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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Klopp’s brilliant influence runs so deep that Liverpool will have to start again in many places

Only a frazzled mind would claim Jurgen Klopp is not in the same league as some of the greatest managers to have worked in English football, as well as those brilliant historical figures who have led the club he will now depart at the end of May.

Klopp has surpassed what anyone really thought was achievable upon his appointment. One of his last games could be at the Europa League final in Dublin. If he wins that, he will have lifted every trophy he has competed in since arriving at the club nine years ago.

In terms of the transformation he has overseen, the comparisons with the legendary Bill Shankly are fair. Liverpool were hunched and wandering when he came along: a sad, disjointed squad, with a fatalistic fanbase. Nothing made sense. Reaching two cup finals in his first season against that backdrop could go down as the biggest achievement of his reign.

Klopp oversaw most player arrivals and departures (John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

The challenge of competing with a Manchester City team organised by its own genius should never be underestimated either. In fact, Pep Guardiola and City’s owners should be thankful that Klopp has been around to challenge them, because he has helped make the Premier League appear competitive. Without him, the critical questions about the reasons for their dominance would be far more audible.

The Klopp era can be split into two periods: the first which involved himself, Mike Gordon (Fenway Sports Group’s president) and Michael Edwards (the sporting director) sharing decision-making responsibilities.

That ended in 2021 when Edwards officially decided it was time to leave. Though the club made a big play of an amicable separation, the truth is Klopp started getting more of a say. He’d won Champions League and Premier League titles in successive seasons. Edwards, whose involvement at Liverpool predated Klopp’s, could sense this shift, and decided it was better to go out on a high.

Read more on Klopp’s exit:

Following a long farewell, Liverpool became Klopp’s club. That is not to say he always got his way. FSG did not sanction everything he wanted, but the manager’s opinion was followed more than anyone else’s, as Edwards’ successor Julian Ward found out, as well as the much-heralded analytics team, who lost Ian Graham in the summer of 2022.

“Over the years, my role was a pretty dominant one. It was not intentional but it happened,” admitted Klopp, as he revealed the news on Friday morning that this season will be his last at Anfield.

The line, nestling in the interview which he gave to the club’s in-house television station, was recognition from Klopp that his influence became bigger than anyone planned, so big that the structure that created version Liverpool 1.0 was dismantled.

The evidence for that is that he arrived at Liverpool with one sporting director and he leaves Liverpool without the club having one, having since replaced the original twice — the latest incumbent, Jorg Schmadtke, being Klopp’s man.

In the short term, it might seem there is nothing wrong with this. Sometimes, tomorrow never comes. If Liverpool win a second Premier League title under Klopp, then a wait for a third under someone else might be considered tolerable.

But what if that wait is as long as Manchester United’s? It has been 11 years since Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill left United in the same summer and they are no closer to winning the Premier League than they were when they sacked Ferguson’s successor David Moyes within seven months.

History tends to prove that the greater the power of the manager, the more difficult he is to replace and the more chance there is that the club suffers as a result when he is gone. It was the same story at Arsenal post Arsene Wenger, who by the end might as well as had a say on the detergent the team’s kit was being washed in.

Klopp’s control is not as freakish as this but his authority is absolute. There are layers to his character. He can be generous and charming but he can also be aggressive and unreasonable — he is not always easy to work for or work with, though which exceptional manager is? He gets things done, and to Liverpool’s supporters that is all that ultimately matters.

What is beyond doubt, Klopp is a players’ manager. In the rough times, like points of last season, some of them may have questioned his decisions. Yet they never turned on him. He has retained his respect because of the care he has shown to them.

Klopp will leave a big hole (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

On Friday, Klopp suggested one of his proudest accomplishments was the installation of a “structure” that he believes will help his successor. In terms of the training ground, yes — absolutely. Encouragingly, he will also hand over a much younger and more flexible squad than the one he’d have left behind if the same decision was made this time last year, though there are concerns about what this all means for the contract statuses of three of the team’s best players, Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk. 

It is the rest of the club that needs rewiring to some degree, certainly the departments that have been bent or overlooked to fit Klopp’s vision, which may have been right for him but not necessarily for whoever the replacement proves to be. That Liverpool plan to install a sporting director before a manager shows the gap that has opened up. When he reflects coldly, perhaps Klopp will conclude that by taking so much on, he has exhausted himself.

(Top photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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