Premier League Review - Matchday 7Oct 4
There always seemed a sense of inevitability around Jurgen Klopp’s appointment as Liverpool manager.
His long-awaited arrival was finally confirmed in October 2015 after his predecessor, Brendan Rodgers, was relieved of his duties following a poor start to the season.
Klopp had departed his former side Borussia Dortmund in May that year with two Bundesliga titles, a German Cup and a Champions League final appearance, hoping to take a break from the intensity of football management.
But when Liverpool came calling less than five months later, the allure proved too difficult to turn down.
Klopp’s revolutionary brand of football, which had helped popularise tactical innovations such as the ‘gegenpress’, had seen him rise to notoriety and become Liverpool’s number one target following a forensic search by American owner John W. Henry.
Henry, influenced by baseball’s ‘Moneyball’ statistical insurrection, honed in on Klopp after his name was identified by a team of leading mathematicians and data scientists as the right man for the job.
While numbers and statistical models demonstrated his potential value to the team on their quest to secure Premier League and Champions League titles, it quickly became clear that Klopp’s greatest attribute was beyond the quantitative.
Call it charisma, call it emotional intelligence, whatever it is, Klopp had it in spades, winning fans over immediately with almost his first words to them.
“We have to change from doubters to believers,” he beamed, “Now.”
It was a message that was tested over the resulting season as Liverpool were beaten in both the League Cup and Europa League finals, finishing the 2015/16 Premier League season in eighth place.
Regardless, the signs of progress were there for all to see as Klopp penned a six-year contract extension ahead of his first full season in charge.
A subsequent top-four finish meant Liverpool’s return to the Champions League, albeit via the qualifying play-offs, for the following 2017/18 season – a campaign which proved to be the coming out party for Klopp’s Liverpool on the European stage.
Propelled by the goals of new arrival Mo Salah, who helped himself to 44 goals in 52 appearances in his debut season, alongside Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, the Reds tore through the Champions League, breaking the competition’s long-standing goals record with 47 from just 15 games.
Exhilarating knockout ties with Manchester City and Roma failed to halt their momentum until Real Madrid capitalised on a number of Liverpool mistakes to triumph 3-1 in the 2018 final in Kiev, marking the second Champions League final defeat of Klopp’s career.
Undeterred, Liverpool promptly returned to the tournament finale the following season, pulling off arguably the most remarkable comeback in Champions League history along the way.
A Lionel Messi masterclass at the Nou Camp had handed semi-final opponents Barcelona a commanding first leg lead as they arrived on Merseyside up 3-0 in the tie.
What transpired etched another famous European night at Anfield into the history books forever as they overwhelmed, outgunned and outfought the Catalan giants on their way to a deserved 4-0 win – a result made all the more remarkable by the absences of injured duo Salah and Firmino.
How did Klopp inspire his team to achieve the impossible?
“Mostly, I talked about tactics,” he remembered of his pre-match team talk.
“But I also told them the truth. I said, ‘We have to play without two of the best strikers in the world. The world outside is saying it is not possible. And let’s be honest, it’s probably impossible. But because it’s you? Because it’s you, we have a chance.’
I have no other job, I have to help the boys be the best player they can be
- Jurgen Klopp
“I really believed that. It wasn’t about their technical ability as footballers. It was about who they were as human beings and everything they had overcome in life. The only thing that I added was, ‘If we fail, then let’s fail in the most beautiful way.’”
Riding the crest of an irrepressible wave, Liverpool subsequently beat Tottenham 2-0 in the final in Madrid, securing their sixth European trophy and their first since 2005.
Against the backdrop of securing their best ever Premier League points tally, 97, Liverpool were unlucky to come up against Pep Guardiola’s rampant Manchester City in the league to prevent them from securing an incredible double.
All that was to be forgotten the following year however as Klopp ensured his men returned with a renewed hunger to end their 30-year league title drought – and they did so in emphatic style, wrapping up the title with seven games to spare in a new league record.
Countless other records fell during a glittering campaign which Liverpool dominated from start to finish, highlighted by their 25-point lead at one stage during the year.
It proved to be the crowning glory for a team that Klopp christened ‘mentality monsters’, personifying their manager’s unassailable self-belief, humility and hard work.
For all the trophies and accolades that have begun to mount up in an already-overladen Anfield trophy cabinet, perhaps Klopp’s mastery of player psychology should be regarded as his biggest success.
In the five years since he took the hot seat, his Liverpool team have shaken off their fragilities and come to embody a brave, front-foot style of play that is the envy of most teams around the world.
Where once they crumbled in the big moments, now they thrive – and it is by design.
Klopp is quick to talk down his own influence in shaping the psychology of his team but at almost every opportunity, the German urges them to embrace challenge, to strive for constant improvement and to disregard their fear of failure.
In doing so, whether deliberately or not, he has shown himself to be a disciple of Dr Carol Dweck’s ‘growth mindset’ - a learning theory that describes the very best of Klopp’s man management skills.
Speaking in an interview with Jamie Carragher in April, Klopp explained: "In the very beginning [of my career] I was just much closer age-wise to the players. I became a manager when I was 33 and I had two players older than me in my team.
"Now I have really, really young players. Now I have to deal with 33, 34-year-old players and also 16, 17-year-old players in the same squad. That of course is a challenge, but it was never really difficult for me because I never judge people as a group, always individually.
"Social media came in, players are much more in-demand with television, newspapers, everything. The world makes a fuss of pretty much everything the boys are doing. I am 52 now, older, and this helps of course, but do I treat the players differently to the past? I don't think so.
"It was always the same, I was always really close with the boys, wanted to be close with them, and wanted them to feel faith and trust, so I never had to change, or nobody told me to change. It's exactly the same as with my sons. My players are my sons.
"With my own sons, there are moments when you are a father, a friend, when you have to criticise them, it's exactly the same. I always did that with my players as well. We can have a close relationship, and the closer you get, the more you have to tell the truth to the boys, because they judge you on that.
"I explained it once, that I really want to be the friend of a player, but not their best friend. A friend has to tell you the truth, what they want better, what is right or wrong, but never in a manner that they cannot get up the next morning and do it. I want to help them, I have no other job, I have to help the boys be the best player they can be.”
Having signed a contract extension that will keep him at the club until 2024, Klopp’s legend continues to be written.
The 53-year-old boasts the best win ratio (60.3%) of any Liverpool manager to have taken charge of more than 50 games, bettering club legends Kenny Dalglish (58.3%), Bob Paisley (57.4%) and Rafa Benitez (55.4%).
With four years left – and no doubt plenty of silverware won along the way – could Klopp become the best coach in the club’s history?
You wouldn’t bet against it.