I HAD never seen Jürgen Klopp in the flesh before he was unveiled as Liverpool’s manager. And there he was: tall, powerfully limbed; dressed immaculately, making Ian Ayre — the person presenting him — look slightly inadequate suddenly.
Like Liverpool managers of the past, Klopp will probably build a team in his image. Roy Evans was nice and his team was too nice. Gérard Houllier was uncompromising and his team was uncompromising. Rafael Benítez, he was stubborn and his team was stubborn. Roy Hodgson was inadequate and his team was inadequate. Brendan Rodgers was a dreamer and his team: well, you get the theme.
So it’s logical to think that Klopp will fashion a side that is emotional, bordering on loopy: one with lots of energy and one that is hard-working and belligerent. We have not quite seen Klopp’s belligerent side in public yet, though I suspect it won’t be long until we do.
When questioned whether Christian Benteke’s absence adds more pressure on Daniel Sturridge before his debut as Liverpool manager at Tottenham last weekend, he leaned forward with his arms folded, as if a headmaster was addressing a gobby pupil. “Have you heard of Origi?” he asked, rolling his tongue on the R of the centre-forward’s surname, as if to emphasise that everyone listening should already know the answer. And then he started to laugh, messing with our minds, like Doctor Hibbert in The Simpsons, who always breaks moments of awkwardness with an inappropriate chuckle.
Klopp must have known about Sturridge’s injury by then. After leaving the room he was told that Danny Ings is likely to miss the rest of the season. Maybe he was sending out a message that he believes in Origi. Maybe he has to because, presently, he’s the only striker available to him.
He stressed after the goalless draw at White Hart Lane that Liverpool does not need a sprinkling of “magic dust” and the comment was significant, certainly in the short-term. What it needs is absolute focus and concentration. Meetings with fan groups like the ones he organised in his first weeks as Borussia Dortmund’s manager are going to have to wait — as are long discussions over recruitment — because Klopp realises he has inherited a squad that is somehow handily placed to make this a campaign to remember considering the start it made under Brendan Rodgers.
It is not for now but eventually Klopp should consider how Liverpool is structured and whether it is set up to achieve sustained success.
I have written in this column before about how other major European clubs have ex-players involved at different levels of operations and how it compares to the way things are at Liverpool, where they only take on ambassadorial roles: turning up for pre-season tours, smiling earnestly into the cameras, shaking hands with rich businessmen or receiving piggy backs in Asian hotel rooms from Ian Ayre, of all the people.
Instead, imagine this: Klopp as Liverpool’s manager, working closely with Jamie Carragher, the sporting director. The pair think alike about football and the way Liverpool people want to see it played. Klopp benefited from a close relationship with Michael Zorc at Dortmund, who like Carragher is a one-club man and a Champions League winner. Carragher and Zorc understand what it takes for success to be realised in the melting pot of a hometown club.
Carragher is clearly happy as a pundit on Sky Sports. And he’s brilliant at it. But that should not put Liverpool off. Given the opportunity, he would surely relish such an essential role; one which does not undermine the manager in any way because Klopp’s personality is so considerable and the fans really want him in charge anyway.
Passion and intelligence is what made him a great player. It’s what makes him a great pundit. Carragher could be Liverpool’s Matthias Sammer. He could become Liverpool’s Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Surely he can’t resist the whiff of front-line football for much longer.
There was a period in his Liverpool career when he could have represented any of Europe’s top clubs. An official high up at AC Milan told me last year that it was Carragher rather than Steven Gerrard that Carlo Ancelotti considered approaching in the aftermath of Liverpool’s Champions League victory over them in 2005. Yet, perhaps like others, Milan were put off trying to recruit Carragher because he seemed so aligned to Liverpool’s cause and, ultimately, so happy.
Carragher would provide football expertise at Liverpool where it is currently lacking. There would be a link between the boardroom (if one really exists at Anfield or even Chapel Street anymore) and the management. He could be the quiet word in Klopp’s ear, the word that Rodgers never received because nobody at Liverpool was capable of offering the appropriate advice. He could help with recruitment — particularly locally — and improve dialogue between Kirkby and Melwood, though that dialogue was apparently healthy before Rodgers’ departure.
This brings me to Steven Gerrard. Imagine him in a management role at Liverpool’s academy, maybe in charge of the Under-21s. Maybe performances and results at that level might begin to mean something. Imagine Gerrard turning up at your door asking your son to play for Liverpool. Everton are currently ahead of Liverpool on that front. Too many Liverpudlians have chosen Everton despite their allegiances since Steve Heighway’s departure and that needs to be addressed if a true soul is to reappear in the first team.
Gerrard’s mere presence might put an end to the cycle — as Heighway’s did when he took charge all those years ago. Gerrard would have to take a cut in wages so there would be a financial sacrifice on his part. Los Angeles, for him, has been an experiment and one worth doing because it has fortified his love of home.
His appointment at a lower level would enable him to gain valuable experience and appreciate, if he didn’t already, that it should be Liverpool’s academy that defines matters at first-team level and not the other way around. His return would show that Fenway Sports Group are serious about succession planning. If Gerrard is serious about becoming a Liverpool manager in the distant future, he will make it work.
It’s worth imagining.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo