I’m so glad that Jurgen is a Red

After the reorganisation of English football and the creation of the Premier League, Liverpool Football Club never seemed able to replicate the glory of the 70s and 80s. Gone was the dominance of Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish. English football had been inherited by the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, and Jose Mourinho. 

As a Liverpool fan born in 2002, much of my early childhood supporting the club involved living vicariously through past glories. I was too young to remember even more recent triumphs like the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’. At the 2005 Champions League Final, Liverpool came from 3-0 down at half time against an AC Milan side which was (on paper) probably one of the greatest XIs ever to play in a Champions League final. Liverpool drew the game 3-3 and won on penalties. I have probably spent hours rewatching Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzey Dudek’s famous double save in the dying seconds of extra time, to take the game to penalties. Each time I still think Milan’s Shevchenko is going to score. 

much of my early childhood supporting the club involved living vicariously through past glories

Whilst I wasn’t the right age to watch Istanbul, I was just the right age to be traumatised by ‘Crystanbul’. The 2013/14 Premier League season was Liverpool’s best chance to win the title for years. The attacking duo of Suárez and Sturridge was unstoppable: their combined goalscoring output was often compared to teams, not players. Dreams of winning the title would be comprehensively destroyed at the end of the season, first with a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea – the infamous Gerrard slip – and then Liverpool bottling a 3-0 lead at Crystal Palace in the last 11 minutes of the game, to draw 3-3. Likening the game to Liverpool’s Champions League comeback, rival fans dubbed the performance Crystanbul. The season would end with Liverpool in 2nd, 2 points off title winners Manchester City.

Things would really go from bad to worse for Liverpool after that. Suárez left the club for Barcelona in the summer. Legend and captain Steven Gerrard would leave the following January. What was left was a defence which had been exposed as our achilles heel when we were challenging for the title. We would finish 6th and be 25 points off the top at the end of the 2014/15 season. We then lost another star Raheem Sterling in the summer, and whilst languishing in 10th at the start of the new season, manager Brendan Rodgers was sacked. 

After hearing the news, former player Jamie Carragher was able to encapsulate the feeling of supporting Liverpool during this period: “Liverpool are becoming Tottenham. Think they’re a big club, but the real big clubs are not too worried about them” (apologies to any Spurs fans reading this). All we had to show for in 10 years was 1 League Cup.

It was in this sorry condition that on 8th October 2015, former Borussia Dortmund manager and glasses enthusiast Jurgen Klopp found the club. Klopp had been unbelievable at Dortmund: he broke the tight grip Bayern Munich had on the German Bundesliga, winning two consecutive titles, and brought Dortmund all the way to the Champions League final, only to lose out to his German rivals. 

But even with these past successes, the challenges he was facing were immense. As Klopp said himself, he needed to change the club from doubters to believers. Years of failure had left us feeling defeated, and lacking the self-belief that a club requires to compete at the highest level. 

In his first press conference as Liverpool manager, Klopp referenced something he had said upon leaving Dortmund: “it’s not so important what people think when you come in. It’s much more important what people think when you leave.”

it’s not so important what people think when you come in. It’s much more important what people think when you leave

Fast forward to 26th January 2024, and Klopp announced that he will be leaving Liverpool at the end of the season. Upon hearing the news, Liverpool supporters were devastated. One fan said it felt like a member of their family had died. Some commentators compared him to the legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, who transformed the club by getting them out of the second division and becoming three-time English champions. Others have described him as a god-like figure. Based on the metric for success that Klopp set in 2015, it seems like things have gone pretty well. 

It’s impossible to fully quantify the impact Jurgen Klopp has had on Liverpool Football Club. It’s something which extends far beyond silverware, even if there’s now plenty of that to go around. 

Klopp’s first season in charge (15/16) saw Liverpool reach the League Cup final, losing out to Manchester City on penalties. He also led us to the Europa League final, only to lose to Villarreal. That campaign gave Liverpool fans one of the first glimpses of the staple Jurgen Klopp comeback: we overcame a 3-1 second half deficit against his former club Dortmund in the quarter-finals of the competition, winning the game 4-3 (and 5-4 on aggregate). 

