in a tackle or runs himself into the ground. Imagine what it would be like if every player was running themselves into the ground; if every match was full of tackles being lashed in left right and centre? Wouldn’t that get the spirits going in a beast that is desperate to be awoken? That is the sort of thing that Klopp offers in abundance, it’s how he wants his teams to play week in, week out.
Klopp once told fourfourtwo.com, “Gegenpressing is the best playmaker there is. The best moment to win the ball is immediately after your team just lost it. The opponent is still looking for orientation where to pass the ball”. It is Pep Guardiola’s pressing style of play on fast forward, not retaining possession for possession’s sake but in order to get the ball forward as fast as possible.
There is a phrase often used in reference to football: sleeping giant. With eighteen league titles and five European Cups, there is no larger giant in the Premier League than Liverpool. But with only the League Cup to show for since the FA Cup win of 2006, there is no team in a deeper sleep than the Red half of Merseyside either. Klopp plans to rock up with heavy metal guitars and make us all jump out bed before dancing to his song. The people of Liverpool will love him for it and in turn he will love them. It’s possible, just possible, that the arrival of Jurgen Klopp could signify the start of a new era for Liverpool Football Club, and that’s a song we all want to listen to.
What Are The Issues He’ll Need To Address?
Klopp finds his system works best with younger, fitter players who he can mold into his own way of thinking and convince to run through bricks walls for him. Liverpool right now is full of young, talented players who just seem to be lacking in direction. It is unlikely he’ll arrive and demand a complete overhaul of the squad come January; something that will delight the board and please fans as his appointment won’t come with the threat of another ‘five year plan’ or ‘season in transition’.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any problems at all in the Liverpool squad, however. Every manager likes working with his own players and Klopp will undoubtedly find some of the current group who just aren’t up to scratch as far as his preferred methods are concerned. But what are the major issues he’ll have to deal with on his first day in the office?
Ok, so there’s not much he’s going to be able to do about this on day one, but there’s no doubt that he’ll be looking for an upgrade on Liverpool’s current goalkeeper as soon as possible. Yes he can stop shots reasonably effectively, but he can’t deal with crosses particularly well, he’s not great at talking to his defence, he doesn’t know how to dominate his area and he can’t distribute the ball either quickly or accurately. So, you know, he can almost certainly be improved upon.
The Transfer Committee
There’s no question that some sort of agreement will have been thrashed out before the German accepted the job at Liverpool, but there can also be no doubt that the club’s transfer system is dysfunctional at best. Under Rodgers no one was quite sure which players were the manager’s choice and which were signed by the more analytics based members of the now famed committee.
For some this means that you should throw the baby out with the bathwater, abandon any type of plan that doesn’t involve the manager dealing with all of the different ins and outs to the club. Yet that is not realistic in the modern game and nor is it how Klopp wants to deal with things. The way forward, then, must be to find a decent halfway house. The manager identifies the areas he needs to strengthen, the committee narrows down his options, he makes the final decision. That way there can be no playing of favourites, no sense that the manager is choosing some players over others because they were his choices. If Klopp can sort that out, and it’s a big if, then FSG could yet prove to be the ideal owners with the perfect manager in place.
Square Pegs In Square Holes
Liverpool fans owe a huge amount to Brendan Rodgers for the fun we all had in 2013 – 2014. It wasn’t all down to Luis Suarez and Liverpool wouldn’t have been in a position to challenge for the title in the first place if it hadn’t been for the Northern Irishman, even if he could have been a little cuter with his tactics in the game against Chelsea.
But one of his worst habits as a manager was playing players in positions they weren’t comfortable in. From Emre Can as a right sided centre back through to Joe Gomez as a makeshift left back via Danny Ings played on the left wing and Nathaniel Clyne played on the right of midfield, there were times when it seemed like Rodgers was being clever for being clever’s sake.
There’s no question that Jurgen Klopp will get the best out of Liverpool’s players if he can play them in positions they are not only comfortable in but that work best for the team. He’ll also arrive faced with the squad he’s got, so he won’t feel the need to choose some players over others in order prove a point.
Connect To The Club’s Past
Liverpool is a club that is simultaneously weighed down and inspired by its history. Eighteen league titles; five European Cups; seven FA Cups; eight league cups; three UEFA Cups. These are not achievements to be dismissed out of hand. It is for other clubs to say that Liverpool is a team from the past, the fans and everyone associated with the club should know about the burden of expectation and do everything they can t live up to it and to get us back where we belong.
Klopp arrives on Merseyside without any of the links to Liverpool Football Club’s illustrious past. One of the best things he could do, therefore, is to bring in someone who knows what it means to play in Red. Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Robbie Fowler are all players who could be seriously considered by Klopp, should he want to find local lads that know what the Liver Bird means to the people of the city. Didi Hamman is another alternative, should Klopp prefer someone who knows the city and the language of both his new home and his old.
Just as Louis Van Gaal kept Ryan Giggs on as his assistant when he arrived in Manchester, so Klopp should try to keep an attachment to the soul of the club close to him when he gets to Merseyside. On top of this closeness to the city, someone like Carragher, with his knowledge of the game so well demonstrated on Sky Sports, will be able to ensure Klopp gets up to speed quickly with the pace of the Premier League and the differences it has to the Bundesliga.
Reignite The Crowd
As we’ve already elsewhere, Anfield can be an absolute cauldron at times. When the fans feel like they’ve got something worth shouting about, there’s no more intimidating an atmosphere that the one produced in our famous old stadium. Here’s John Terry after the Champion’s League match in 2005:
“All of us found it a bit of a shock that night. It was one of the most impressive atmospheres I’ve played in and credit to the Liverpool fans for that, especially the Kop. They made it a memorable night, something special”.
Here’s Thierry Henry:
“I’ve played in a lot of stadiums but for me there is nothing like playing at Liverpool… The fans always sing and hold up their scarves before and after the game – whether they have won or lost. It must be amazing if you are a Liverpool player”.
And finally, here’s Johan Cruyff:
“There is not one club in Europe with an anthem like ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. There’s not one club in the world so united with the fans. I sat there watching the Liverpool fans and they sent shivers down my spine. A mass of 40,000 people became one force behind their team”.
If Jurgen Klopp can use his natural charm and charisma to tap into the Anfield atmosphere of old and combine it with the type of play he used to such good effect at Dortmund, there’s every reason to believe that Liverpool could become an unstoppable force once more. Clear your throats, gang, we’ve got something to sing about again.