For all of Fenway Sports Group’s (FSG) vision, tenacity and business acumen, it would have amounted to naught if they did not appoint Jurgen Klopp. Having spent millions of dollars on some world class players (as well as some duds) under Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish, FSG appointed Brendan Rodgers. Many in the industry felt that he would be the one who would finally bring back the glory days to Anfield. Rodgers was an astute manager despite some being of the view that his man-management skills were unorthodox.
Having struggled to implement his possession-based football in his first season (which saw the club finish 7th), his second season saw his style of play bear fruit, with a barnstorming 2nd place finish behind Manchester City by only 2-points and most importantly, brought back Champions League football after 3 consecutive years of absence. His cavalier footballing style reaped huge rewards in winning games by big margins but the defence, anchored by Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel, were leaking goals.
After losing Luis Suarez to the Blaugrana, Liverpool FC were not the same swashbuckling team of 2013/2014 as the club were unable to find a player of his calibre and bite. This resulted in Liverpool finishing 6th in the 2014/2015 season. After a poor start the following season, Rodgers lost his job in October 2015.
FSG did not wait long to announce the arrival of Jurgen Klopp, a manager who had broken Bayern Munich’s dominance in Bundesliga with back-to-back league titles at Borussia Dortmund. He single-handedly brought success at Dortmund and ensured that “Der Klasikker” (German Classico), was not just another game for Bayern Munich. When he left the Westphalians in April 2015, he had endeared himself not only to the followers of the Yellow Wall but also to many around the world. His quirky and witty press conferences and his unbridled side line celebrations became his trademark just as much as his footballing ethics.
Initially signing a 3-year deal, Jurgen Klopp set about endearing himself to the Liverpool supporters as he called himself “The Normal One”. He promised that he would deliver the title before his contract ends by playing his brand of “Gegenpress” football. He set about getting the team playing as though obsessed with the football.
Every single player in his team knew his role and the entire team moved in unison like a beautiful orchestra. Building on his predecessor’s brand of attacking football, Jurgen Klopp transformed Liverpool FC into an indefatigable, well-oiled machine playing his brand of “heavy metal football”.
With a team of experts working behind the scene, using science and data similar to or inspired by “Moneyball”, they looked at players that would fit immediately or had the potential to be the missing piece. They identified players largely overlooked by top teams. They brought in defensive reinforcements in the shape of Virgil van Dyke (Southampton), Joel Matip (free) and Ragnar Klavan (Augsburg) to take turns anchoring the defence whilst the likes of Andy Robertson (Hull City) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (academy) were given free rein to constantly raid the opposition half, providing support to their frontline. Midfield and forward line additions were not neglected with the likes of Chelsea-reject Mohamed Salah (Roma), Sadio Mane (Southampton) and Georginio Wijnaldum (Newcastle) following suit.
Perhaps the player who benefitted the most under Klopp was Jordan Henderson, a young player who arrived from Sunderland in 2011 to eventually replace club legend Steven Gerrard. After Gerrard’s departure, Klopp built his team around Henderson, enabling Liverpool FC’s potent attacking triumvirate to wreak havoc on the opposition defence while he protected the back from counter attacks or arriving late into the box to score crucial goals.
Fast forward to the current season, even if he has not delivered the English Premier League title to-date, Jurgen Klopp has turned the team, his team, into world beaters. Jurgen Klopp’s reputation as a manager and talent developer is certainly on-par with the best in the footballing world. The only thing left would be for him to not only deliver the English Premier League title but to also leave behind a legacy which would be spoken of in the same breath as other Liverpool greats for decades to come and for the club to continue the work he has started.
By Narendran Jayaraman