Why I would change everyone else at Liverpool before even thinking about Jurgen Klopp
The club recently envied across Europe for its excellent recruitment strategy now stands accused of bad planning
We often talk about managers having ‘credit in the bank’. Jurgen Klopp is the reason Liverpool are now valued in the billions.
The club’s transformation under Fenway Sports Group accelerated because of him.
That is why in the aftermath of another shambolic defeat last weekend, my support is unwavering. I would change everyone else at Liverpool before Klopp, but we cannot ignore that the Anfield renaissance was assisted by the collective expertise of many departments, the coaching and recruitment staff especially, working in harmony.
Until last summer, virtually every major deal worked. Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Andrew Robertson, Virgil van Dijk and Fabinho fit the intense style to elevate performances.
Contract renewals were timed perfectly, too, so wage increases reflected age and performance as Liverpool were re-established as Champions League royalty.
Over the past 18 months, something has changed. The level of investment in buying and retaining staff is the same, but there has been greater cause to question the wisdom of some decisions.
First, the long sequence of instant-impact signings has stalled.
Since the summer of 2022, Liverpool have committed £180 million (€203m) on four attackers, Luis Diaz, Fabio Carvalho, Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo. Liverpool’s owners did not fail to invest. They failed to invest in a midfielder. Now they need a new midfield.
Liverpool wanted to sign one in Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco, knowing his market value was £75 million (€85m).
When Tchouameni chose Real Madrid, the money was there if Klopp wanted an alternative, but he opted to wait until 2023, hoping he will lure Jude Bellingham. That was Klopp’s call, not owner John W Henry’s.
In attack, Diaz started his Liverpool career brilliantly, but Nunez is a work in progress, and I am baffled watching Gakpo’s early performances. Gakpo is not a typical Klopp signing, lacking lightning pace and the capacity to lead a high press. Why commit up to £45 million (€50m) on someone who will be on the bench when Diaz and Diogo Jota are fit, Especially when another area of the team needed strengthening?
Some contract renewals have also become contentious. Everyone was thrilled when Klopp and Salah signed new deals last year.
But rewind to the summer of 2021 and Liverpool rewarded 31-year-old captain Jordan Henderson with a four-year deal. Henderson has given Liverpool sterling service, but the length of that contract contradicted FSG’s policies on players in their 30s. There was an obvious change of tack after Klopp personally intervened following reports that Henderson might leave. “We will sort it. No doubt about it,” Klopp said.
Within 24 hours of an agreement, sporting director Michael Edwards was reported as considering his future and has since left. The timing was probably coincidental, but there were strong suggestions of internal disagreements about the length and value of Henderson’s extension.
That worried me at the time and has worried me more when hearing the echoes whenever Klopp speaks about the future of Roberto Firmino and James Milner.
Klopp has openly said Liverpool need to refresh and reset, but he seems unwilling to accept Firmino’s declining influence and increasing injury problems, while Milner has been a bit-part player for years. In the face of mounting evidence that the race is run for core members of a successful team, it is strange that Edwards’ successor, Julian Ward, will also leave this summer.
Whatever their reasons, the team behind the team is changing, and it is difficult for anyone connected to Liverpool to downplay the significance.
The timing of Liverpool needing a new sporting director could not be worse heading into a massive summer for the club.
We can see the on-field impact of recent decisions right now because, despite a wage bill of over £300 million (€340m) a year, too few Liverpool players are in that peak age of 25-28.
Fewer still can carry the team when the best players, such as Van Dijk, Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold, are off form or when the injury list is as long as it is.
After all the years of FSG fending off interest in players from La Liga giants, on current form, there is not one player in Liverpool’s squad who would likely attract a bid from a club of similar standing. The club, recently envied across Europe for its excellent recruitment strategy, now stands accused of bad planning, the only solution seeming to be a fresh surge of major investment in the squad.
That is not how anyone saw or wanted it heading into this season.
A misconception among too many supporters is that the definition of good ownership is spending a fortune in the transfer window. Wrong.
Good ownership is about being smart and making the right decisions across all aspects; buying, selling and retaining to ensure the squad is balanced across its skillset and age profile.
Just compare Manchester United’s spending on new players with Liverpool’s over the last 10 years, or Everton’s compared to Brighton, and you should understand that massive investment is useless without expertise. Manchester City’s net spend is relatively low over the last five years, and in the summer before they won their last league title Liverpool did not buy anyone.
In 2021, they only signed Ibrahima Konate and nearly won a quadruple.
That shows the only reason a club should spend mega millions in every transfer window is to rectify mistakes.
Unfortunately, Liverpool now find themselves in a position where they must rebuild.
Klopp is definitely the man to do so, although the circumstances are different to when he took over in 2015 and the so-called ‘transfer committee’ was well-established. I have no doubt Klopp’s skill enhanced the reputation of those ‘committee’ members.
You are not telling me that in Klopp’s first summer, he did not contribute to signing Joel Matip on a free transfer from the Bundesliga, or that he was not enthusiastic about recruiting Mane after nearly taking him to Dortmund.
Klopp’s coaching turned some good players who would have enjoyed steady careers under a different coach into Champions League-winning superstars. Where the previous manager, Brendan Rodgers, could look at some of the scouting recommendations and question the judgment, it is not through luck that Klopp seemed to strike gold every time.
But while Klopp was and is the inspiration, the bottom line is everyone bought into the broader strategy overseen by FSG president Michael Gordon, who has also taken a ‘step back’ this season.
No one was trying to assume credit in public, everyone did their job brilliantly and the results were spectacular. Asked in the aftermath of Liverpool’s title win three years ago how Klopp took a team from mid-table to the top, the message was clear. “A brilliant manager sticking to the plan,” said a leading executive.
Players can come and go. So too can sporting directors and board members. Liverpool still have their brilliant manager. Now is the time to revisit the blueprint he so brilliantly began to enforce in 2015.
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