Wednesday, 7 October 2015

What Liverpool should and should not expect from Jürgen Klopp

When Jürgen Klopp arrived at Borussia Dortmund in 2008 the club were not exactly in a bad place emotionally. Despite a 13th place finish they had reached the German Cup Final the season before (which they lost to Bayern Munich) and had qualified for the UEFA Cup.

However, Borussia were still caught in the wake if the financial calamity, in 2005, which nearly finished them off for good.  The preceding coach Thomas Doll had introduced a particularly forgettable brand of football which was due, in part, to a lack of resources from an exhausted club.

In his first season Klopp steered BVB to sixth place, narrowly missing out on a European spot on the last day and then 5th in his second. In 2011 and 2012, he led the team to two successive Bundesliga titles. Only Dortmund and Hamburg have managed back to back titles, apart from Bayern, since the early 80s.

Under Klopp's leadership young players such as Mario Götze, Nuri Sahin, Sven Bender and of course Robert Lewandowski blossomed. Also, the central defensive partnership of Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels were imperious. As glorious as that team was to watch going forward they were hard as nails at the back.

Highlights of that period were the wins against Bayern including the 5-2 win in the 2012 German Cup Final in which Shinji Kagawa (watched by Sir Alex Ferguson in the stadium) and Lewandowski destroyed the Bavarians. Dortmund finished the next two season in second behind Bayern and of course had a great run to the Champions League Final in 2013 which included that extraordinary victory over Real Madrid.

Klopp's final season was mostly terrible. Lewandowski left and was not really replaced. His absence underlined how direct they'd become. It wasn't a disaster however, and his players rallied to a 7th placed finish and a German Cup Final which they lost to Wolfsburg.

Klopp brought a new dynamism to the dressing room and motivated his players to run through walls for him. Over time he developed the gegenpressing* style of which, while not unique, was a text book example. Klopp also finessed a style of play of rapid transition of all the outfield players which allowed them to very quickly turn defence into attack and back to defence. This plus a group of exceptionally talented players accounts for his success.

It is, however, worth pointing out that Bayern were in transition during those championship years. In fact it would not be unfair to say that most teams that finish a season ahead of Bayern do so when they are going through a lull. In my opinion the 2011-2013 Borussia Dortmund would probably have finished second to the current Bayern team as they did to Jupp Heynkes' 2013 treble winners. But the point is moot and Klopp's Dortmund were the best team and the most fun to watch during this time. Moreover in the subsequent two seasons, Borussia were worthy runners up and superb in the Champions League.

Also, Klopp was only one half of BVB’s recent success. Sporting director, Michael Zorc was the other. In fact even that is probably a simplification. It was Zorc who recruited players such as Kagawa and Lewandowski and it is he who determines the overall direction of the club. Klopp was largely concerned with the team. If Klopp is to succeed at Liverpool, it is vital that they have a good transfer policy and people further up the chain with good recruitment skills and the vision to lead the club. Klopp is not another Bill Shankly.

He's also got temper and got himself into bother with the German FA and UEFA for losing his shit with fourth officials. He's happy to take shots at opposition coaches. During Bayern Munich's treble winning season Klopp likened them to a knock off Chinese technology company. He is unlikely to shy away from mind games, once he gets more confident with his English. He won't take any crap from Mourinho, assuming by then the Chelsea boss hasn't moved on.

But perhaps as important as any other reason for bringing him to the club, Klopp will just get Liverpool FC. He'll understand the club's culture and probably find commonality between the Scouse and Ruhrpott mentality. He'll hear the Anfield Kop sing You'll Never Walk Alone before each match just as he heard the Südtribüne at the Westfalenstadion who sing the same song and no doubt feel at home.

The question as to whether or not he'll win the Premier League is more problematic. The fact is that at Dortmund he only had one or at a push, two clubs to get passed in order to claim the title. In England he'll have three or maybe four. Personally I think that success would be consistent Champions League qualification and a knock out trophy. Perhaps even a European Trophy.

If he accomplishes this then he should take his place among the great Liverpool managers. Moreover, he'll probably end up as the England manager. And wouldn't we all enjoy that?

*it's a bit like closing down.