The appointment of Jürgen Klopp as Liverpool manager has been met with excitement and joy not only by Liverpool, but fans of the English game in general. The charismatic, enigmatic and extravagant German had arrived in the Premier League.
However, as the buzz slows and excitement quells, a realisation will start to set in – the man from the Black Forest has a real sporting challenge on his hands.
The road to success is a hard one full of sacrifice, risk and pain. Such an example can be found in the early days of arguably the greatest football manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson.
Sir Alex was appointed as Manchester United manager in 1986, yet he did not win his first trophy until winning the FA Cup at the end of 1989/1990 season.
During that barren spell of no trophies many called for Fergie’s head to roll, yet the board decided to stick with the Scotsman, and the rest is history. A similar story might happen at Liverpool.
It might take the same loyalty, patience and faith, now rare in the modern game, from the Liverpool owners to see the real results of the Jürgen Klopp era.
Why? Because to turn Liverpool back into ‘a Bastion of invincibility’, to quote Shankly, will be no quick fix. There are many issues at Liverpool Football Club that need attention. Alongside AC Milan, the task at Liverpool is to bring back the ‘glory days’, one of, if not the most compelling footballing challenges of the modern era.
There are a few positives for the former Dortmund manager. Firstly, unlike the situation when Brendan Rodgers came to Liverpool, Klopp’s squad is not filled with deadwood. When Rodgers took over from Kenny Dalglish’s second stint as Liverpool manager the squad was filled with many ‘alright’ and good players, all of whom were premier league proven but not fit to wear the famous red shirt on a regular basis – Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, Glen Johnson, Charlie Adam, Jay Spearing, Fabio Aurelio, Maxi Rodríguez, Danny Wilson, Brad Jones, Martin Kelly, Sebastián Coates, Alexander Doni, Jack Robinson and even Jonjo Shelvey.
In addition, players such as Craig Bellamy, Dirk Kuyt (albeit a Liverpool Cult hero), were arguably good players but never players who would be in a title winning squad alongside the ageing Jamie Carragher and a Pepe Reina whose form had dipped in the past season and a half.
Brendan Rodgers needed to totally rebuild a squad, whereas Klopp does not have to do that.
Instead, what he has to do is carefully add the right attachments to the current machine, a few changes, not a wholesale makeover.
Klopp has a very young squad, filled with players in their early twenties – Philippe Coutinho, Emre Can, Alberto Moreno, Jordan Ibe, Nathaniel Clyne, Divock Origi to name five or six, and there are many more.
Consequently, the squad has a vast amount of potential. This is the first task for Jürgen Klopp; making sure this young Liverpool squad continues to develop and improve.
The Klopp ‘greenpressing’ (countering the counter attack) system for which he is famous suits the energy and youthful side of this Liverpool squad.
In addition, if Klopp can get the best forward players at Liverpool – Christian Benteke, Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino, Divock Origi and Danny Ings when he is back from injury – to settle in properly at the club then his team would really have a formidable attacking potency.
Klopp has a very young team to work with, if he does harness the potential of the squad to its fullest extent then he will lead a team capable of finishing in the top four and fighting for trophies.
I mentioned Lallana and, in truth, he is one of the biggest conundrums at Liverpool Football Club. There is no doubt he has talent – the way he can use both feet and his ability to turn on the ball are rare gifts.
Yet Liverpool fans have by no means seen the best of him as Rodgers failed to properly utilize the former Southampton stalwart. There have been flashes of genius; his goal in the Europa League against Bordeaux this season for example, but, he has struggled for constitency with injuries constantly being a problem. Klopp must get the best out of him.
Likewise Klopp must get the older players not only on side but also acting as keys cogs within the Klopp system. Simon Mignolet, despite the many critics, must continue to build on his recent form. Mignolet was outstanding at White Hart Lane last weekend.
If the Belgian doesn’t provide the safe pair of hands that any good team is built around then Jack Butland of Stoke will slowly become all the more attractive signing.
Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho are individually talented and capable centre backs, but at times when they are not mentally alert they seem more like Liverpool’s very own version of the ‘Chuckle Brothers’ rather than a Merseyside version of Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini.
