Who Can Replace Jürgen?

There was a curious thing that happened over the weekend. Speak to most Liverpool supporters and they will tell you that Jürgen Klopp is akin to god, such is the extent to which he is worshipped on Merseyside. Yet there are still some Liverpool supporters who question him when he says something that they think is almost being used as an excuse. When the manager talks about the weather, for example, there are scores of Reds who jump on his back because of it. Last week, during his press conference, the German said that flu had been going round the dressing room. Whether ‘flu’ was being used as code for something like Covid isn’t clear, but the first-choice goalkeeper in Alisson Becker was literally missing from the squad, so I think it’s fair to say that the manager wasn’t just making it up. During the match against Burnley, Liverpool looked sluggish and slow to react to the game that was taking place in front of them. Certain players were ok, but others were very much off their game and the overall impact was misplaced passes and attacking chances for the opposition.

Rather than realise that the manager might well have been telling the truth when he suggested that some sort of virus had had an impact on the squad, plenty of people instead chose to lament the poor performance by Liverpool and question why they were so bad. Even when I tweeted mentioning what Jürgen had said about the flu, I was given a number of replies telling me that I was wrong and that there was no way that everyone had flu. Obviously that ignored the fact that I’d never said that everyone had flu, but when you play at the level that the Reds are playing at at the moment even a 5% drop in performance level can have an impact. Having despatched Chelsea with ease at Anfield a week and a half earlier, the players were clearly far from their best against both Arsenal and Burnley. Is it so far out of the realms of the possible that some of them might have been suffering from something that impacted their ability to repeat what they did against Chelsea in the following too matches? When the manager says something, we really should believe him.

There are no Standout Candidates

When the owners decided to sack Brendan Rodgers back in the October of 2015, there were a number of names being spoken about as obvious candidates to take over from him. Though many might like to forget it after he became Everton manager, Carlo Ancelotti was discussed as a live proposition, for example. There were photos that did the rounds of Roberto Martinez reportedly having met with John Henry; another one who managed the Blues. Jürgen Klopp was the choice of many, but there were some doubts around the German given how things had ended for him during his final season at Borussia Dortmund. That might seem wild now, but it’s true. Of course, in spite of his poor last campaign at the Westfalenstadion, the the two Bundesliga titles and a Champions League final appearance was enough to convince many that he had what it took to succeed at Anfield. Those that felt that way were very much justified in their opinion, with the German becoming the first Liverpool manager to win that holy grail for Reds, the Premier League title, as well as winning every other trophy there was to win.

When you look at the names that are being linked with the Anfield hot-seat after Jürgen’s departed at the end of this season, which of them seem like obvious candidates? Roberto De Zerbi won the Coppa Italia Lega Pro with Foggia and the Ukrainian Super Cup with Shakhtar Donetsk, as well as getting his teams playing good football, but is there really anything about him to suggest that he could take on a job as big as Liverpool? Whilst he’s performed well at Brighton & Hove Albion, the success of Graham Potter there and subsequent failure of his at Chelsea suggests it is as much about the system in place at the club as anything else. The fact that De Zerbi has struggled with competing in the Premier League alongside European football this season isn’t great news for a club that expects to be at the top table all of the time. Rúben Amorim has done well enough at Sporting, leading the club to a league and cup double during his first full season, but the Portuguese league isn’t the most competitive in the world and most people won’t get excited by him, with others being equally as uninspiring.

…Except for Alonso

The only exception to the lack of outstanding candidates comes in the form of Xabi Alonso. To be clear, it isn’t his accomplishments as a manager that make him a name that stands out from the crowd. The Spaniard did well enough at Real Sociedad B, getting them promoted to the Segunda División in his first season before they were relegated out of the it at the end of their first campaign there. In spite of this, he had done enough to catch the eye of Bayer Leverkusen, the club that he joined on the fifth of October 2022. The club were second from bottom at the time, but they eventually finished sixth and made it to the semi-finals of the Europa League. This season, they are already in the semi-finals of the DFB-Pokal where they will face Fortuna Düsseldorf, have made it into the last 16 of the Europa League and, after defeating Bayern Munich 3-0 at the weekend, sit five points clear of the defending champions in the Bundesliga, having yet to lose a game. That is all hugely impressive, especially if he goes on to win at least one trophy with the German side.

Yet in truth, it is his associated with Liverpool from the past that means I see him as a standout candidate. Replacing Jürgen Klopp is an impossible job. Whoever comes in next will automatically feel like a step down no matter who it is. There will be very little time given to them if they don’t hit the ground running. The only person for whom that might not be the case is Alonso, given the fact that he has already won a European Cup with us and is the person that most Liverpool supporters want the club to appoint this summer. If it’s anyone else, the second things don’t start going well the cry of ‘should’ve brought in Alonso’ will be heard. It isn’t that I am absolutely convinced that he is the right man for us; other than a little bit of the game against Bayern Munich the other day, I’ve barely watched any of his football. Instead, it is that I am aware of how much Liverpool Football Club is based around mystique and romance. There is no more romantic appointment that FSG can make after Jürgen leaves than Xabi Alonso and everyone else will feel like a disappointment, however unfair that might be.

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