Sports blog

No manager has combined heart and soul with details and hard maths like the German, no wonder he has run out of energy

Sat 18 May 2024 21.00 CEST

“I am, how can I say it, running out of energy.” It is, in its own way, the saddest of managerial farewells. Not to mention the most decisive. This is Jürgen Klopp’s thing. He’s an energy source. He’s joules, watts, volts, catalytic reactions. His energy is his energyboth in the tactical pattern of his teams and as a sustained feat of personality.

Throughout the Klopp elegies of the past few weeks, the deep-dives and unpeelings, the endless daily Klopp-trap, it is striking how little that decision has been questioned. The idea of an energy-free-Klopp is just so final, like José Mourinho telling you he’s run out of toxic bile, or Pep Guardiola confessing that, actually, he’s starting to find detailed positional strategy a little samey and humdrum these days. Jürgen is tired. And when that happens, it really is time to go.

Baggies to Barcelona: 10 standout moments of Klopp’s Liverpool reign

As Liverpool’s manager prepares to take charge of his 491st and final match against Wolves on Sunday, a club tally that puts him behind only Bob Paisley, Bill Shankly and Tom Watson, the youngest of whom was born in 1919, the lasting memory of his time is that sense of heat and light.

Energy was the key note of the first of those games in October 2015, a bruising 0-0 draw at Tottenham memorable for the sight of a newly Klopp-ified Adam Lallana haring around like a man being chased by a swarm of bees.

It was present even before his arrival, in the whispers and the chat. There was something proselytizing and revivalist about the coming of  Klopp. Winter is over. The crocuses are thrusting through the snow. Aslan is here, flaring his mane, baring his teeth, hugging people in a tracksuit.

Klopp’s energy was expressed in his basic physicality, a manager who always seemed to be running off somewhere very important, eyes boggled, clawing the air, cuffing, clapping, pointing, everybody’s mad dad. It was key to his best teams, the gegenpressing in attack, the way midfield and full backs moved the ball constantly to exhaust and overwhelm opponents.

Jürgen Klopp lifts the Champions League trophy in 2019. Photograph: Armando França/AP

It was there in the very raw and personal connection with the club and the city. It always seemed odd Liverpool’s owners felt the need to go through a Moneyball-ish, data-driven process to land on Klopp in the first place. At the time he was already the most-wanted young-ish manager in Europe. Mainly, there was just that very obvious emotional fit, the left-leaning collectivism, the “whole club” warmth at a place that has always adored its benevolent patriarchs.

Klopp re-geared and updated the idea of the manager as an overarching figure, emotional armature for an entire institution, at a time when feelings and connections and warmth are key to that most vital of things: the product. In the end, that cinematic slightly  cartoonish energy – there he goes, the snow king, Father Christmas, a very happy and clever golden retriever who has learned to walk on his hind legs – was Klopp’s greatest gift to the Premier League too. Just imagine the place without him in that time.

It’s necessary to deal with the numbers. And his numbers have already been raked over and divvied up by unsympathetic voices, understandably so given the media fawn-athon of his departure. So let’s clear this up. It is possible to argue Klopp has underachieved, that a record of one league title and one Champions League in eight full seasons is out of all proportion to his reputation. But that relatively meagre haul is also key to his story.

Klopp’s Liverpool have twice finished one point behind Manchester City and have twice lost in Champions League finals to Real Madrid. City were already a champion team when Klopp arrived (Liverpool were in the Europa League, drifting in the post-Rodgers void). Over the next eight years, City hired the greatest manager of the modern age and spent twice as much as Liverpool, net, a total of £400m more on new players.

City are perhaps the greatest, most annihilatingly metronomic footballing entity to be created in England. Chuck in the fact they’re also facing 115 Premier League financial charges. This is the team Klopp lost to by a single point twice. It takes an impressively single-issue degree of tribalism to conclude the story here is his underachievement.

Sustaining a challenge over that period was a serious feat of management. More than this, it also rescued the Premier League from a state of brand-busting monotony. Take out Liverpool and City would have won the league every year since 2018 and by huge margins most of the time: 26, 19 points.

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The stage was weirdly empty of elite level Premier League teams in that time, before the appearance of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. Who exactly is pushing City close here? Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s chummy, beta-version Manchester United. José’s cut-and-paste band of desperadoes. A flailing  Chelsea.

This has been Klopp’s added uplift as the league has grown a little colder,  with so many elite clubs mismanaged to a comical degree: an injection of sustaining adrenaline at a time when feelings and heat and energy were a pretty premium  product.

There were three significant Klopp teams in that time. The first was the most fun and vicious and ragged, Mo Salah season one, a team that was all energy, chaotically open to counterattack, but also open to devouring your full-backs in the opening half-hour.

Klopp had always used intensity as a weapon. His generation of gegenpressers has its roots in the coaching school of south-west of Germany in the 1990s, Helmut Gross and Ralf Rangnick watching their Arrigo Sacchi videos so many times the tape wore out. As a style it has echoes of classic English direct football, the idea of engineered broken play as an attacking tool, of physically overpowering an opponent, seeing those broken moments of transition as an opportunity. It felt pretty Liverpool, too, the workaholic closing  down of the golden era, my Ian Rush and Craig Johnston of long  ago.

Jürgen Klopp’s 2020 champions were as visceral a side as the Premier League has seen. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

That team also needed to take a breath. Klopp added steel and patience and more controlled ways of winning, driven by the major signings of Alisson and Virgil van Dijkin the process creating one of the most visceral teams of the modern age. The transfer fees were huge at the time. But nobody came into that team a ready made star, even if every one of them would have the best time of his career in that period.

The peak moments were the comeback against Barcelona in May 2019a night that left Lionel Messi in tears, when Anfield become a wild disorientating place, the veil between crowd and players stretched thin, energy flowing freely; and the 4-0 at Leicester on Boxing Dayperfectly balanced and calibrated aggression, a team playing with a kind of light around it.

That team ran itself into the ground A turning point came with Van Dijk’s ligament injury in October 2020. In two years to that point Liverpool won the Champions League, Premier League and Club World Cup. Four years since have brought one FA Cup and two Carabaos.

The third significant team of Klopp’s Liverpool come close to a treble two years ago. In between the lows were startling, and even quite funny at times, moments like the truly dreadful title defence where they really did seem to be held together with rubber bands, when it became clear just what a high-wire act this was. Very good footballers were encouraged to reach out into the far limits of their talent, but also to stretch themselves thin. Everyone needed to be up all the time. Klopp had to be up all the time. The Premier League eats its own. Little wonder he’s tired now.

Nobody else has ever quite combined the folksy old footballing energy, the heart and soul stuff, with the details and the hard maths of elite modern management. What will remain is an unforgettable champion team, as visceral in its single peak year as anything the Premier League has seen; and the imprint, the sensory memory of all that energy.













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2024-05-19 00:25:00
#Jürgen #Klopps #Liverpool #rescued #league #brandbusting #monotony #Jürgen #Klopp


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