WHEN Jürgen Klopp came to Liverpool there was almost a collective idea that started forming across the fan base that the messiah had arrived, and that was clear in the excitement for his first game away at Tottenham Hotspur, writes SIMON STEERS.
You could look at what he achieved at Borussia Dortmund and it gave you real hope he could bring that same success to Liverpool. But, there is a reality in football that messiahs do not exist. There is no one man that can transform a football club overnight – even with unlimited resources (although that of course makes it easier).
When Klopp arrived at Liverpool he came with a big reputation and looked a major coup, with many rival clubs looking at the appointment with envy. Behind that reputation though is a different kind of methodology to that of his peers; Klopp is a believer in patiently building a football club on strong foundations – rather than quick fixes.
Klopp is the type of manager that would prefer to build a legacy that has substance, and will be patient enough to wait for the right solution rather than compromising on something he doesn’t want or doesn’t fit his vision.
Klopp isn’t the messiah, so that means he does get things wrong, and not every decision he makes is a good one. But there are still many reasons why he is steering the club in the right direction.
If there has been one area that has created a doubt about the direction of the club under Klopp it has been recruitment. Of course, recruitment isn’t just down to the manager; a failure to address weak areas is a collective one, where Klopp, Michael Edwards and Fenway Sports Group all have to take a level of accountability.
It is always important to look at the overall picture when it comes to recruitment, it is clear that since Klopp arrived you can break it down into three parts: the good, the bad and the ugly.
The suggestion that Liverpool’s recruitment policy is a disaster is unfair. Bringing in Sadio Mane and Mo Salah for under £70million in today’s market is incredible business, and should be part of the overall story when assessing transfers. Under Klopp, the club have actually signed well generally, with four players (Joel Matip, Gini Wijnaldum, Mane and Salah) first-team regulars and all contributing.
We still haven’t seen the best of Loris Karius but given his age and position it is too early to write him off in the long term. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has plenty to prove and has the right attributes to fit well into Klopp’s high-energy game, and will need time to settle and find his feet. Dom Solanke has already shown glimpses of his potential, and has a high ceiling to grow. Andy Robertson has done well in the games he has played so far, but the revival of Alberto Moreno and what he offers as an attacking force has been enough to keep the Scot out the picture regularly so far this season.
The interesting thing so far with all of Klopp’s signings is that there isn’t one who is yet an out-and-out flop, the jury may still be out on one or two, but at times all of them have shown they can fit into the high-energy, attacking style that Klopp favours.
If there is one area of recruitment where Liverpool continually fail it is with the “Plan B” option. In those circumstances where your primary target isn’t available for whatever reason – but the clear weakness exists in your squad.
This hasn’t just been an issue under Klopp, the club often seems to fail to have a list of alternatives when “Plan A” doesn’t come off. The difference under Klopp is that his style isn’t to throw money at short term or what he perceives as high -risk stopgaps, he would rather wait for the right player and work with what he knows until they do.
Although that approach is probably the right thing to do for the club long term, it does come with the risk that you don’t get the instant improvement you need to progress, which is something Klopp is experiencing this season, especially in defensive areas.
In today’s game money is important, but in Klopp’s world time is also a vital ingredient. He needs broad shoulders to soak up the criticism when our weaknesses are exposed, and we missed the opportunity to strengthen. But I am sure he will be looking further forward and will build his team to be competitive over the long term.
One of the biggest frustrations with Liverpool and recruitment is that at least once in every window, this is an avoidable blunder that plays out in the media and undermines anything good that the club does. It sometimes feels that the club tries to over engineer how it uses the media in transfer strategy, no more so than in the summer window and the Virgil van Dijk tapping up saga.
All clubs use the media in transfers, but it is a game where you can easily be burnt, and hopefully there was a huge lesson learnt after the summer that behind-the-scenes conversations can be a better tactic than trying to use the media to force a situation.
On The Pitch
One of the annoying things about today’s game is the constant comparisons between managers, with people using statistics as a black-and-white method of progress when it really isn’t that straightforward. Some of the comparisons between Brendan Rodgers and Klopp are particularly unhelpful.
Firstly, Rodgers was never a bad manager, nor a failure at Liverpool. He pushed the club forward during his tenure, but in the end lost his way and probably took the club as far as he could. He also aided the development of one of the best players in the world in Luis Suarez — as well as getting the best out Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson.
Liverpool is such a huge institution you need to have a big personality, a big heart and broad shoulders to succeed. You need to be able to stay calm and focused during the bad moments, and not be distracted by all of the noise that comes with being part of such a big club. That is where Klopp is different to Rodgers; he has the experience and track record that better enables him to deal with the ups and downs of managing Liverpool.
Klopp has defined a clear style on the pitch; he has a front foot side that attack with real aggression and speed. We press the ball intelligently in key areas of the pitch and counter with real pace, the movement of our front four makes life very difficult for defenders. When it works, it works brilliantly as we have seen many times under Klopp.
There are obviously weaknesses in our style, not least defensively where we seem to keep making the same mistakes. But I still don’t think this side are at 100 per cent in terms of how Klopp wants us to play, the side has the fluidity he craves, the press, but we haven’t yet seen the team work collectively as a defensive unit, which is what I think Klopp is trying to integrate into our style.
That could be down to the wrong personnel, and/or too many individual errors creating uncertainty and a lack of confidence defensively.
But these are tweaks that can be made – Klopp’s team plays with a clear identity, and that is going to evolve and improve over time.
The Role Of FSG
These days, there is far too much focus and noise on who owns Liverpool, and whether supporters are “FSG in” or “FSG out”. The bottom line is that unless you have an owner that is hugely wealthy and acts as a benefactor, you are always likely to be unhappy with how much your club is spending.
FSG have a few key roles, the primary one is to make sure Klopp has the resources he asks for and needs to do his job, providing they are in the parameters of what the club can afford. As long as the club is reinvesting its profit into growing the playing squad or infrastructure such as the ground then that should be a model most fans can sign up to.
Another role for FSG is to make sure they appoint the right people. The jury remains out on Michael Edwards after the summer window, but appointing a Sporting Director was a long overdue and sensible move, to provide some level of accountability for recruitment.
Peter Moore has started well in his role as CEO, looking to engage and be open and transparent in a way we have never seen before with an executive at the Club. The appointment of Tony Barrett is another sign that the club wants to listen more and engage with its supporters.
Of course the most important thing to get right is the manager – who is accountable for guiding the success of the first team.
Beyond that, FSG should play a silent role in the club. Of course they will be involved in setting strategy and budgets, but nobody outside of the club knows the detail behind either of those things. FSG are not perfect, nor are they brilliant owners as we’ve achieved very little since they arrived.
But, the role they should be playing is to set the foundations for the people they employ to be successful, and I retain the belief that is at least what they are trying to do.
Klopp is the man who they have entrusted to take the club forward, and although there have been bumps along the way, with more to inevitably come, there are enough signs both in what he has achieved at Dortmund, and what we have seen so far at Liverpool that if we keep the faith in him, we will get the rewards.
We discussed two years of Jürgen Klopp on our weekly Wrap Up show, take a look at our YouTube channel and if you like what we do, why not SUBSCRIBE to TAW Player for just £5 a month. A subscription also gives you access to our podcast archive – here are some of the highlights so far…