One of the many charms of Jurgen Klopp is that unlike the person he could be succeeding at Anfield, he has the capacity to prompt people to chuckle with him rather than at him.
Back when Mats Hummels was out injured for a spell at Dortmund, the ever-quotable Klopp quipped, “We will wait for him like a good wife waiting for her husband who is in jail.” Some of Klopp’s utterings last month, though, had more in mind someone with a wandering eye.
Commenting on the nature and duration of his sabbatical, Klopp said: “I’m really very relaxed — but only because I know it goes some time. I’ll go back to train a team... It doesn’t have to be an absolute top club. There are good projects that are exciting, [teams] who need help.”
In itself, that may not have been terribly overt, there was even a bit of playing hard-to-get about some of it, but coming on the back of earlier comments from his agent Marc Kosicke it was as big a come-on sign football has known since a young Champions League-winning Porto coach spoke about being open to talking to a “Mr Abramovich”.
“The Premier League is very exciting,” Kosicke remarked in June. “And we do not only think about the top four because there are some other great clubs below them.
“[Klopp] has the great ability to develop things. If he goes into a stadium, feels the energy, and thinks that he can make a difference here, this could be more attractive to him than going with the big deals and aim[ing] for the treble.”
Hmm, a great club outside the top four. Whoever could he have been talking about?
Any timeframe countdown panel accompanying any piece on Brendan Rodgers’ sacking should include those statements from Kosicke and his client as much as the sale of Suarez, the watershed FA Cup semi-final defeat to Aston Villa, and the 6-1 loss at Stoke. (Stoke!) This season Rodgers’ negative momentum had continued but Liverpool fans and opinion-makers would hardly have been as impatient were Klopp’s single status not so blatantly obvious.
[We can always only second-guess Roy Keane’s mind so much, but we suspect that Klopp’s words, as vague as the German could argue they were, would not have impressed the Corkman, as they’d have violated his code of not commenting about a possible vacancy when there is already an incumbent in the job. Klopp’s statements increased the pressure on Rodgers and the likelihood of such a vacancy arising. He remains likeable but shows a ruthless, even Machiavellian, even Mourinho-like streak.]
Alex Ferguson has observed in his latest book that about the only manager never to be fired in football is only two minutes into the job. Certainly every manager has had bad spells. Rodgers was having one: Potentially only a blip rather than irreversible. Even Klopp experienced one at Dortmund last season.
Ferguson himself endured a much more difficult period in his third full season at United. Mark Robins is often credited with saving his job but just as vital was not having the spectre of a Klopp-like figure hovering about.
Klopp’s availability heightened the clamour for change around and at Anfield. Now they need to secure him.
There was enough about Rodgers to suggest that given time he’d have learned from his mistakes — although without time, he increasingly looked to be defending those mistakes. Arguments that he never won a trophy in his three seasons are again porous: Challenging so strongly for the title in 2013- 2014 beats the League Cup Kenny Dalglish, or for that matter Souness and Houllier also won.
And it beats anything Ferguson did in his first three years.
Firing Rodgers in itself was not certifiably the right call.
Yet if they get Klopp, it is.
In 2013, Pep Guardiola was the one Manchester United let get away. Liverpool can’t die wondering what life would have been like with Klopp — or at least propositioning him.
To repeat a recurring theme of this column, there are leaders for situations. Carlo Ancelloti is a great fit for a lot of clubs, the kind of profile that Kosicke mentioned, pursuing trebles. Liverpool isn’t right for him and he isn’t right for Liverpool. The Italian is a manager for (potentially) great teams. He is not a great manager to create great teams and great programmes.
That’s what Liverpool need and that’s what Klopp is.
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