Back in October 2015, Jurgen Norbert Klopp was unveiled as the new manager of Liverpool. His task, in the short-term at least, was clear – make the club competitive again. But how he’d go about it, let alone achieve it, was less clear.
The club he took over – a shadow of its former self – sat 10th in the league. The club he took over – the five-times champions of Europe – hadn’t even made it to the knockout stage of Europe’s elite competition since 2009. This was a club in decline.
But less than five years on, he’s turned a relatively mediocre side into arguably the best in the world. And following Manchester City’s defeat at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday, Liverpool were confirmed as champions of England for the first time in 30 years. The rise is exponential. The achievement is ineffable.
In the three decades preceding Klopp, Liverpool came tantalisingly close to what has been touted ‘the holy grail’ – the English first division – on several occasions, only to fall at the last hurdle (literally in one case).
All the ‘false-dawns’ and near-misses are, by now, well-known. 2008/09: Rafa’s infamous ‘facts’ rant and that title-clinching goal scored by Manchester United’s 17-year-old Federico Macheda. 2013/14: the infamous Gerrard slip and that capitulation at Selhurst Park. And last season: a second-place finish with the Reds’ highest point total ever – 97 – and that John Stones 11mm goal-line clearance.
‘The Normal One’ arrives
Despite the anomaly that was 2013/14, the Reds had clearly lost their way under Brendan Rodgers. So much so that his last full campaign as manager, 2014/15, ended with a calamitous 6-1 defeat – to Stoke City. He should have walked then. But, alas, didn’t.
The following season began in a similarly uninspired fashion. The Reds found themselves in mid-table after a 1-1 draw against Everton on the 4th October. It was the fifth time in six games that Rodgers’ men had squandered a one-goal lead.
This proved a decisive game in Liverpool’s history as Rodgers was sacked soon after. Klopp, just a matter of days later, took the reigns.
And within the first two months of Klopp’s tenure, fans witnessed one of the most important moments under the charismatic German.
After rescuing a late home draw to West Brom, Klopp and the players applauded the Kop to thank fans for their support.
At the time, and for years thereafter, Klopp has been ridiculed for that moment; for ‘celebrating’ a 2-2 draw against West Brom. But this was no celebration. It was Klopp’s way of harnessing a relationship between fans and players.
Success is built on strong foundations. Strong relationships and a ‘collective’ togetherness, for Klopp at least, is part and parcel.
Although the Reds struggled in the league, Klopp’s infectious appetite for success clearly rubbed off on the players as he guided the Reds to both the League Cup and Europa League finals.
Towards the end of the season, Klopp had clearly altered his domestic team selections in order to focus on the Europa League (which, of course, provides a route into the Champions League). Unfortunately, both games would end in defeat. But the trajectory was up.
The overhaul begins
The Reds finished the season with no silverware and no European football to look forward to next season having finished eighth in the league. Fortunately, there were at least glimmers of hope; positive performances that excited fans (and players). And Klopp had the trust of the Liverpool hierarchy, and thus the time and resources to build a team ‘in his own image’.
The likes of Joe Gomez, Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Roberto Firmino were already with the club when Klopp took over. But the former Dortmund manager, with the help of the recruitment team, including Michael Edwards (who was promoted to Sporting Director in 2016), slowly but surely, made his mark.
The summer of 2016/17 saw the likes of Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum and Joel Matip arrive at Anfield. Conversely, Mario Balotelli, Christian Benteke, Jordon Ibe and Joe Allen were all shipped out.
And then Klopp succeeded where so many others had failed, managing a top-four finish in his first season, securing Champions League football for the first time in three years.
The following season saw further improvement, as Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andrew Robertson all joined the club. The Reds even reached the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since 2008/09. The January transfer-window caused shockwaves as Virgil Van Dijk finally joined Klopp’s revolution – for a staggering £75million. And Philippe Coutinho – the beating heart of Liverpool’s midfield – left for Barcelona in a deal worth well over £100million.
The season ended with a painful defeat in the club’s first Champions League final since 2007, but a top-four finish was once again secured.
Reds fans, and the world, were also witnessing the birth of perhaps the most frightening frontline in world-football – Salah, Mane and Firmino. Each player cemented themself on the world stage, with each managing double figures en route to Kiev.
Silverware returns to Anfield
Klopp wasted no time following the defeat in Kiev as the club quickly announced the signing of Fabinho from Monaco. Naby Keita finally became a Red (having signed in the previous summer in a pre-contract agreement). Alisson also signed, and in doing so became the final piece in the defensive jigsaw – we guessed it then, we know it now. Xherdan Shaqiri also became the latest Red to be signed from a relegated club following Wijnaldum and Robertson over the two seasons prior.
2018/19 saw Klopp alter his approach. Although the Reds still deployed their trademark pressing style, Klopp began to place more responsibility on his full-backs to get forward, switch play and create space with Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold accruing 13 and 17 assists in all competitions, respectively.
It was 2018/19 when the Reds truly re-established themselves as one of world football’s most feared sides. Klopp finally won his first piece of silverware, as the Reds beat Spurs in the Champions League final. Alongside winning European football’s premier competition, the Reds cut the deficit to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City centurions from 25 points to just one. Over the course of the season, the Reds had lost just one game in the league.
Klopp ends 30 years of pain
This season, there was an air of scepticism among fans regarding Klopp’s lack of activity in the transfer market. After finishing with the third highest points total in English top-flight history but still missing out on the title, fans felt the squad needed reinforcements to compete with the Man City juggernaut.
As always though, Klopp clearly knows best.
Despite spending less than £10m on transfers last summer, Klopp’s side is equally as imperious. They’ve won the league at a canter, becoming the earliest ever Premier League winners (as well as winning the European Super Cup and Club World Cup). Klopp’s side have secured 86 points after 31 games. And they are well on their way to breaking Guardiola’s Premier League points record of 100 set just two seasons ago.
Klopp took to the city like a duck to water. He understands the fans, the culture, the politics. If ever there was a spiritual heir to Bill Shankly, it is Jurgen Klopp. He has forged an immense connection with the fans and turned Anfield into a fortress. Across the last two seasons, Liverpool have tasted defeat in the league just twice, both away from home. In fact, eleven members of this squad are yet to suffer defeat at Anfield in a league game.
In just five years, Jurgen Klopp has completely transformed a club that was a shell of its former self. Of the 18 squad members who travelled to White Hart Lane for Klopp’s first Premier League game as manager back in 2015, only James Milner, Adam Lallana and Divock Origi remain at the club.
Liverpool fans across the world felt as though Klopp could be the man to rebuild the Reds. Surely no one believed he would be this successful so quickly. Actually scrap that, *no one except Klopp himself*.
As he pronounced on his very first day in 2015: “If we sit here in four years, I think we win a title, I’m pretty sure.”
Finally, from doubters to believers. Thank you Jurgen, a Liverpool legend.