It's been four years since Jurgen Klopp walked out on the Anfield pitch to be presented to assembled media, replacing Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool’s 19th permanent manager.
The current and former Reds managers embraced pre-match when Rodgers’ Leicester were at Anfield this weekend, four years and a day after the Northern Irishman was sacked following a run of one win in nine games. Writing in his pre-match programme notes, Klopp acknowledged the work of his predecessor, saying he was “very fortunate to inherit the team I did from Brendan”. He added that Rodgers “built a team with a clear identity and purpose”.
Such a claim is highly debatable: Rodgers massively lost his way in his final year on Merseyside, signing players at odds with his own ethos and whose styles did not suit Liverpool – primarily Christian Benteke. The Belgian was signed by Rodgers but only once Liverpool’s so-called transfer committee had also acquired the Brazilian attacker Roberto Firmino – a player Klopp's predecessor misused and seemingly didn’t trust, and who has gone on to become the focal point of Liverpool’s attack under Klopp.
Firmino was one of seven players in the Liverpool squad on Saturday who remain from Rodgers’ time at Anfield, and there were handshakes from Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana on the touchline as the substitutes warmed up during the game.
It’s unlikely that there was such a warm greeting for Rodgers from Liverpool’s now-sporting director Michael Edwards, with whom he had a fractious relationship. A hack from one British newspaper once wrote how Liverpool’s transfer committee, of which Edwards was a leading part, “have yet to explain how they came up with the figure of £29 million” for Firmino. Those words look frankly laughable now.
Klopp’s attitude and acceptance of Edwards’ role and methods make up one of the five key moments in his management at Anfield so far...
1. Losing the 2016 Europa League Final
“Two hours ago you all felt shit,” said Klopp after defeat to Sevilla in the Europa League final at the end of his first part-season in charge, before rousing: “This is just the start for us. We will play in many more finals.”
Liverpool have reached a final in every European season under Klopp.
Defeat in Basel proved to Reds players that the bigger picture was more important, and instilled a belief among them that Klopp would ensure they will go on to better things. "At that moment I sensed that he could see that, he was confident about getting to another final,” assessed Henderson later.
Defeat to the Spanish side was tough to take at the time, but perhaps also proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Merseysiders, who were then able to focus on domestic matters the following season – they finished fourth and qualified for the Champions League for just the second time in seven years.
Victory would have meant a return to the Champions League in Klopp’s first full season in charge, when ideas and coaching methodologies had not yet been implemented. It would have been running too soon. Instead, Klopp had more time to get his methods across at Melwood. His squad was not yet ready for Europe’s elite competition.
A year later, it was.
2. Signing Virgil van Dijk
Liverpool have hardly made a bad signing under Klopp’s management. Each arrival has been a perfect fit for the playing style and filled a key role.
Much of this has been an insistence on getting the right man, and – crucially – being prepared to wait for them if needs be. There have been no second-best options or signings for the sake of it.
Never has this been more accurate than waiting an extra six months to sign Virgil van Dijk for a then-world record fee for a defender in January 2018. This was a player who, according compatriot Gini Wijnaldum, Klopp was speaking about with players two years earlier.
When he did finally arrive, the Dutch defender was exactly what Liverpool needed, and it’s unlikely they would be the side they are today without him. He has been transformative signing for the club, the fans and the team-mates who knew this was a signal of intent.
3. Losing to Real Madrid in 2018
Defeat to Real Madrid in 2018 was Klopp’s third final loss as Liverpool manager, and sixth final defeat in a row as a manager. Not that you’d have noticed from a video which went viral shortly after, with Klopp singing: “We saw the European Cup, Madrid had all the f***ing luck. We swear we'll keep on being cool. And bring it back to Liverpool.”
And that they did at the very next attempt, beating Tottenham a year later in Madrid to lift Liverpool’s sixth European Cup.
Again, Klopp instilled a mentality into his players – and the fans – that defeat does not mean the end of the road for this squad. The manager has spoken many times about how this group can grow and ‘write their own stories’ in Liverpool’s history. And that they are now doing.
4. Embracing a sporting director
Rodgers, who refused to work under a director of football when owners FSG had lined up Louis van Gaal for the role, had a fraught relationship with Liverpool’s transfer gurus. He initially shunned their recommendation of Daniel Sturridge, and attempted to offload Henderson in a bid to sign 29-year-old American forward Clint Dempsey, among other transfer failures.
Conversely, Klopp has embraced the sporting director model – one which he was comfortable with from his time in Germany – and frequently spoken highly of the team of analysts in the background. Klopp has revealed the role Liverpool’s scouts played in persuading him to sign Mohamed Salah, and for their identification of Firmino prior to Klopp arriving at the club.
He regularly praises his goalkeeper coach, John Achterburg, for his analysis, and in 2017 even credited the club’s backroom analysts for a free-kick routine which saw Philippe Coutinho score by firing under Brighton’s defensive wall.
Klopp has no ego and knows he cannot do it all, which is very far from Rodgers’ “I’m better when I have control” mantra.
The arrivals of nutritionist Mona Nemmer and fitness coach Andreas Kornmayer have hugely benefited Liverpool, with Klopp keen to ensure he has experts around him. He knows the benefit of a collegiate approach. This has been the foundations of his transformation on Merseyside.
5. Beating Barcelona 4-0
‘Never give up’ said Salah’s t-shirt as Liverpool’s squad and staff assembled on the Anfield pitch after one of the most dramatic nights in the club’s European history.
Salah was injured that night. So too was Firmino. Andy Robertson went off injured at half-time with Liverpool still two behind on aggregate.
But it was Klopp who had instilled such belief in his tight-knit squad that they could overcome any obstacle, even after a 3-0 defeat in the first leg. Midfielder Fabinho told how in the ice pool with Sadio Mané at the Camp Nou after the game, Klopp approached him and asked: "Gini said we'll get through next week. What do you think?” "I'm sure of it,” said the Brazilian. "Good. There's three of us already!” said the boss.
That incredible victory hasn’t been the only memorable occasion Anfield has enjoyed under Klopp. There's been a 5-4 aggregate win over Borussia Dortmund after needing three goals to progress with 25 minutes remaining; a 3-0 win over Manchester City in the Champions League; then blitzing to a 5-0 lead against Roma in the semi-final. These nights showcased Klopp’s Liverpool around Europe and put the club back on the world stage.
Four years after Klopp declared at his unveiling that “If I sit here in four years, I am pretty confident we will have one title [trophy],” the German has delivered the Champions League trophy, Liverpool’s highest ever points total, three consecutive top-four finishes for the first time in a decade, and restored his club to the pinnacle of European football.
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