Part One: Jürgen Klopp’s Project
After a long time in the football wilderness, Liverpool head into year four under Klopp with many picking them as the only side likely to challenge Manchester City for the Premier League. Looking back, is this where you thought the club would be at this stage in the project? And is this a place you ever really thought Liverpool could be again in the modern football landscape?
Sitting here, now, it almost feels inevitable. Of course this is where we are. Jürgen Klopp is a world class manager. FSG, despite grief from some, always had the goal of growing the club to the point it could achieve sustainable success—and they’ve tried to back their managers. Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli were bankrolled for Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll (plus Jordan Henderson who wasn’t terrible). Rodgers got the green light to sign Christian Benteke during his final summer when everyone knew he was a dead man walking.
So put together what’s now a financially sound club with an ability to spend (albeit not to the level of City or United) with a world class manager and a bit of success on the pitch and, well, you get to here. With Liverpool a destination club. With Liverpool having the strongest squad they’ve had in the Premier League era—and maybe ever. With Liverpool maybe, you could just about make the case, favourites to win the league. Or at least co-favourites.
The journey to here, though. It never felt inevitable along the way. And if you’d put it to me five years back that this is where Liverpool would be, today, I wouldn’t have believed you. I would have wanted to, but I wouldn’t have been able to. Not after falling behind with David Moores. Not after Hicks and Gillett. Not after the two steps forward, one step back stumbles as FSG figured it all out. This feels right and deserved and obvious now, but it’s been a long, slow, uncertain road to here and a lot of years thinking Liverpool maybe couldn’t compete, not any more. I’m going to try to enjoy this moment.
I think my initial hope when Klopp was hired was just to get back to roughly the level we were at in the Benitez years. Save for 2013-14, the post-Rafa years had been so poor that just having a side that consistently finished in the top four and was capable of making runs in the Champions League felt like something we’d forgotten. It’s fair to say we’re back at that level, and without the financial constraints we had in the late 2000s.
As much as what Klopp is doing, the thing that really pleases me is how strong the structure around him is. Michael Edwards is doing excellent work, FSG are happy to spend, and most importantly, everyone seems on the same page. The Rodgers-transfer committee disputes feel like ancient history, and the transfer dealings are so much stronger for everyone wanting the same thing. It’s really hard for me to find fault in anything about the direction of the club, which is something I’ve never before been able to say.
I was one of—seemingly—very few who had doubts about Klopp. The utter collapse in his last season at Dortmund, uncertainty about his ability to assess defenders, and the fact he’d be a loud, outspoken German manager in England made me fear he’d struggle to shore up our defensive issues and the media—and with them, a lot of fans—would turn when results went against us. I thought he was high-variance manager who could maybe push us to a great season or two but could just as well be the figurehead of a dramatic descent.
Needless to say, I’m ecstatic to have been proven wrong. FSG seem to have found the right framework for this manager to work in and the right manager to work in their framework, leading to a spectacularly successful transfer policy while Klopp has shown the balance of tactical rigidity and flexibility to keep the team improving while his seemingly magical ability to balance direct, opinionated speech with an endless supply of goofy charisma makes him universally likeable.
But I am shocked we are as good as we are already, and even more so by the fact that we’re almost bound to get better.
I am a Child of the Hodgepodge and so that experience necessarily colours my response here in ways that are probably obvious. First, I didn’t know that we’d get here this quickly. Yes, the first big step in this climb back to the top was probably the unlikely challenge in 2013-2014. The season following was pretty dire and felt like a step back, but taken as part of a larger whole it was part of our upward, climbing trajectory.
Meaning that, coming into last year, I was willing to accept securing Top 4 and getting out of the group rounds in the CL as a successful season. We certainly did that, but when you consider we booked a spot in the CL Final—two season after a surprise EL Final appearance —it feels like we’ve turned a corner. Now, a deep CL run and challenging in all competitions is a reasonable expectation.
And I’d like to highlight how wild that is when you consider we went from a club that was on the brink of administration to one middling in the middle of the table and now one that has had two European Finals appearances in three years. The work in the market has created a fantastic foundation, and it appears Klopp was the final piece to the entire puzzle. Props to FSG, Michael Edwards, and of course, Jürgen Klopp, for all they’ve accomplished.
This season is unequivocally one in which we should reasonably expect us to finish near the top and challenge for the title. That’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d be typing so soon, but it’s true. What’s more, looking at the age of our core you realize the window for success is wide open. We’ve entered a very hopeful and bright era in Liverpool Football Club’s history.
I actually think Liverpool are ahead of schedule compared to what I was expecting when Klopp took over. Granted, after a decade of being beaten down (the exception being 13-14), my expectations were that Klopp would guide us back to stable Champions League finishes but maybe not challenge for anything major. Because I think too highly of myself, I image his “doubters into believers” line was directed right at me.
Still, given the current landscape of modern football, I wasn’t sure Liverpool would ever be here again, unless some sort of major investment took place in the form of an Oil State or similar. I’ve never been #FSGOut, but I just didn’t see how they’d be able to compete with City, Chelsea, or even United long-term. I suppose that’s probably why they have the jobs they have and I’m the one writing about the jobs they have.
