BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
When in October 2015 Jürgen Klopp became manager of my beloved Liverpool Football Club I was unsure. The man he had just replaced – Brendan Rodgers – seemed like a good bloke and a young, talented manager even though his optimistic responses in press conferences had become somewhat jarring.
So, I called a colleague who supports Klopp’s former team, Borussia Dortmund, and he assured me that Klopp was a genius. “Give him a few years,” he said, “and you’ll win the league and lots more.”
When the enemy’s Sir Alex Ferguson remarked that he was “worried” about Liverpool under Klopp I started to hope.
Last season Liverpool finished eighth in the league but Klopp took the club to the finals of both the Football League Cup and UEFA Europa League, finishing as runner-up in both competitions. Since Klopp was not in charge for the first few months of the season, the league position could be accepted by fans.
Klopp’s summer acquisitions have been mixed but he’s added to the strength of the first team by signing Sadio Mane from Southampton and getting Joel Matip on a free. Other acquisitions such as defender Ragnar Klavan have failed to live up to expectations. Meanwhile existing players like Roberto Firmino, captain Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Adam Lallana have gone up a notch or two.
With Liverpool suffering a freefall January after a brilliant start to the 2016/17 Premier League season, for the first time in his tenure at LFC fans have started to doubt Mr Klopp a bit. Talk of Klopp being the next Bill Shankly seems to have died down (in my opinion Shankly was much more desperate to win) and a bit of the sheen has dulled in Jurgen Klopp’s golden hair.
So, where from here?
More reform – that is what is needed if Klopp is going to succeed against the moneybags sides of Chelsea and Manchester City (whose benches are currently worth more than four times that of Liverpool). Right now I’d put Liverpool on the same level as Arsenal and just higher than Manchester United as a competitive force. Being 11 points behind league leaders Chelsea is a bit harsh… I’d say Chelsea are 5 points better than they should be in terms of actual quality, while Man City are 5 points worse than their quality expects.
If I was Klopp, I’d have a clear-out this summer. I’d sell off Daniel Sturridge (past it & mentally not there), Lucas Leiva (too old), Simon Mignolet (scares the defence), Ragnar Klavan (not up to it) and Alberto Moreno (rubbish at defending). I’d put Ovie Ejaria, Sheyi Ojo, Kevin Stewart and Harry Wilson out on loan. And I’d buy in Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk and Hull’s Harry Maguire to prop up the defence along with recalling Jon Flanagan to give cover on the left for the superb James Milner. I’d bring in Kasper Schmeichel as first team goalkeeper and bed in Loris Karius as the eventual number one. I’d acquire Demarai Gray from Leicester, Nathan Redmond and Gylfi Sigurðsson from Swansea and make my prize signing a striker.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the obvious target. He’d fit in beautifully. However, I have a feeling he’d be keener to go to Spain. If so, then Inaki Williams of Athletic Bilbao or Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette would be good substitutes. Or – one from left field – why not Jamie Vardy (he’s quick enough to keep up and clinical enough to slot away 20-30 goals which Coutinho, Mane and Firmino would happily put on a plate – at that age he can’t be too pricey, surely)? Of course, if Aguero fancied a change of scene he would be made most welcome at Anfield!
Aside from the personnel changes I’d ban grey from the Liverpool kit (including the manager’s and training staff’s wardrobe) … every time grey is worn Liverpool messes up. Klopp’s Dortmundesque bright yellow away kit is a master stroke…. the team plays superbly in that because it reminds them of their manager’s proven past quality and they can see each other even on a grey day.
Klopp could still deliver Liverpool success – against the odds. Even when funds are down compared to the moneybags clubs in what has historically been a cash and carry league (except for the blip of Leicester).
What is really needed is for the owners, Fenway, to sell some shares to a moneybags supporter and bring in a free billion or two in funding to finish off the stadium and build up the first team and bench.
But in the meantime, Jürgen Norbert Klopp, I have faith. You’re the Meister. Good luck. Best of British. Now bring home the bacon.