Less than a year and a half ago, Jürgen Klopp bounded into Anfield for the first time. After taking a seat in front of an expectant throng of journalists, there was a strange moment when manager looked at media and media looked at manager. Nobody spoke. The manager smiled, perhaps enjoying this early stranglehold. Just when it started to become awkward, Klopp laughed and encouraged the first question.
Before a word was uttered the first test was passed. The room was in awe of the two-times Bundesliga winner, who arrived with a huge billing as Europe’s hottest managerial property – an emotionally-driven motivator who had been tipped for jobs at Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and more.
Such was serial gobshite Piers Morgan’s horror at the thought of Liverpool replacing Brendan Rodgers with Klopp, he claimed he would set himself on fire if it happened.
We’re still waiting, Piers…
Fresh from a four-month break post-Dortmund, the October 2015 version of Klopp was lean, mean, sharp and serious. There were jokes, there were quotes, but a business-like single-mindedness was also evident.
When the show was over and the scribbling started, every word from the pen of the press was positive. Ah, “the normal one”, they swooned.
The resounding verdict: Liverpool had lured the best. If anyone can, he can. And if he can’t, perhaps no-one ever will. Seventeen months in, after a nightmare run of two wins in 12 in recent weeks, the boom or bust swing of football analysis is now in full effect.
Looking back at his quotes on his first day at the office, it was clear that Klopp knew what would come if he did not deliver; if he did not succeed where Graeme Souness, Roy Evans, Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez, Kenny Dalglish on his return and Rodgers failed (come on, no-one is seriously counting Roy Hodgson are they?).
"If you want to portray me like Jesus, but then the next day say, 'no, he can't walk on water', then we have a problem,” he said.
"I can't walk on water. I dive into it. Expectations are important in life. After all this hype, we can cool down and talk about football. But expectations are one of the most important things we have to talk about. Liverpool fans have been waiting for so many years that I can understand they are losing patience, but it doesn't work like that. Some things will change, because I am different to other managers, but we cannot change the whole world in one day.”
He needed longer than one day. He’s going to need longer than 17 months, too, as tough as that is to stomach. In that time Klopp has brought in just six new players to the club (not counting short-term solutions Steven Caulker and Alex Manninger), spending around £67million.
Meanwhile, 14 players have waved goodbye to the Klopp revolution. And that, by the way, is what it is. Regardless, this week – over and over – stats have been mined to allow the wider world to squint through the “crisis club Liverpool” prism.
Klopp? He’s not even as good as Brendan Rodgers…
Aside from the fact that when Brendan burnt brightest at Liverpool he was actually very good (for another time perhaps), there has to be some context offered up here.
First, by default, two clubs at the top end of the table are always in crisis. Six into four doesn’t go. Whichever two teams are perceived to be missing out from the feast at Europe’s top table at any given point during the campaign will have kicked off the season with high hopes.
That means there is expectation and exasperation to be played upon. It’s manna from heaven for shit stirrers. So we’ve had “crisis club Manchester United”, “crisis club Manchester City”, “crisis club Arsenal”.
Even Antonio Conte got it way back in September. A Chelsea draw with Swansea and defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal…it’s a crisis isn’t it?
Calm consideration can’t hide that Liverpool’s recent run hurts. We’re into our 27th year of it. But the Klopp who arrived 17 months ago vowing to change things is still the Klopp we have now. And he’s still changing things.
He himself has changed, too. It’s a more knowledgeable Klopp. One who, come the summer, will know first-hand the demands of a full season, minus the winter break that is the norm in Germany, in the Premier League.
Klopp will know come May who he can – and can’t – rely on. He was too trusting of the resources he inherited this season. Will he be next?
Klopp’s influence and standing at the club is clear – see the six-year contract, see the likely move from Melwood to a unified training site at Kirkby, something he has pushed for.
He is a leader who can perhaps now go knocking on the door of his paymasters and demand that where bids failed and talks broke down last summer and January for the midfielders and wide men he wanted, deals this time are done and balls are finally shown. It’s what the club now needs.
When Leicester fans and players are taking the piss about winning the Premier League, and Manchester United are matching the club’s trophy haul, it’s time to act. Liverpool need a shot in the arm.
Back to the now. Liverpool sit fifth. Rodgers’ win percentage of 50% of matches is held up to Klopp’s current record of 48.3% as evidence of a failing manager by some.
Yet Klopp has taken charge of 87 matches versus the 166 managed by Rodgers. Rodgers walked into Anfield able to call on Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling. In his first winter window, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho joined.
Klopp inherited a squad broken, battered and bruised. He had to marry up the misfits, ship out the shite and bring back belief. Liverpool then were too reliant on Sturridge for goals. Balotelli and Benteke were in the ranks…big money buys that never looked like working.
This time around, Liverpool signed nobody in January, despite Klopp admitting: “We need players, our players plus a few new faces.”
Last season, the Reds finished a dismal eighth but the league campaign was effectively abandoned for the European adventure that so very nearly ended in glory. Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, Villarreal – great nights; chicken soup for the soul.
Even defeat in the final didn’t temper expectations too much. Two finals and some big scalps in his first season was seen as a decent enough start. Those expectations were through the roof by the time Liverpool topped the league in November. Great football, loads of goals, opposition managers falling over themselves to offer praise.
We thought we could do it then. And why wouldn’t you? Doubts are for the joyless.
Now the dream has died (again) heads must stay on shoulders.
In the last 10 Premier League seasons Liverpool have finished second twice, third once, fourth once, sixth twice, seventh twice and eighth twice. The last trophy won was five years ago.
Rodgers’ ‘good season’ was sandwiched by mediocrity, despite Liverpool signing 33 players during his time in charge.
The table in the here and now reads 49 points from 26 games – four points off second spot as things stand. Forget the tabloids, how good or bad is that as a benchmark?
Last season Liverpool had 38 points from 26 games – and sat 13 points off second. The season before? – 45 from 26. And what about 13-14, the ‘nearly won the league’ season?
It read 53 from 26. Just four points more on the board for a side that went so close to number 19 come May.
I’m not an “apologist”. I’m not “spinning”. Liverpool’s form has been dismal lately. I don’t agree with every decision Klopp has made; he isn’t bombproof and he isn’t perfect.
Crucially, he never claimed he was.
Klopp, like Liverpool, looks a little lost for mojo right now.
But I still think we’ve seen enough to keep the pitchforks under wraps. Let the shit-stirrers stir. There’s plenty to play for and as a lesson learned this season will be a big one.
Liverpool must surely buy in the summer; buy well, and buy many. Klopp must surely know that. In the meantime, he remains the right man.