EPL 2016-17: It is one year on the Klopp-a-clock at Liverpool!
“In order to succeed, we must first believe that we can.” - Nikos Kazantzakis
Short of that very essentiality – belief – just over a year ago, Liverpool’s players and supporters alike were in need of a manager capable of harnessing the best out of the former and galvanising the latter.
One year ago on 8 October - Jurgen Norbert Klopp was unveiled as Liverpool FC’s new manager to succeed Brendan Rodgers.
One of the most notable things the German said during his first full interview as Liverpool manager is something Reds fans won’t hurriedly forget:
“We have to change from doubters into believers. Now.”
And change they did.
Klopp was arguably Fenway Sports Group’s (FSG) most important and impressive appointment as owners, having managed to convince the German to come out of a 4-month sabbatical to take charge of the Reds.
The German parted ways with Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2015 after an exciting 7-year tenure which saw them win two successive titles and three domestic cups besides finishing runners-up in the Bundesliga twice and once in the Champions League (2012/13).
In this article, we take a look at what transpired immediately prior to the German’s arrival in the North-West of England, his appointment thereafter and the impact he has had since taking over reins at Liverpool.
The parting with Rodgers
If Brendan Rodgers was under the scanner following a poor end to the 2014/15 season, then a spate of draws, a loss to arch rivals Manchester United and a whitewashing at home (losing 0-3) against West Ham did nothing to ease the pressure off the Ulsterman’s shoulders at the onset of the new season.
The last game before the international break in October 2015 was the Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park. A lot was at stake, including pride and bragging rights, but the Reds only salvaged a point from the outing.
Heading into the break, Liverpool stood tenth in the table and had managed only 12 points on the board, having played 8 Premier League matches but winning just 3 of them - unimpressive to say the least.
That same night, Rodgers’ contract was terminated by FSG and a statement to this effect was made on the club’s website.
While several Liverpool fans rejoiced at the sacking, a section of them wished him well; for, they knew they had bid goodbye to a well-intentioned, good coach under whom the Reds played some eye-catching football, a man who was probably not the right fit for the club at the time.
The appointment of Klopp
It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that Liverpool fans were in a state of frenzy, caused by the uncertainty surrounding the appointment of a successor to Rodgers.
Several names were thrown into the proverbial hat as fans across the globe spent more time on social media debating and discussing the future. News websites and rumour mills had a good time churning out stuff that fans lapped up instantly in their state of nervous energy. Klopp was mentioned frequently enough in the papers as was Carlo Ancelotti; other, albeit less thrilling, names like Frank De Boer and Rudy Garcia were also bandied about.
On the fourth day after Rodgers’ departure, however, the official announcement came - Jurgen Klopp was the man!
Needless to say, Reds supporters rejoiced at the news - a long time had passed since someone with world-class credentials and unquestionable curriculum vitae had been at the helm at Anfield.
Klopp arrived during the international break and there was more than a full week to go until Liverpool’s next game. However, fans soaked in the excitement of the new managerial appointment and dug up write-ups on Klopp (including his old quotes on heavy metal football and what not!) and his training methods, and replayed Dortmund match videos on a loop in an attempt to understand his style.
Uniting a fractious fan base
During the last few months of Rodgers’ tenure, there was an air of bleakness about Liverpool football club. The team had gone from unexpected title challengers in 13/14 to finishing sixth in 14/15 (granted, Suarez was missed immensely), to tenth in the table after eighth games of the new season.
There was a distinct lack of identity and playing style, and the gap between the fans and the dressing room widened. For the first time in 17 years, Steven Gerrard – who had called time on his playing days at Liverpool – could not be called upon to save the day either.
On the pitch, players seemed to lack self-belief and confidence - a feeling which mirrored in the stands as supporters grew frustrated.
Klopp’s arrival changed that.
The German had impressive and successful managerial stints at Mainz and then Dortmund. In the Bundesliga, Klopp’s BVB had consistently challenged the mighty Bayern Munich at the top of the table and it hadn’t gone unnoticed around Europe.
In walking away from the BVB job, he had taken a sabbatical by choice; there wouldn’t have been a shortage of suitors at the slightest indication of his availability. FSG’s appointment of Klopp was therefore seen as nothing short of a coup by Reds fans.
His idea of football involved an attractive style of play; his tactical acumen matched some of the best there is – the run-up to the Champions League final stood testament to his growing reputation.
As they rejoiced and welcomed the new gaffer, there was a growing sense of unity again among a fragmented Liverpool fan base. Players looked forward to coming back from their international commitments to work with the manager, get to know him and understand what he wanted from them. There was anticipation everywhere and it is commendable that all of this was achieved without a single minute of football being played.
The Premier League standings may not have altered overnight but there were subtle differences elsewhere; players were energized as were the fans. It is difficult not to buy into the Bavarian’s optimism, given his impressive resume, passion for football, and honest talk.
Instilling belief: the coming together of the ‘Holy Trinity’
“At a football club, there’s a holy trinity – the players, the manager and the supporters…” – Bill Shankly, former Liverpool manager (1959-1974)
Klopp’s stint started off with a goalless draw against Tottenham, followed by stalemates against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League and Southampton in the Premier League.
On the afternoon of 31 October 2015, Liverpool visited Stamford Bridge. Then reigning champions Chelsea kicked off proceedings in style, with Ramires scoring in the fourthminute.
However, Liverpool did not give up; they chased and harassed the Blues, and seconds before the half-time whistle blew, Philipe Coutinho equalised with a brilliant curling effort. Second half goals from Coutinho and Christian Benteke ensured that the Reds left London with three points in the kitty.
Following their Europa League exertion (which meant a trip to wintry Russia to play Rubin Kazan), Liverpool hosted Crystal Palace at Anfield – a match the Reds lost 1-2. Scott Dann’s winner in the 82nd minute gave Palace the lead and the visitors held on for victory.
Dann’s header also saw the home crowd slowly begin to trickle out of the stadium as Klopp watched from the touchlines. In the aftermath of the game, the gaffer said in his press conference:
“After the goal on 82 minutes, with 12 minutes to go, I saw many people leaving the stadium. I felt pretty alone at this moment. We decide when it is over. Between 82 and 94 [minutes] you can make eight goals if you like.”
The Bavarian’s message was clear – the supporters had to believe in the players and the fact that the team could stage a comeback, no matter how late. As long as there was time on the clock, there was hope.
The manager’s appeal did not go unheard as supporters stayed back thereafter, to cheer the players until and after the end of games, and the gesture was duly rewarded.
A late victory against Norwich City in the dying minutes of injury time, Joe Allen’s goal that clinched a vital draw against Arsenal, Origi’s 96th-minute equaliser against West Brom Albion all come to mind.
But the most important one, the deal-clincher so to say, was the fight-back from two goals down to win 5-4 on aggregate against Borussia Dortmund in the Europa league quarterfinal. Anfield erupted in joy as the result propelled the Reds into a European semi-final; the comeback win also brought with it wonderful memories from their Champions League win at Istanbul in 2005.
There was a hitherto unseen resilience in their style, a belief that also reflected among the supporters. Klopp had managed to unify the holy trinity of players, fans and the manager.