It’s a good time to be a Liverpool fan: They reached their third Champions League final in five years following Tuesday’s win over Villarreal, their 63rd game of 2021-22. They’ve played in every possible fixture available this season, they’re in contention to win a historic four trophies, and Jürgen Klopp recently signed a contract extension committing himself to the club until 2026.
“This is only the start,” Klopp said last week after Liverpool announced his new deal. He did not mean it as a threat to the competition but rather a new beginning in his tenure at the club he joined in 2015. If what we’ve seen Liverpool achievement since then is just the beginning, one wonders what achievements we may be discussing when the German finally departs.
Klopp, a charismatic figure who is unafraid to speak his mind, has a history of making headlines in his press conferences, but sometimes it’s his mundane pronouncements that are more meaningful. In his introductory press conference in 2015, he repeatedly said he had come to Liverpool to “try to help.” This comment largely went unnoticed at the time, especially once he followed it up by saying Liverpool would be back to winning major trophies within four years.
Of course, he was correct: Liverpool won the Champions League in 2019, their sixth European title, and won the Premier League the following year, securing the elusive domestic title they had been chasing for 30 years. This season, Liverpool have already won the Carabao Cup and are still competing for the Premier League, Champions League, and FA Cup titles. But Klopp’s comment about trying to help has stuck with me in that it revealed a side of his character that has become more recognizable during his time on Merseyside.
When Klopp arrived at Liverpool, he was one of the most in-demand managers in world football. Many England viewers vaguely accustomed with his methods at Dortmund thought Liverpool were getting a 6-foot-3 snarling mountain of wild energy and gnashing teeth. What we’ve seen at Liverpool is an evolved Klopp, a coach who understood that being a huge personality wouldn’t be enough. He seemed eager to shake off the “heavy metal football” image he brought to Liverpool. Not long after taking the Liverpool job, h said, “The problem with my life is that I’ve said too much shit in the past and no one forgets it.”
In Klopp’s first season in England, the Premier League boasted coaches like Arsène Wenger, José Mourinho, and Pep Guardiola, each with their distinctive management style. Wenger, the wise philosopher, was as adept at talking about the importance of icons like David Bowie as he was about producing artistic football. Mourinho epitomized the cult of the personality manager, had journalists hanging on his every word, and put winning trophies above everything else. Guardiola, the first of the new wave of tactical pioneers in the 2010s, came to England with an established reputation as one of the game’s all-time great managers.
What makes Klopp so special is that he has all three of those traits: He’s a larger-than-life personality, a walking quote machine, and a tactical mastermind, constantly evolving and tweaking an already near-perfect machine of his own creation while understanding that while trophies are important, they are often not the most important thing at a football club, especially one like Liverpool. Winning trophies has restored Liverpool to the top of world football, but Klopp has achieved something perhaps more significant by forging a connection with the club and its fans rarely seen at the highest levels of the game — so rare, in fact, that it sometimes seems confined to folklore, a relic of a past era.
“Over the last few years this became home for us,” Klopp said last week. “The area became home and the club for sure.” The city, the club, the players, the fans, and the manager have all enjoyed a harmonious and wildly successful seven-year run. There are bars and murals that pay homage to the German who restored Liverpool to the top of world football.
One of the most remarkable performances I’ve ever seen tonight. Some dopes think I’m obsessed with the past. So let’s get this clear. This is the best LFC squad ever. The team is the most exciting, most rounded, best managed that I’ve watched
– Tony Evans (@ TonyEvans92a) May 4, 2022
In addition to building one of the greatest sides in Premier League history, Klopp has also been outspoken on social and political issues, from the fallout of Brexit to criticizing Liverpool fans’ homophobic chants, something he was recognized for by being nominated for an LGBTQ + Ally of the Year award. Not only has Klopp displayed how to create an elite side on the pitch, he’s leading by example off of it.
His approach has earned him legendary status — comparisons to former Liverpool managers Bob Paisley or Bill Shankly no longer feel blasphemous. Few are given the honor of being discussed in the same breath as such greats, but anyone who has witnessed Klopp during a game at Anfield understands how justified the distinction is. He acts as Anfield’s conductor while standing in his technical area, orchestrating the energy of 50,000 fans with the merest of gestures — sometimes subtle, sometimes performative, but always getting the optimal reaction from fans at every opportunity. “We want to offer emotion… we want to deliver excitement… we want to be together with our people,” Klopp also said last week. “We want to really be connected.” No English club has had more success in its history than Liverpool; no manager has felt as in control of the club as Klopp during his seven-year tenure.
This may sound unnecessarily hyperbolic, even whimsical, in an era when so much of a manager’s acumen can be neatly surmised with sophisticated data. Consider that Liverpool has maintained such a high level of performance since Klopp’s first season with a third of the net transfer spend of Manchester City and Manchester United, and less than half as Arsenal.
Consider Klopp’s former club, Borussia Dortmund, where he coached from 2008-15. Despite fielding many talented sides and winning the occasional trophy, they’ve struggled to replace him tactically and emotionally. Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke described Klopp’s departure in his book, writing, “When I said goodbye, real tears came… such a relationship, as I had with Jürgen over seven years at BVB, that did not exist before. And such a relationship will probably never happen again. ” Klopp repeatedly said he would take a sabbatical at the end of his previous Liverpool contract, which was set to expire in 2024. Luckily for Liverpool fans, they have a few more years before experiencing what Watzke went through.
Reached the final of all 3 cup competitions. One point behind City in the league with 4 games to go. This is a brilliant Liverpool team that just keeps fining ways to win. Might end up with just one trophy, but it’s an amazing ride that I am grateful for. They’re making us dream.
– Diana Kristinne (@DianaKristinne) May 3, 2022
Klopp will probably be the one to decide when that time comes. On leaving Dortmund, he said, “I always said in that moment where I believe I am not the perfect coach anymore for this extraordinary club I will say so.”
Klopp will soon have managed Liverpool longer than his previous stints at Dortmund and Mainz. If he sees out his current deal, he’ll have been at Liverpool for almost 11 years. Whatever happens between now and then, we can look back and say that his words from that very first press conference were absolutely true: Jürgen Klopp helped. He absolutely helped.