Jurgen Klopp's War On Cash Could Help Him Work Miracles At Liverpool


For all the hype around Jurgen Klopp, there were many moments in his introductory press conference at Liverpool during which he reminded everyone why that hype exists in the first place. Much of the expectation around him might be unrealistic, but he himself deals in the kind of realism and perceptive outlook that are required to bring results.

He cuts through the bullshit. That was never more evident than when he was asked about Liverpool previously struggling to sign some of his players at Borussia Dortmund.

“I absolutely don’t care about this,” Klopp responded. “If we cannot sign a player like him then we are not interested in him…

“It is only here that money is such a big thing. It is money, money, money.”

That isn’t quite true. Bayern Munich’s economic power was regularly brought up in Germany as a reason why Klopp’s success with Dortmund was so sensational, and also seen as a main factor in the team’s ultimate fall.

At the same time, he was first able to foster that success precisely because he got the club to think about money - or rather the challenge that a financially imbalanced league represented - in a different way. If Dortmund were never going to win an arms race against Bayern, he prepared for a guerrilla war. He used tactical creativity and intense emotional responses to get around the effect of money, meaning the side were temporarily dependent on qualities independent of cash - at least until the endless stream of players leaving meant it was getting more and more difficult to always have to instil the same ideas into a new group.

That is also why it was so relevant to hear him make such a point about gegenpressing in his Liverpool press conference.

“This team needs to create their own style. If you have the ball you have to be creative but you have to be prepared that if you lose the ball the counter-pressing is very important. It is very important in football. It is not a proposal. It is law.”

That kind of innovation and intensity are also the only ways to break the economic laws of the modern games. In that regard, it is serendipitous that Klopp’s appointment comes in the same week that a film about Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest is released. The slightly sad part is that “I Believe in Miracles” actually only serves as a reminder that genuine football miracles like what Clough achieved at the end of the 1970s are now almost impossible to believe in.

That is because money is such a big thing. League tables have never been so conditioned by wages, where the wealthiest have such an amplified advantage, and the Champions League is increasingly commanded by a cabal of super clubs.

Sometimes it is worth reflecting on how sad it is that clubs like Liverpool or Dortmund or Atletico even challenging is seen as such a feat.

So, the idea of a team mostly made up of misfits or notionally over-the-hill players from a second division to repeat European in the space of five years - with only an influx of genius, rather than cash - seems utterly fanciful, as if from another planet.

It is why Clough’s feat may well be the greatest in football history, but that itself poses a compelling question, and one in which the parameters have now changed. Other than those coaches who immediately acquired success at a wealthy club, such as Pep Guardiola or Carlo Ancelotti, that kind of alchemy is a common strand to many of the great managerial careers.

Nereo Rocco turned Padova from a Serie B team into title challengers, Alex Ferguson broke Old Firm dominance in Scotland with Aberdeen before then beating Real Madrid in the Cup Winners Cup final. The latter’s successor at United, Louis van Gaal, also produced an achievement that now seems out of synch with the modern Champions League by guiding an exceedingly young Ajax to the title.

In more recent times - and reflecting how the game has been conditioned by cash since that Dutch side was broken up - one of the great feats has been Jose Mourinho bringing Porto to the European Cup. They were the last team outside the top 20 richest in the world to lift the trophy, while Klopp’s Dortmund and Simeone’s Atletico are the financially weakest teams to reach the final since then.

Most of these managers only have one such alchemic job on their CV, however, because that very success usually means they never again have to go to clubs have financial limitations.

That is what is so interesting about Klopp too. For all the hype about being the right fit and the specialness of Liverpool, he has made a rational decision that virtually all managers of his status do not. Once again, he just offers that different perspective.