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dilemma Liverpool may soon have to consider what happens after Jurgen Klopp is gone

The issue taxing senior Liverpool executives is to identify someone to follow on from their German maestro

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp applauds fans after the match against Benfica in midweek. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp applauds fans after the match against Benfica in midweek. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp applauds fans after the match against Benfica in midweek. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters

What chances Klopp stays beyond his contract?

Within hours of Liverpool winning their sixth European Cup, Fenway Sports Group’s senior executives were walking through the interview zone at Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano when they were met with a pressing question: “When are you going to get Klopp to sign another contract?”

Jurgen Klopp still had three years to run on his deal in the summer of 2019, the situation nowhere near as urgent as it will become over the next 18 months, with the German’s contract due to expire in 2024. Nevertheless, FSG had an eye on the long term.

The immediate answer was – in time – to gently persuade the Liverpool manager to extend his terms without exerting pressure but on the understanding that when he felt it right, the details would be swiftly drawn up. There was even a tentative willingness to entertain the idea of a sabbatical, with Klopp taking a year out with his family to re-energise, returning after an assistant had kept the engine running. It was unnecessary, with Klopp putting pen to paper six months later.

The situation is similar now, albeit there is less time before his deal expires. Fenway has identified who it wants to be in charge beyond the next two years – Klopp. One day, his public reticence to continue will be accompanied by a private confirmation that FSG must identify his replacement. Until then, the club will be assessing a volatile market.

Is there an ideal blueprint for the next manager?

Liverpool’s criteria will be as it was when recruiting Brendan Rodgers in

2012 and Klopp in 2015. Over-performance metrics are fundamental. They are most impressed by those who shine against teams with bigger salaries and budgets.

Klopp was able to make it look like a level playing field against Bayern Munich on the pitch when, off it, that was far from the case. Dortmund have not won the Bundesliga since Klopp left. He has replicated that in England, where Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City’s resources are greater.

That is the challenge for a contender such as Steven Gerrard. Much as Gerrard and Aston Villa do not want his stint in the Midlands to be regarded as an apprenticeship, if he excels he will obviously be on the shortlist. But no one knows better than Gerrard he must prove himself more than an emotional choice. On one hand Gerrard needs boardroom backing to underline his credentials at Villa – such as making Philippe Coutinho’s move permanent – yet there might be more admiration if he led his side to seventh place with the 12th-lowest Premier League budget than sixth with the sixth biggest.

That is why seemingly obvious choices – those who have just won titles in the major European leagues with the biggest spending – will not necessarily be as attractive as appearances suggest.

That said, Liverpool are in a different world than when Rodgers and Roberto Martinez were the leading candidates in 2012. They will have their pick of the best of the best in 2024 when Klopp goes, able to interview the elite coaches with a recent history of trophy collection.

The Liverpool manager’s job is about more than coaching, and the club are aware that the man who leads the team also has to connect with Anfield emotionally and even politically. FSG’s due diligence will have to take this into account.

But who might emerge over the next two years who will naturally “get” Liverpool? What if Xabi Alonso – who is managing the Real Sociedad B team – takes a high-profile European job and thrives? Which sides might emerge in Germany, Spain and Italy to disrupt the status quo, led by young, vibrant coaches?

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Who would lead the search?

Michael Gordon and sporting director Julian Ward, who replaces Michael Edwards this summer, will lead, while, in the background, the data team led by director of research Ian Graham are tasked with keeping a due diligence file on every coach (and player) of interest.

Welshman Graham, a Cambridge graduate with a PhD in physics, has formed a four-man unit independent of the coaching staff, providing dossiers which have contributed to the club’s successful recruitment policy.

Graham tracked Klopp for years and was instrumental in reassuring FSG that he had to be Liverpool’s No 1 target when the decision was taken to dismiss Rodgers.

Liverpool-born Ward has worked alongside Edwards for the past nine years, having previously scouted for Manchester City and the Portugal national team, while the relationship of trust between FSG president Gordon and Klopp is at the heart of the Anfield revival.

How much continuity should we expect?

Liverpool will face the same quandary as John Smith and Peter Robinson did in 1974: how do you replace the godfather of your success? When Bill Shankly stepped aside they found the answer within. Current assistant Pep Lijnders will hope the spirit of boot-room transition lives on. It would be insane if a Klopp exit triggered a “brain drain” of his backroom staff, especially as so many of the squad have deals beyond 2024.

New managers always tend to bring an army of lieutenants with them, changing the dynamic at the training ground. That is dangerous when so little at Liverpool needs to change. The next man must understand and respect that.

The hope must be that they are willing and capable of working with those who Klopp leaves behind.

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Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]


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