Fans want to win. It's natural and understandable. The ideal for any fan is for a dynasty to be built where successive managers can build upon the work of the previous manager where the club can keep providing regular doses of victorious catharsis. Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, and Kenny Dalglish made invaluable contributions to Liverpool's history, but the Boot Room is no more. Gérard Houllier was succeeded by Rafa Benítez, providing 12 somewhat competitive years to provide domestic as well as continental trophies.
Five years and four managers later, Liverpool are making fine progress under Jürgen Klopp—a manager with a history of building clubs to compete during and after his tenure. Still, there needs to be a structure in place that helps Liverpool make the succession process easier. Klopp is someone who sticks around, and for those who may be prone to unnecessary anxiety, he signed a six-year contract extension less than four months ago.
Look at Manchester United's struggles in recent years after two decades of dominance—a manager's importance cannot be understated for clubs with history and expectation. Liverpool haven't won a league title since 1990, and even though the club have picked up trophies over the past 26 years, it should serve as an educational statistic. Most football clubs have not experienced a fraction of the success that clubs such as Liverpool and Manchester United have, but even the game's most storied clubs cannot be expected to win in perpetuum. Rises coincide with falls and one's resurgence may parallel another's disintegration.
Indulge in a spot of presumption for a few moments. Suppose that Liverpool's current form under Jürgen Klopp can not only be sustained to at least secure Champions League qualification for next season but is going to form the basis of a period of genuine competitiveness for the rest of the decade. By the time Klopp is in his mid-fifties, Liverpool aren't an outfit to dismiss at home or abroad. 2022 would mark seven years at the club, and he departed from both Mainz 05 and Borussia Dortmund after a similar length of time. Perhaps he stays until 2025 or beyond. Maybe 2020 may be the right time for both parties to move on. No manager lasts forever.
Southampton are still moving forward after Nicola Cortese, Nigel Adkins, Mauricio Pochettino, and Ronald Koeman. Claude Puel has started well as Koeman's successor without Graziano Pellè, Victor Wanywama, and Sadio Mané to call upon. Les Reed isn't a name that may be alluring as Monchi but is proving to be part of Southampton's success story. While Liverpool's goals and expectations are different, creating a form of sustainability and succession should be on the agenda of many top flight clubs. For Liverpool, though, the task is to maintain and improve a way of working that might be about to bear fruit.
The appointment, or rather the promotion, of Michael Edwards as Liverpool's new sporting director is another move towards operating the way FSG envisioned after sacking Roy Hodgson. It's how Klopp knows and likes to work, too. Klopp seemed pleased with the prospect of working with Edwards after getting to know him over the past year or so. Ian Ayre's successor knows the club and has impressed enough to be given this opportunity. Klopp, however, stressed that Edwards becoming sporting director is about the club's future and creating a structure that provides consistency as well as success.
"What we’re trying to create is a structure for the future of LFC," Klopp said. "The problem, I would say, is that this wonderful club changed philosophy three or four times in the last 10 or 15 years because different managers came in. That’s the English [way] of doing things obviously. The new manager is coming in. ‘What do I have to change?’ –‘Everything’.
"The former manager gets sacked because results were not good but a lot of things around this could have been good, actually. And we try to create a situation where everything around is perfect and if the manager changes in the future, then this club still has a good base. For this, you need the right people in the right position and Michael Edwards has been at the club for five years – did different jobs, knows everything about it, was involved in big decisions and will be involved in big decisions.
"But at the end, of course there is one thing where the manager needs the final say, ‘Do we take him or not?’ But the young players who are already in and we all like, were already his responsibility. And now we’re bringing all this together and really working on a structure for the future. That’s the plan. Having a sporting director now is only one step. We are working all day for the good of LFC."
The players who are drawing praise and increasingly asked about the club's status as title challengers are mostly the same players Brendan Rodgers had when he was sacked. Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino, and Phlippe Coutinho are first-team regulars that Klopp inherited upon becoming manager. The way Klopp likes to work is evident in Germany as well as England. Remember, we're not in Disneyland. Some things needed to change, but everything didn't need to change.
Liverpool were very busy in Klopp's first summer transfer window but there was no drastic overhaul of the first-team squad. His first transfer window in January only brought Steven Caulker to supplement the players he could call upon. A League Cup final and Europa League final were possible without Joël Matip, Loris Karius, Sadio Mané, and Georginio Wijnaldum—Liverpool's four first-team signings this summer. Mona Nemmer and Andreas Kornmayer, two key additions to the backroom team this summer, were still Bayern Munich employees.
The way Liverpool identified and signed players wasn't a problem. Perhaps Klopp's presence provided an improvement or created more urgency, but this is mere speculation. This process wasn't ripped up, but nonetheless, Liverpool made clever moves in the summer. Klopp reaffirmed that has "the final say" on bringing players in but is happy to work in collaboration with others. Klopp also emphasised that he doesn't have time between games for "different things" anyway, underlining the importance of a sporting director.
Don't forget that relationships break down, managerial methods no longer possess the edge they once had, and sometimes managers reach a point they effectively cannot return from. Klopp provides an interesting message here: Liverpool have the right structure in place. Future success and failure may hinge on personnel and decisions among other elements, but there will be no requirement for repeated overhauls or changes in transfer strategy that leave one of Europe's grandest clubs in transition for around half a decade.
Questioning the cult of the manager doesn't refute that a manager's influence cannot transform or revive a club. Bill Shankly at Liverpool, Diego Simeone at Atlético Madrid, Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund, Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, and Arsène Wenger at Arsenal are all fine examples of this irresistible and intoxicating power managers possess. But what happens after their exploits?