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Judging Jurgen Klopp: Why is the Liverpool manager not  given the credit he so thoroughly deserves?

Ajay Iyer
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
Timeless

How do you judge a manager, really? It does seem that taking into account the club’s league position or trophy count is not sufficient, because there are so often so many other factors at play.

What ought to be the criteria behind claiming manager A is better than manager B? Many in the footballing world find it hard to summon the critical thinking required to perform the needed analysis and judge without letting personal biases get in the way.

Is the manager tried and tested in the various rigorous managerial surroundings? Has he been subjected to difficulties that 99% of the managers out there face? What do the results show? Has the club really made progress? Is the team playing better now, does it have an identity, does it finish higher on the table year in, year out?

Those are a few of the many questions that needs to be asked. But no; most fans seem to be of the opinion that winning trophies triumphs all. “Yes the team play sucks, but you cannot question that he’s a winner and your criticism is invalid.” “So what if he hasn’t won trophies, look at the progress the club has made in his time here!” Those two statements pretty much describe most of the top level coaches in the game today.

Let’s be more specific now. Jurgen Klopp. The nearly man. The “loser”. The manager who lost six finals. The passion merchant.

Yes, that’s how this man has been described during his time at Liverpool, for the most part.

The disrespect shown to him is unreal. It's an absolute shame that people doubt and mock this man, who has transformed Liverpool completely, taking them from the gutter to the heights that only a few clubs can achieve.

At this point, scoffs and eye rolls would be the reaction of many reading this; maybe even a bemused expression on their faces at such a claim.

Liverpool v Borussia Dortmund - UEFA Europa League Quarter Final: Second Leg
Jurgen Klopp

No one except Liverpool supporters and those who watch Liverpool regularly would understand the progress the club has made since his arrival in 2015. The club was on a downward spiral ever since the highs of THAT season (which will always be remembered for Liverpool and Luis Suarez’s insanity, but never for the actual winners City. Oh, and Gerrard’s slip, course).

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The fall began in 2009, and continued until quite recently. Brendan Rodgers changed after *that* season, and that was clear to see. Even with the attraction of Champions League and abundantly available money after the sale of Suarez, the best that Liverpool could do were the likes of Lallana, Lovren, Lambert, Origi, etc.

You reap what you sow; you get in mediocre players, you become mediocre. And that’s what LFC became - midtable fodder, fresh for mockery and banter by rival supporters.

The club had hit rock bottom and it didn’t look like it’d change. Pathetic squad, pathetic performances, and an extremely dispirited fanbase. No one believed that Liverpool could bounce back from this.

It was at this stage that Klopp was brought in - to clean up the mess that Rodgers had left behind. And the first message he sent out was to start believing again, which seemed like ridiculous advice for probably the most pessimistic fanbase around.

Have more faith in the club and try supporting it wholeheartedly, he said. And the Liverpool fans could only stare in disbelief.

The initial days were all about Klopp training the available players to master his philosophy, and bringing them to the required level of fitness. There were bad times; moments where it still felt that Liverpool could never bounce back. Losses/draws against weaker teams continued even then. But Klopp persisted.

There was a clear change at the very core - the manner in which the team played, and fought back when they were backed to the corner. Klopp got the ship back under control and was leading the club to success, mere months after he took over.

Liverpool miraculously reached two finals that season, which they lost. But it was a remarkable achievement that they were there in the first place; that Klopp had got a largely mediocre team (of which none were his own players) to play his way (not fully, but to a great extent) without so much as a pre-season.

If that doesn’t speak volumes about his tactical genius and isn’t a testament to his ability to psychologically motivate his players to play as a team and give their best, we might as well pack up and choose another sport.

In the two years that followed, Klopp truly stamped his philosophy throughout the club and its players. He had a support staff, operations teams and management teams in place, all of whom worked toward a singular aim. Right from player scouting and negotiations to training, everything was done with total transparency and for the betterment of the club.

This yielded tremendous results as Liverpool assembled a quality squad patiently (too patiently at times), and achieved back to back Champions League qualifications in probably the toughest era of the Premier League. There were always six clear favorites for the top four spots, none of whom could be counted out.

And Klopp did all this without spending on a level similar to United or City.

Manchester United v Manchester City - Premier League
Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola

Managers at two different clubs possessing different levels of resources cannot be treated equally. At no point are those two managers acting with the same pressures, roadblocks and expectations. And a manager who is or has been effective at a certain club is not necessarily the right fit at another, precisely because of this difference in circumstances.

For instance, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola would NEVER last at Liverpool without a spending spree in one summer itself. They would barely last until Christmas. Both require specific players possessing certain skills/talent in order to implement their methods, players that do not come cheap.

This is true for Klopp too, albeit his solutions do not require the heights of expenditure in as short a duration needed by the former two. Sure, he has spent quite a bit on a few players recently. But that is partly a direct consequence of the club selling its most prized asset and on the back of one of its most lucrative Champions League campaigns.

To put it simply, LFC would have never gone out of their way to spend and bring in players that expensive had those two events not occurred.

There is another crucial factor to be assessed here. To what extent did the manager in question achieve the season’s targets? Progress made by a club without proper context can be misleading on many levels.

Considering the money spent by United, they should have challenged City a lot better than they actually did. Mourinho got the team playing, he improved them in a lot of areas. But can this be considered as a feather in his crown? Absolutely not.

He improved them yes, but only insofar as the improvement was in relation to the state of affairs during Louis van Gaal’s reign. That is not hard to accomplish. Mourinho failed where it mattered; the league and the CL.

Not only that, even Antonio Conte and Arsene Wenger were not up to the mark. Their teams collapsed when it mattered most, despite having plenty of good players - arguably even better squads than Liverpool’s.

Only Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino could satisfactorily claim to have achieved their objectives, maybe even exceeding them.

With that established, how can anyone objectively say that Klopp has not been an overwhelming success at Liverpool, merely because there have been no trophies won? How can the footballing world not accept Klopp’s genius and rate him as highly as someone like Guardiola/Mourinho? How can the majority of supporters still rate the Portuguese over Klopp merely because he won silverware all those years back after spending a fortune?

Are the unique circumstances faced by the German to be dismissed? The squad strength in the last two years was mediocre. The splendor of the attack largely masked the inherent flaws of the team for the most part, which rival supporters have conveniently disregarded.

Despite that, the team reached the CL final and finished in the top 4. Klopp has achieved more than what was expected of him, in an extremely short span of time, and without the support/resources that the other big clubs offer.

If the current transfer window has proven anything, it is the reach of Klopp’s overwhelming influence. The future is bright and Liverpool have built a team that would do quite well in all competitions.

The players have constantly asserted that Klopp was one of the driving forces behind their decision to join the club. He has made the club relevant again; Liverpool are not very far from breaking back into the top tier of European football.

The team is still not the strongest in England, and is not yet a title challenger. Those around have gotten stronger, and the league has never been more difficult to win. But there is no better manager to lead Liverpool to success.

Jurgen Klopp truly is the best man for a club like Liverpool.

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