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Friday, July 19, 2024

‘Klopp’s news is worse than when the Queen died!’ – Liverpool, a city in shock

Back in 2007, when Jurgen Klopp was approaching the end of his first managerial reign at the German club Mainz, he described life as an opportunity to leave a tiny piece of land a little bit more beautiful than it had been before you found it.

More than 15 years later, when Liverpool City Council awarded Klopp the freedom of the city, Liverpool mayor Joanne Anderson revisited this Klopp quote before addressing the German directly and saying: “Well, today, Liverpool is a lot more beautiful because of what you have done for us.”

That description has rarely felt more appropriate than over the past few days. On Friday, Klopp stunned the world of football by revealing his intention to resign from his position as manager at the end of the current season, two years before his contract is due to expire in 2026.

On the Anfield forecourt, as supporters congregated before the Sunday afternoon FA Cup fixture against Norwich City, the language used was a blur of shock, eulogy, bereavement and pride all meshed into one.

Bryan Swindell brought his son, Brodie, along to the game. “I was at work, my phone kept going off,” he tells The Athletic. “I had five messages. I saw the news. I just couldn’t believe it. Is this really happening? Jurgen looked so happy recently, he has rebuilt the team and now he comes out with this. It is like someone has died, it is that feeling in your stomach, that emptiness. It is as though the last piece of the jigsaw has left us.”

Brodie with his Klopp sign (Adam Crafton/The Athletic)

Young Brodie, wrapped up in a Liverpool scarf and hat, had returned home from school when his mum gently broke the news. “It was upsetting,” says Brodie. “I am just so sad for him to go because he was such a big help to the team.” Brodie brought a cardboard sign along to the game that read: “Klopp, you will be sadly missed. You always will be in your heart. We love you!”

Klopp’s standing in the city was affirmed when the city’s Liberal Democrat councillor Richard Kemp nominated him to receive the freedom of the city in 2022, joining legendary Liverpool managers Sir Kenny Dalglish and Bob Paisley in receiving the privilege. In doing so, he also becomes only the third foreign national, alongside Nelson Mandela and Jean Luc Courcoult (the creator of the Giants puppet show), to be granted such status.

Read more on The Athletic

Klopp’s connection to the city of Liverpool is unique relative to other coaches who have passed through this city, but also entirely in keeping with the impact he had in previous jobs at Mainz and Dortmund. When he left Mainz, where he played as well as coached, the city gave him a goodbye party that he said “lasted a week”. Then, after seven years at Borussia Dortmund, he once again captivated a fanbase. Almost a decade at Liverpool, where he won the club’s first Premier League in 30 years, reached three Champions League finals (winning one) and collected every domestic cup available, has guaranteed him the mother of all farewells at the end of this campaign.

Klopp in his second job as a hot dog salesman (Adam Crafton/The Athletic)

Even in an era where sport is reduced to a plaything or speculative bet for billionaires, oligarchs, sovereign funds, or hedge funds, Klopp has always maintained a more sincere connection to those who follow his teams. He sees football for what it ought to be: an escape, a collective, something approaching a secular religion. To many within the Anfield congregation, he is their head of state. “Long to reign over us,” read one banner in the stands, accompanied by Klopp’s face.

The ties are underpinned by his humanity; his utterly human state. His image is not one of those that is carefully choreographed, it is all laid out there; it can be utterly charming — one minute he is a gurning cheerleader on the touchline to his players, the next he is irrationally chastising a fourth official. A day later, he may be making the type of shrewd and empathetic reflections on the politics of the day that shame those who walk the hallowed halls of Westminster or Washington, speaking with an emotional intelligence that explains why so many who play for Klopp see him as a father figure, while many who spend extended time in his company usually come away pining for more.

At that special ceremony at Liverpool Town Hall, Klopp was not only celebrated by politicians, but also Liverpool star turns such as Dalglish and, most poignantly, Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group. Aspinall, whose son James was one of 97 Liverpool fans who died in the 1989 disaster, was invited to speak to Klopp during his formative days at the club’s training ground. She later described him as “a great ambassador for our club and also our city; a great manager, a great human being, a great personality and a great humanitarian”. Klopp understands football, but he also understands people and that is a mighty fusion.

When the connection is so strong, feeding off those adrenaline shots pumped from the terraces, the bond is more complex to break.

“You can speak about spirit — or you can live it,” Klopp once said.

Some of the vendors selling merchandise had responded nimbly to the news, flogging T-shirts emblazoned with “Thanks, BOSS” to supporters. One complained that Liverpool might have made the announcement slightly earlier than Friday, which would have enabled them to turn around a greater amount of stock.

Amarrah, a Liverpool fan who travelled to this game from Leicester, says: “Friday, it was worse than when the Queen died! I am a teacher. One of the other teachers came bursting into my classroom. My kids were like ‘Oh my God, what has happened?’. I literally just sat on my chair to take it in. My watch was pinging, pinging, pinging from the group chat.”

Her husband, Adam, 28, smiles: “Jurgen, he just makes me happy. He is entertaining, he has been amazing for the club. The news completely ruined my day. I could not concentrate at all.”

Stood beside a fish and chip van, Raj, a 43-year-old Liverpool supporter from Wolverhampton, is wearing a T-shirt where Klopp is holding the Premier League trophy. He says: “I was at work in a meeting and someone messaged me ‘Have you heard the Klopp news?’, so I immediately said I have to cut this meeting short. The lady I was holding a meeting with said ‘What do you mean? What has happened?’. I said: ‘I just need to go’.

Raj cut short a meeting when he found out (Adam Crafton/The Athletic)

“It was just so shocking. John Aldridge (the former Liverpool striker) said it is like losing a member of the family. It was just so out of the blue. Usually with journalists, it gets leaked, but this was like a brick to the head. It is not just what he has done for Liverpool, it is what he has done for the club, it is what he has done for the city.

“A fan from Ireland was having a bad time and Klopp invited him in, showed him around the place, introduced him to the players and gave him a shirt. He still finds time to help ‘normal’ people.”

By way of example, Liverpool supporter Tom Jackson posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Friday. “Unsure whether to post this, but decided to following the news from Jurgen today. In 2016 we lost our eldest son Tom in horrific circumstances. During a very painful time for us, Jurgen was kind enough to reach out with a message of goodwill. We’ll always be grateful. Top man.”

Klopp has impacted Liverpool supporters both publicly and privately. In August 2021, he broke ground when he took part in an extensive filmed video with the Liverpool LGBT+ supporters group, which demonstrated his empathy, ability to listen and preparedness to raise up minority groups and help supporters of all backgrounds feel part of his club at Anfield. He was similarly straightforward when it came to supporting his players who decided to take the knee to raise awareness about systemic discrimination and racism. He cut through the debate, saying simply it is “so unbelievably dumb” to judge anyone on skin colour.

It is the way of modern life that the local is also global. Outside the Anfield Kop, Beck, a Thai studying at the University of Sheffield, is attending his first match at Liverpool having fallen in love with his club from afar.

“Finally, it is time for him to leave and my heart is broken,” Beck says. “I am not yet thinking about the next manager. It is too soon.”

Joe, a seven-year-old Liverpool fan who grew up close to the club’s home, is in a similar place. His sister broke the news to him on Friday. “I was very sad,” he says, briefly leaving his hot dog to one side. “I was not happy at all.”

Joe looks up and smiles, brandishing his own hand-written sign. It says: “Klopp. We love you. The best manager.”

Joe with his tribute (Adam Crafton/The Athletic)

Who do you want as the next manager?

Joe concludes: “No one. He can change his mind and stay!”

(Top photo: Adam Crafton/The Athletic)

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