Liverpool would end the season with no trophies, 8th in the premier league and 21 points off the top. But we were all having a lot more fun. That’s something Klopp has always been good at. His gegenpressing style of football has quickly turned Liverpool into the entertainers of Europe, dazzling the opposition with fast paced, exciting football. He’s helped redefine the role of the full-back in the premier league: Klopp veterans Trent Alexander Arnold and Andy Robertson now have the first and second highest number of assists for a defender in premier league history.

The 16/17 season would be next, which saw Liverpool qualify for the Champions League for the first time since the Crystanbul days, finishing 4th in the league and 17 points off the top. But it would be the 2017/18 season when Klopp would really begin to make his mark on English football. Fans fell in love with the now iconic front three of Mohammad Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, as they tore up a Manchester City team at Anfield which would go on to win the Premier League with a record points total. 17/18 was over, but City’s dominance meant Liverpool were 4th, 25 points from top. 

When evaluating Klopp’s managerial career, there are stories of triumph over adversity, but also of terrible luck. It’s hard to think of many other managers who have won so much, and yet come so close to winning so much more. At the end of the 17/18 season Liverpool, having made the Champions League final for the first time since 2007, would lose 3-1 to Real Madrid. This was Klopp’s sixth successive defeat in a cup final as a manager. Liverpool lost their star player (and premier league golden boot winner) Salah in the early stages of the game, after being taken out by what can only be described as a judo tackle from Sergio Ramos. Goalkeeper Loris Karius (later found to be suffering concussion during the game) would make two mistakes to give Madrid the victory.

It’s hard to think of many other managers who have won so much, and yet come so close to winning so much more

It would be repeated in the 2021/22 Champions League Final, this time with Madrid winning 1-0. Liverpool had dominated the game comprehensively: a cursory look at the stats will tell you that. 9 shots on target vs 2 for Madrid, 24 vs 4 shots overall. Salah and Mane had incredible chances, but Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois put in one of the best goalkeeping performances I’ve ever seen in a final, to give Madrid the win.  

Klopp’s bad luck has also followed him in the league. In the 18/19 season, Liverpool finished 2nd to Manchester City, losing by 1 point. That loss could be chalked down to Manchester City defender John Stones denying Liverpool a goal with a clearance that stopped the ball from crossing the line by literal millimetres. Had that ball crossed the line, Liverpool would not only have been champions, but would also have been placed alongside Arsenal’s Invincibles as the only other team to go unbeaten in a premier league season. 

A similar story would follow in the league in 21/22, with Liverpool AGAIN losing to City by one point. This was after City went 2-0 down against Aston Villa on the final day, only to pull off a remarkable 3-2 comeback. 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking what might have been when reflecting on the Klopp era. There’s a universe not that different from our own where Klopp has 3 champions leagues and 3 premier leagues (1 unbeaten) at Liverpool alone, instead of one of each. This can be hard to take, because it feels like Klopp should have the titles which will give him more recognition as one of the all time greats. But Liverpool fans know that Klopp’s tenure means so much more than a list of accolades. He’s given us the magic that football is all about. 

One such moment of magic was probably the greatest football match I’ve ever seen. The year was 2019. The setting, the second leg of Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final against Barcelona. The first leg had seen Barcelona tear us to shreds 3-0, with a vintage Lionel Messi performance. With Salah and Firmino both injured going into the game, the odds of any kind of comeback was bleak. Before the game Klopp told the players that a comeback was probably impossible: “But because it’s you? Because it’s you, we have a chance.” 

That’s the kind of belief Klopp instils in this club. The belief to keep pushing in impossible circumstances. After leading Barcelona 1-0 at the break, substitute Gini Wijnaldum would score 2 goals in 2 minutes, and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner to Divock Origi would give Liverpool a 4-0 victory (4-3 on aggregate), sending them to the final.

The injured Salah actually wore a t-shirt during the game with ‘never give up’ written on it. To do that when it seems almost certain that your team is about to be knocked out of the champions league is insane: but that is the belief that Klopp creates. Because it’s you, we have a chance. 

Liverpool would go on to win their first Champions League since Istanbul. How could you top that? Only by finishing the job they had started, and being crowned premier league champions in the 19/20 season. 

