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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

Danke Jürgen: The Liverpool love story

The German manager announced he will leave Liverpool at the end of the season.

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Jürgen Klopp is pictured on July 21, 2022.

Messi mashed on Merseyside.” If Anfield had ever dreamt of hearing a sweeter line, that dream was unfolding tenfold. A corner of traveling Catalan fans were left speechless as a sea of red chanted on. Although Peter Drury is often lauded as the master of modern commentary, it was Darren Fletcher who uttered those words. And he hadn’t planned it. How could he? Liverpool were trailing by three goals against FC Barcelona. In the absence of Mohamed Salah, their Egyptian talisman, overturning such a deficit was impossible. Jürgen Klopp believed otherwise.

For a man brought in by data, his legacy cannot be measured through statistics. For the many spine-tingling nights he brought to Anfield, Klopp will forever be embedded in the fabric of Liverpool, not only in the club but in the city and the hearts of every young scouser who passes his murals with a ball in hand as well. Beyond the silverware, which includes a Champions League and Premier League title, Klopp’s eight years at the club will be cherished for non-tangibles that will outlive his reign. His gegenpress, a counter-pressing system of relentless pressure that rattles even the calmest opposition, is now second nature to his players. This energy transmits to the stands, making Anfield a feared cathedral of sporting drama.  

Klopp’s integration of youth into the first team has given the club an exciting roadmap for the coming seasons. Not too long ago, a young scrawny Trent Alexander-Arnold was tip-toeing on bins leaning over the fences of Melwood. Today he is another golden feather in the academy’s hat. It was his presence of mind that completed the comeback to knock Barcelona out on that famous night. Last week, Klopp called on another rough gem against Chelsea: Conor Bradley. Bradley, who would replace Trent at right-back, assisted and scored against “the Blues.” At full-time he was embraced by Klopp. His smile said it all.    

It’s easy to focus on the last three or four years when assessing Klopp’s impact. In that period, Liverpool has remained among the top three teams in Europe alongside Manchester City and Real Madrid. But Klopp’s greatness must always be remembered in the context of the team he initially inherited. In 2014, Liverpool had fallen short of an incredible title race spearheaded by Luis Suárez. The Uruguayan’s partnership with Daniel Sturridge was one of the best in league history with the pair scoring 52 goals, finishing first and second on the scoring charts. It was also one of Steven Gerrard’s last chances to lift the one missing piece in his stellar collection of accolades.

As Brendan Rodgers stepped down, Klopp emerged as his successor. Suárez joined Barcelona and Gerrard hung up his boots. What was left was an exciting and untested mix of talent, youth and experience. A rough draft for a project that, Klopp made clear, was going to take time. In a way, given his track record with Borussia Dortmund, the fans accepted this and embraced the experimental years with optimism. One of Klopp’s defining characteristics is that he is a master delegator. Yes, on the touchline he wears his heart on his sleeve, but behind the scenes, the German coach values insights from different departments — in particular, data when it comes to recruitment. In his first season, he brought in Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino, the latter of whom would be integral to Klopp’s frontline for years. He also recruited young defensive talent Joe Gomez from Charlton Athletic for only 5 million euros. Gomez is Liverpool’s starting centre-back to date and has represented England at major tournaments. In the following two years, Klopp scouted within the Premier League, bringing in Senegalese sensation Sadio Mané as well as Belgian midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum. His last major transfer splurge came in his third season using funds from the sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona. The 135 million euro transfer fee helped bring in current Dutch captain Virgil Van Dijk. His greatest masterstroke, however, as pointed out by Rory Smith, New York Times Sports correspondent, was opting for Chelsea reject Mohamed Salah despite having a preference for fellow countryman Julian Brandt. Salah has transformed Liverpool and has brought Egypt onto the world football stage.

Klopp’s success will be hard to replicate. As of Oct. 8, 2022, he had an astounding 2.08 goal average and once went 21 games unbeaten away from home in the Premier League. One could dig up a gold mine of similar stats but as previously emphasized, his story goes beyond goal averages and winning streaks. The Klopp era saw the rebirth of a fading giant, the evolution of a dynasty and the planting of unearthed talent. Whether one sees it as rescue or redirection, it was resounding and will be cherished. As rumors spread of a great former player stepping in, fans can dream of what could still be a fairytale ending with the club still alive in four major competitions. Klopp is Liverpool’s modern era, and one thing’s for sure: He’ll never walk alone.