Saturday, October 31, 2020
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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Liverpool’s Premier League uncertainty has been tough, but finally ended Anfield’s biggest Jürgen Klopp fear

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This prolonged period of absence has been an excellent opportunity for Jürgen Klopp to plot and plan. Other than figure out how to tie a tie, binge-watching Netflix, and blitzing through the Taken trilogy (was anyone aware there was a third Taken), Klopp has likely been in the lab trying to figure out what’s next: The evolution of this team; potential transfer moves, in and out; fresh approaches to training; new systems and tactics.

And what of his future? Surely, it’s something Klopp has at least contemplated. His new deal with Liverpool expires in 2024. That’s four more years. By the end of that deal, he will have been at the club just shy of a decade, right around the same amount of time he’s spent at his previous spots.

It’s more likely than not that this deal will be Klopp’s last. Managers don’t hang around in a job for a decade or more anymore. The days of Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger are long gone. Two years is long-term these days. Five years is impossible. Pep Guardiola (four years) and Zinedine Zidane (three years)both had to walk away from the two most successful teams of the era due to mental exhaustion. The idea of a “second cycle” has almost completely fallen by the wayside.

Even here at .com, we’ve taken to analysing who might be the best successor — someone who could carry on Klopp’s extraordinary work once he feels his time is over (and it’s important to note it will more than likely be he who decides it’s time to end this run). Klopp’s project when he joined the club was to restore Liverpool to the top of the football pyramid. Now, with a European Cup and soon-to-be league title in hand, his work is pretty much done. The stage is set for a four-year run in which this squad, given the talent and age profile, should be able to add a significant number of trophies. Given that Man City will need some sort of semi-rebuild this summer, Klopp should be looking at finishing his time with Liverpool with at least two league titles, perhaps three. Adding a second European Cup would push him from legend status to something approaching a myth.

But at the end of that four years, who knows?

It’s an odd one because every single club on Earth would like to add Klopp. Every one. Yet there are only so many Jürgen-Klopp-clubs. You know the kind. The institutions. Not the ones with the most money. Not those that feel antiseptic. Those that are communities. That live and breath. That have their own culture. That share the kind symbioses between the club and fans and players that Klopp has forged at Liverpool. That was lost before he joined, but he knew was there, bubbling below the surface.

He built the same thing at Dortmund, a club every bit and as scouse and soulful as Liverpool — in attitude and approach. He even had it at Mainz, a club where he moved from well-liked player to beloved-manager-hero, not an easy transition. He created that culture at Mainz, a legacy that has endured since he has left.

That’s what Klopp likes to do. He likes to bring a community together. It’s why he’s been vocal during the ongoing pandemic. It’s why he felt the need to speak out to local Liverpool supporters after the last general election; it’s why he signed his new contract the very next day.

The list of clubs with that kind of culture and heritage as well as the star-wattage to grab someone of Klopp’s calibre is not very long.

Klopp taking the German national team job once he’s finished with Liverpool is an idea that has been bandied about pretty much non-stop since he moved to Liverpool, as much by his contemporaries back home as the national German media. There is a case to be made: Joachim Low will leave the German national team job at some point. In fact, his contract is set to expire in 2022, ahead of a European Championships in 2024 that will be held on home soil (whether that calendar holds up to whatever re-jig FIFA and Uefa come up with remains to be seen).

There has even been speculation, gossip more than reporting, that Klopp could leave Liverpool after 2022 in order to lead Germany into that home championship.

That seems about as far-fetched as a global pandemic grinding Liverpool’s march to a first league title in 30-years to a halt. Klopp has always fulfilled his contractual obligations at a club, and always with a fairly big head’s up.

Still: the speculation persists that it could be his next move after Liverpool, a way to decompress from the day-to-day stress of top-end club management. “I think the German national team would like that very much. I think, eventually, Jurgen Klopp would like that very much,” ESPN reporter Melissa Reddy said last year. “I think he’d find it hard to turn down the national team in future.”

This lingering noise has seen Klopp hold onto his run at the top of the “Next German Manager” odds charts. We’re at roughly 54-months and counting. Truly, we may never see this kind of dominance again, appreciate it while you can.

And yet I just don’t see it. Throughout this lockdown, Klopp has been at pains to point out how bored he is. How he misses his staff. How he misses the player. He likes that day-to-day interaction that comes with being the boss at club level. He wouldn’t be in lockdown as a national team coach, but he would bump up against all the same issues that grind the gears of those top club coaches who inevitably go into the international game.

It’s a possibility, yes, but it feels like something that wouldn’t become a reality until Klopp was near the end of his career. Whether or not 2024 will be near the end of his career is a different topic altogether, Klopp having long held that view that he would not manage into his senior years — that nearly all managers utter something akin to that sentiment at some point in their career has not been lost on this writer. I bet even Giovanni Trapattoni once thought he’d be out of the pressure cooker before he turned sixty.

Taking the national team out of the picture really thins the list. Once you remove the oligarch class, you’re left with this: Bayern Munich; Barcelona; Real Madrid; Juventus.

Bayern is the second most common club that comes up in speculation. It’s no secret they’ve been interested before. It’s no secret that Klopp has looked at it before. But wouldn’t that be a bit… pffft. It’s just not the kind of project that has inspired him in the past. It would all be a little too easy. A little been-there-done-that.

What of Madrid? Again, it’s a club that regularly and routinely checks in with the Liverpool boss. He has always rebuffed their overtures, but would he fancy a wild, whacky 12-month fling with a club that is, to its very bones, the direct opposite of all he has sought in the past? It’s possible.

Juventus could be a little like that, too. But Klopp just doesn’t feel like a Juventus coach, you know? He needs that team a little on the outside, somewhere he can inspire that collectivist spirit. It’s us vs. the established order. Nobody embodies the establishment more than Juventus.

Which leaves us with Barcelona. It’s probably the only club that could give Klopp that tingling of the outsider culture and working-class feel, as well as world-class players and status. Could Klopp be a kind of modern-era Johan Cruyff, establishing a new kind of Barcelona-way? Klopp’s style itself is an evolution of Cruffyism. His pressing system a descendent of those all-conquering 2008-2012 Guardiola squads. Whereas Guardiola’s was always a little haphazard, Klopp took the raw principles and refined them, creating the infamous Gegenpress (a style Guardiola has since replicated). Klopp already sits on the next evolutionary chain of the Cruyff-Van Gaal-Rijkaard-Guardiola continuum. Continuing that tradition at the club where those coaches forged their identity — and changed the shape of the game with it — would make sense.

But still, really? Would Klopp really want to deal with all the politics that goes along with being the head coach of Barca, inside and outside of the club? Would he want to be the man to lead Barca in the non-Messi era? Or, worse still, the man who either has to banish Messi or is forced to work around a 36-year-old Messi who by then will have been playing at the top-level for two-decades? Doesn’t it seem more likely that by 2024 Barcelona will have called Guardiola home to kickstart whatever post-Messi cycle comes next?

Outside of the Barca idea, none inspire a burning in the football loins. Oh well, I guess he will have to stay with Liverpool forever.

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