Klopp had finally done it, giving Liverpool their first ever Premier League title, and first English league title in 30 years. This was followed by more cup wins, meaning from his time at Liverpool, Klopp currently boasts 1 Premier League, 1 Champions League, 1 FA Cup, 2 Carabao Cups, 1 Uefa Super Cup, 1 Club World Cup, and 1 Community Shield. 

He’s done all of this with a fraction of the resources of other managers. Since 2014, Liverpool have had a net transfer spend of €462 million. That’s miles below Man City (€856 million), Arsenal (€872 million), Chelsea (€1.033 billion) and Man United (an embarrassingly high €1.396 billion). Klopp has often had to rely on coaching homegrown talent and cheap signings into title winning players. This has worked like a charm: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson and Joe Gomez are just a few successful examples. 

He’s done all of this with a fraction of the resources of other managers

When Klopp has been able to splash the cash, he’s done so with the support of a team that have shown an expert ability to spot and develop existing talent. Klopp took Virgil Van Dijk, a defender tearing up the premier league at Southampton, and turned him into the best centre back in the world. Van Dijk became so good he almost won the 2019 Ballon D’or, losing out to the greatest of all time (Lionel Messi) by only 7 points. Klopp took Salah, who had been rejected by Chelsea, and turned him into a monster who broke the premier league goalscoring record in his first season at the club. He helped make Allisson Becker the best goalkeeper in the world, and one of the best the premier league has ever seen. I could go on and on and on. 

Last Sunday’s Carabao Cup final victory against Chelsea was a textbook example of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. As captain, Van Dijk put in a man of the match performance, heading home in the 118th minute of extra time to win the game 1-0. But he didn’t lead a standard Liverpool lineup. A string of injuries before and during the game, coupled with it going into extra time, meant Liverpool’s academy had to step up. By the end of the game, 3 of Liverpool’s players were teenagers. They faced a formidable Chelsea side, with high-value signings such as Moises Caicedo (£115 million), Enzo Fernandez (£107 million), and Mykhailo Mudryk (£89 million). Gary Neville characterised the victory as “Klopp’s kids against the blue billion-pound bottlejobs.” 

That is what a Jurgen Klopp side is about. Beating a team in the most exciting way possible, when faced with difficult circumstances. Klopp’s Liverpool gets results with the whole squad coming together, right from Ballon D’or runners-up, down to teenage academy prospects. 

Klopp’s Liverpool gets results with the whole squad coming together, right from Ballon D’or runners-up, down to teenage academy prospects

One of the star performers on Sunday was Caoimhin Kelleher, Liverpool’s second choice goalkeeper, who made some ridiculous saves, including in a one on one with Conor Gallagher. Kelleher is someone who will always be second to Allisson at Liverpool, and would thrive as a first choice goalkeeper at many premier league sides. But he hasn’t left Liverpool. He has stayed at the club and performs when he is called upon. That’s the environment that Klopp creates: everyone is a core part of the club, and is eager to play their role in the club’s success.

At the same time, Klopp has a relentless capacity to keep going in the face of setbacks, which he manages to transfer to the whole team. Even when he’d lost 6 consecutive cup finals, lost 3 champions league finals, lost 2 titles to Man City by 1 point, he keeps going. That’s how you get results like Sunday: an enduring attitude to never stop trying to succeed. There are countless examples like it throughout Klopp’s tenure.

At the time of writing, Liverpool remain in contention for the FA Cup, Europa League and Premier League. But no matter the results of those contests at the end of the season, Klopp’s departure will dominate emotions. 

Whilst Klopp is leaving the club, he will always be hailed as a hero

Last season, when Liverpool were struggling to perform, the website Goal asked Liverpool fans whether they would rather Liverpool win the Champions League at the end of the season and Klopp leaves, or they get nothing but Klopp stays. They all chose Klopp to stay. That’s because he transcends any fleeting trophies or titles. He’s completely transformed the outlook of the club, restoring the hope and pride of the 70s and 80s to the fanbase. Whilst Klopp is leaving the club, he will always be hailed as a hero. He succeeded in his most important mission: turning us from doubters, to believers.

Image Credit: Dudek1337 via Wikimedia Creative Commons

Image Description: Jurgen Klopp during Liverpool’s trophy parade after winning Champions League in 2019