While one can only think that Dejan Lovren can’t play any worse in a Liverpool shirt, it’s coming to make or break time for the Croatian. Furthermore, Lucas Leiva and James Milner, though never world beaters, must continue to provide the Liverpool squad with their capabilities – work rate, possession turnover, defensive cover and generally acting as the platform from which the more creative players can operate.
Klopp must also handle one of the biggest problems for various football managers in the English game – the press. Rodgers failed at this, not because he was undone by clever questions, nor did he ever deal with the press with the pointless anger and feeling of injustice, of which Jose Mourinho is currently demonstrating and why so many journalists are turning against their former darling.
Rodgers failed because of his over-confidence and even arrogance in his handling of the media.
He would talk up his team, performance and his own ability even without the result, form or previous experience to match. The result of Rodgers arrogance was obvious – when things started going badly last season the media quickly turned against the Northern Irishman and the club he represented.
No doubt you need confidence to deal with the expectation and the pressure at Liverpool; if the manager is not confident then the players struggle for confidence. Nevertheless, there is a thin line between confidence and arrogance; and Rodgers crossed it. Klopp cannot make the same mistake.
Melwood, the Liverpool academy and training complex as a production line also needs harnessing by the former Mainz manager. For all of Rodger’s talk of developing young players, under his stewardship how many young English players were brought through the academy and now are involved in the first team set up? Three; Jordan Ibe, Jon Flanagan and Jordan Rossiter who was only brought through just before Rodgers was shown the door.
For a club like Liverpool where they have a multi-million academy and youth complex, this is not good enough. Klopp must change this.
The good thing for the German is that there are two competitions available – the League Cup and Europa League to try such young players and to see if they are worthy of becoming regulars. Better use needs to be made of Melwood as a feeder into the first team set up.
Rodgers didn’t exploit or develop it partly due his own decision making of not wanting to use academy graduates and partly because, from around November 2014 up until he got sacked, Rodgers was under so much pressure he dare not risk a youngster. Klopp should make sure he doesn’t get into the same position.
One of most obvious things, which few have actually noted, is that Klopp must quite simply buy well. Of course it’s not simple or easy to buy well, but he can’t make the mistake Rodgers made on buying too many young players while Klopp cannot continue the tragic quest of Kenny Dalglish and Roy Hodgson to buy every average to good (especially British) player in the Premier League.
Also, when he does buy players, he must play them in the right position. Rodger’s fascination, for example, to play the ball carrying centre midfielder Emre Can at centre back baffled pundits, journalists and, of course, Liverpool fans themselves.
When Klopp does start making his first moves in the transfer market in January or next summer he must change the current Liverpool transfer policy.
The early signs are good for Klopp. His press conferences have provided an insight into the German’s character which has seen him come across as confident, calm, and charismatic and most importantly a driven manager who wants success at Liverpool Football Club.
His ‘pressing system’ was there for all to see against Tottenham and Rubin Kazan respectively, though Liverpool should have really taken three points against the latter.
On the other hand a point and a clean sheet at White Hart Lane are both hard to come by these days; it was a solid and good start to the Klopp era. In addition, the murmurings about recalling Lazar Marković from Fenerbahçe could also be a good decision.
The current Liverpool squad lacks wingers and Marković, a 21-year-old who struggled with English and was played in a right wing back position when he is a right winger still has a lot to offer Liverpool. Klopp’s early decisions seem to point to a manager who knows what he is doing in Merseyside.
As the Rodgers 40 page dossier, which he apparently gave to the Liverpool owners on joining is destroyed, Klopp is settling in as the ‘New Red King’ on Merseyside.
The question is however, is he the right man to be king? Yes he is. Liverpool Football Club need a character who has the experience to deal with the expectation and the pressure of the club, someone who can inspire the players as well as the fans and someone who can lead from the front and is willing the make the big decisions.
The club needs a good coach as well a good manager; Rodgers was the former but he certainly wasn’t the latter.
Klopp on the other hand is both. Klopp and Liverpool seem a perfect fit. Yet, football is cruel and constantly destroys fairy tales. We can only sit back and watch the story unfold.
Fail and Klopp will join the long list of men who have lost in their attempt to be the catalyst for the rebirth of one of England’s great footballing institutions.
Succeed and Klopp will be forever remembered as a hero by the red half of Merseyside, the long overdue heir to Shankly and Paisley.