Keaton Kular explains how Jürgen Klopp’s heavy metal approach to managing a football club has woken the sleeping giant that was Liverpool FC.
Ahead of Liverpool’s biggest game in over 10 years, now seems the perfect time look back at how the Reds went from losing 6-1 at Stoke City on the final day of the 2014/15 season to Champions League finalists against Real Madrid in less than three years.
That game against Stoke was the nail in the coffin at the end of a disastrous season for Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool. Finishing 6th in the league eight points off the top four, stumbling out of the Champions League in the group stage after a five-year wait to return to the competition and then dropping into the Europa League.
Almost all the players brought in at the start of that 2014/15 season with the ‘Suarez money’ had disappointing seasons (let’s not even mention Balotelli). Top goal scorer for that season, Raheem Sterling, was busy forcing a move to domestic rivals Manchester City, whilst the fans were unhappy with the direction of the club under Rodgers’ leadership.
The Liverpool Echo’s James Pearce said prior to Klopp’s appointment that “Brendan Rodgers’ side had lost their identity and the fanbase was deeply divided.”
Now Liverpool are one game away from conquering all of Europe for the sixth time, thanks to Jürgen Klopp’s heavy metal approach that woke one of the world’s biggest football clubs from its slumber. In this piece, I’ll discuss how Klopp turned Liverpool fans from “doubters to believers.”
One of the most infuriating things for supporters during Rodgers’ 14/15 campaign and the beginning of the 15/16 season was that teams no longer feared a trip Anfield and this led to the Reds dropping points at home far too often against inferior sides.
This was something Klopp had to address immediately.
Since Klopp took over, Liverpool have lost just four times in the league at Anfield and this was integral in returning the club to Champions League last season and qualifying again this time around. The Reds have secured consecutive seasons in the competition for the first time since 2009.
During the magical Champions league journey this season, the Reds remained undefeated at home. Anfield showed its power by blowing away opposition, proving that ‘European nights at Anfield’ is not some romantic notion of the past – instead something every team across Europe should still fear.
Now there is no side that will arrive at Anfield and get an easy game – just ask Manchester City! The expansion of the main stand added an extra 6000 seats while the renovation of the Anfield inside and out has certainly given the place a modern feel.
That, mixed with Klopp’s reinvigoration of the club on and off the pitch has been combined to turn Anfield into a fortress once again. The German’s touchline antics have been a symbol of the passion, pride, and unity he has brought back to the club.
Every legendary Liverpool manager or iconic player has been a part of magical European nights at Anfield. For a club steeped in rich European history, restoring Liverpool to Europe’s elite was unquestionably the most daunting task facing Klopp when he took over in October 2015.
A few disappointing Europa League runs prior to a humiliating Champions League run under Rodgers in the 2014/15 season meant the fans had been long starved of the European nights they cherish so dearly.
The importance of the Reds’ Europa League campaign in Klopp’s first season should not be underestimated despite the disappointing end.
When Klopp took over at Liverpool, he had to demonstrate his European pedigree immediately as Liverpool were struggling in Europe again – already drawing their first two group matches against Bordeaux and FC Sion, continuing a trend from previous years struggling against mediocre European opposition.
The run to the Europa final after Klopp took over helped put the club back on the map in Europe again, with massive wins against bitter rivals Manchester United and that enthralling comeback against Klopp’s previous side Borussia Dortmund returned those special European nights to Anfield.
This also gave the players vital experience in European competition that will surely have helped them this season in the Champions League journey to Kiev.
Just by reaching the final in style, they have put themselves back under the European spotlight for the first time in over 10 years. The club has already earnt a staggering £70 million for reaching the final alone.
With Klopp putting the Reds back where they belong on European football’s top table it will not only benefit the club financially. Off the pitch, it has also helped Liverpool to become an attractive club for elite players again.
Klopp’s transfers in and out of the club have been a huge factor in his success so far. He’s shown a ruthless and borderline arrogant streak to create a squad of players he trusts and ones that fit his system.
He showed big money striker Christian Benteke the door after just one year at the club, and ushered out fan favourite Mamadou Sakho; not because they weren’t good enough to play for the club but simply because he could not trust them to be part of his long-term plans.
The sale of Philippe Coutinho in January was untimely, to say the least, and meant the club was unable to sign an adequate replacement, but Klopp refused to keep a player who was unhappy at the club no matter how talented.
This was a huge risk at the time, selling one of the club’s best players and leaving the squad short on top class attacking options going into the business end of the season.
Klopp, however, stuck by his decision and the Brazilian’s name has barely been mentioned since and this underlines the belief Klopp has in not just himself but also in his players to step up and deliver.
Klopp often talks about wanting to speak to players before they sign so he can understand the personality of the player to ensure they fit in with the squad, the style of play and buy into the project he’s building. His recruitment so far has been outstanding and nobody talks about Liverpool’s dreaded transfer committee anymore.
Almost every signing Klopp has made at Liverpool was questionable at the time. Mo Salah was deemed a flop who already failed in the Premier League, Andy Robertson was not a big enough name to solve Liverpool’s ongoing left back issues, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was average and a waste of money.
The list goes on. Klopp signed these players because he believes in them, and they believe in the Liverpool project. He is not a manager who wants to appease fans with big name signings. He wants to satisfy them with the football on the pitch.
That’s not saying Klopp won’t spend big money to get the right player if he must. He has already shown that with the £75 million signing of Virgil van Dijk.
The club is already being linked with big signings this summer. Energic midfielder Naby Kieta is now inbound from RB Leipzig, while the likes of Nabil Fekir have fans salivating at thought of them playing for Liverpool next season.
Klopp has earned the trust of the owners and fans in the transfer market and he’ll no doubt be backed heavily as Liverpool will look to add the quality and depth to their squad needed to continue building mount a title challenge next season.
The not so normal one
The Liverpool Echo’s James Pearce described Klopp as “a unifying force. He brought hope and excitement as well as passion and charisma. “Vowing to turn “doubters into believers, he galvanised both players and supporters alike.”
Pearce also said: “Convincing him to end his sabbatical having walked away from Borussia Dortmund five months earlier remains the biggest coup of Fenway Sports Group’s reign. Klopp could have waited and taken a job with greater resources and better guarantees of success.
“But the self-confessed “football romantic” was lured by the history and tradition of an institution which had fallen on hard times and the sizeable challenge of restoring former glory.”
Since his appointment, Jürgen Klopp has managed to unite the fanbase, restore the club’s identity, create an electrifying brand of football that is a match for anyone, help Liverpool compete with Europe’s top clubs on and off the pitch and turned Anfield into a fortress once again.
The man who dubbed himself the “Normal One” in his first press conference as Liverpool manager has so far been anything but.