Klopp has brought Liverpool to a place I certainly haven’t experienced as a Liverpool fan. Collectively, we believe our team can do great things. And with that belief comes a true sense of joy in watching this team play football.
I can admit I lost faith when we sold Suarez to Barca during the Brendan Rodgers era. I felt strongly Suarez was the reason we almost won the 2013-14 Premier League title and once he was sold and results suffered, I grew adamant Rodgers had to go. I knew he was not the man who would lead Liverpool to greatness, and when he was finally gone, I was overjoyed.
When the Jürgen Klopp rumours began, I hoped and prayed they were true, and once he was announced as our new manager in October, 2015, I knew we’d get to this point. In his first press conference he said he hoped we would have won a title by the end of his third full season. I believed him then and I believe him now. One only has to look at how our squad has improved, not only in quality but also from an attitude perspective.
It is clear that the players who are here are here because they believe in the project, they love the manager, and they will play for the badge on the front not the name on the back. With the signings of Van Dijk and Alisson, FSG have proven beyond doubt that they believe in Klopp and support him. I’m beyond excited for the upcoming season. We have the right owners, manager, squad, and mindset to aim for a PL title and I believe that it is ours for the taking. Up the mighty Reds! In Klopp we Trust.
I don’t know what I expected, really. I hoped that things would get better when Klopp arrived. I knew he had done great things at Dortmund, but seeing the drastic change in the team, in the attitude and atmosphere at Anfield, in so short a time has been fascinating and exhilarating to watch.
It’s been especially noticeable in terms of the transfer business we’ve done. Before, Rodgers and the transfer committee were so fraught with tension. You could see it in Rodgers’ press conferences and in the stories that came out about some players being Rodgers’ signings and some being the committee’s signings. Now, everyone seems to be working together and the results have been incredible.
It’s so surreal that I honestly still can’t really believe it. I think it will take us finally winning one of those trophies we’ve come close to for my brain to accept that, yes, this is really our club now. It’s not a 2013-14 fluke. This is because of good management and dedication to the project and can—and will—continue on into the future.
The only time my expectations for the Klopp project have been as lofty as right now was on October 8, 2015—that glorious day Jürgen Norbert Klopp decided to bless Anfield with his signature—with the memory of his three year ascent from 13th place in the Bundesliga to the first of back-to-back Bundesliga triumphs with Borussia Dortmund still fresh.
Liverpool weren’t 13th-place bad and the Premier League wasn’t a one horse race like the German top flight. Surely, I thought, three years was enough time for Klopp to return us to our perch.
That first partial season of course was a mulligan with a bonus magical Europa League final run. However, despite scintillating football on display the first half of 2016-17 spearheaded by Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho, and Sadio Mané and then by the Mohamed Salah-led edition in 2017-18, the past two years have been marked by a sense of overachievement as each of these squads exceeded fairly low expectations.
Missing out on Mario Götze stung at the time—even if it meant getting Mané heading into 2016-17. Failing to bring in Julian Brandt or mend bridges with Southampton in time to sign Virgil Van Dijk before the start of the 2017-18 campaign. A negative net spend through two summers. All were factors that subdued expectations, and even the most delusional of us weren’t pegging us to finish higher than third last season behind free-spending City and recently-crowned Chelsea. Many even had us out of the top four.
Now, when the gong sounds to signal the start of the 2018-19 season, things will be much different. This year, there isn’t a single Liverpool fan that isn’t excited. This time, a squad that tore through Europe on the way to the Champions League final is still intact and has gotten radically, demonstrably better. Of course, potential still has to be realized, but this is the position I believed we would be in when Klopp signed. Liverpool Football Club are officially challengers, and you wouldn’t want to bet against them.
I’ve always been optimistic about Liverpool’s future but especially since Jürgen Klopp became the manager. I don’t recall a moment when I ever decided the length of time it might take for the club to reach the great heights of the game again. But it’s been clear to me since FSG took over that once (if) the ownership group finally broke in their boots there would be significant progress. There were missteps at the front office in the years before Klopp’s arrival, but it was always going to be a rocky road until an honest to goodness football manager came available.
The Liverpool owners seem to have their football business sorted out now. They brought in a talented, respected, charismatic manager with Champions League credentials and have been backing him. Now the smart transfers and Klopp’s football nous are starting to bear winning fruits. I was always confident that Liverpool would be back, playing for major awards. Just a matter of time. Also, special shout-out to Mohamed Salah. I love you.
My initial thought when Liverpool hired Kloppo was, “If we can’t win with Jürgen Klopp, who can we win with?” Granted, we haven’t won anything yet, but I’ve never had this much fun as a Liverpool supporter.
Like Audun, I was skeptical about Klopp’s ability to bring Liverpool back, less because of the manager and more because of the current financial climate. Not only did Liverpool need to surpass their more well-financed rivals, but they needed to do it consistently over several seasons to close the gap.
Klopp’s consecutive Top 4 finishes, paired with an exceptional ability to spot and recruit talent, has helped us overcome that disadvantage in a way I just didn’t think was possible at the time. Last year, a giant awoke at Anfield, and Klopp was the man to wake it. There’s still a gap to catch the likes of City—on the pitch and off—but for the first time in a long time, we’re in with a fighting chance.