It has been close to five years since the Jurgen Klopp era kicked off at Liverpool. The way he went about putting the club back on its perch is well documented. From despondency to hope to euphoria, Klopp has managed every emotion and expectation of one of the biggest fan bases in world sport.
The club’s current success on the pitch was achieved the hard way. The trophies won in the last two seasons are not the result of a “Team of Destiny”-style hot streak, nor a generous influx of cash or expensive transfers. I, for one, completely missed the mark on how Klopp would go about building the squad.
I was looking forward to an influx of Bundesliga talent and veterans from his days at Borussia Dortmund. Thankfully, I was proven wrong. Klopp is devoted to his system, and every player he inherited from the Brendan Rodgers era was given a fair chance to prove himself.
As they say, cream rises to the top. Klopp stuck with Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino, James Milner, Divock Origi, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho, Lucas – and even for a certain period with the Welsh Pirlo, Joe Allen. Klopp is a manager who does not suffer fools, and sure enough the Balotellis, Sakhos, and Bentekes of the team were quickly shown the door.
Strong, level-headed, and passionate players began to trickle in in Klopp’s first full season, starting with Sadio Mane and Joel Matip. The results soon started to reflect the team chemistry, as Liverpool finished in the top four for the first time in two seasons.
A hidden gem was uncovered in Andy Robertson, and young players like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez stepped up to lay the foundations of a fighting unit that could compete with the best in Europe.
It surely speaks to the imagination of Klopp and Michael Edwards, his counterpart in the front office, that they were able to build a team that comprised of youth players (Alexander-Arnold), hardened veterans (Milner, Lucas, Lallana), world-class talents (Alisson Becker, Virgil Van Dijk, Sadio Mane), box office stars (Mohamed Salah) and lion-hearted leaders (Jordan Henderson).
Conviction In Team Building
All the above players have, at one point or other in time, been overlooked or written off. Even Salah’s signing was greeted with skepticism by pundits due to his unremarkable stint at Stamford Bridge, before his nascent redemption at Roma.
But Klopp assumed nothing, and kept faith in the inherent quality and attitude of these players. It would be disingenuous to claim that he had instituted a swim-or-sink policy for the players, because he stuck with Lallana and Sturridge through injuries, and with Lucas and Dejan Lovren through bad games. The selflessness and optimism of players mattered to him too.
To this day, he still displays this deep sense of loyalty to players – exhibited by his continued support of Naby Keita. Naby has struggled to find his rhythm on account of injuries, but he has lit up the pitch once he got an extended run of health and opportunities – and was one of Liverpool’s best performers during Project Restart. In my opinion, he will play a major part in the team’s success during the 2020-21 season. He has never had emotional outbursts in the press or in training; that kind of attitude is what Klopp treasures more than anything else.
He Will Not Be Moved
The Timo Werner transfer saga is one that gives us a peak into Klopp’s indomitable willpower. With the support of Michael Edwards and the owners, Klopp remained confident enough to not enter a bidding war with Chelsea over Werner’s services. The player and his agent refused to budge on their financial demands, and Liverpool ultimately decided to walk away.
The same occurred in the case of Jamal Lewis and Norwich City:
Step 1: Norwich named a price for the player
Step 2: Liverpool agreed to the price for the player
Step 3: Norwich rescind the agreed upon price and come back with a higher price
Step 4: WELCOME TO ANFIELD, KONSTANTINOS TSIMIKAS!!!
Now, we all know that the above series of events has been an accepted tactic of clubs for an awfully long time. But it being an accepted and common tactic does not make it any less of a total DICK MOVE. Jurgen Klopp has no time or patience for dick moves. What this move told me was that Liverpool FC finally recognized the vastness of the talent pool in European club soccer presently. The talent pool is basically… the entire planet.
Klopp is not beholden to a player, but he places emphasis on a certain type of player with the skill set (and mindset) that he requires. Players and clubs will come to realize that a cheaper and lower-maintenance player with the same level of talent is always on the horizon. Norwich’s subsequent feeble bleating about lack of respect only proves that they were just put in their place.
This is the kind of steadfast leadership the club has coveted for years. Rafa Benitez built a good squad, yet there were many times when his stubbornness in the transfer market would lead to the club being held to ransom. Protracted transfer sagas for certain players proved to be the club’s undoing in the past (yes, we are looking at you, Mr. Moreno).
Think about this: since Klopp’s appointment, fans do not have to go through the yearly ritual of fretting about our best players having their heads turned by the giants of Champions League. Right now, WE ARE THE GIANTS of the Champions League. We have a nucleus of great players who want to stay because they love playing for Klopp. They are part of a system that shows promise of sustained success and many of the players are secure about their future.
The usual lazy arguments of South American or Continental players preferring to live in London has also been rendered moot. Alisson, Fabinho and Firmino just seem happy all the time. It is amazing how much of a difference good leadership and a clear vision makes.
The leadership and vision are also the reasons none of us (Ed.: reasonable fans) are losing sleep over whether Thiago will end up joining the Reds. Such confidence exists among the fan base that 1) there is either a good alternative available or 2) an in-house option ready to step up and keep the Big Red Machine running on all cylinders.