Every managerial appointment is a football club’s gamble but the arrival of Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool represents a departure. This time, the risk is entirely Klopp’s. The man with a passion for heavy metal music and heavy metal football has accepted a job akin to Spinal Tap’s drummer – a figure destined to be replaced on a regular basis having succumbed to an unfortunate demise.
A bizarre gardening accident accounted for one, choking on someone else’s vomit did for another and Peter “James” Bond spontaneously combusted during a Blues Jazz festival on the Isle of Lucy. Liverpool managers have had their fair share of Isle of Lucy moments during the club’s 25-year wait for a 19th league title, and few were as combustible as Klopp to begin with.
The perfect match, perhaps.
Klopp will be unveiled on Friday at Anfield, which is undergoing reconstruction not only of its main stand but its self-belief following Liverpool’s most ambitious managerial move since Rafael Benítez in 2004.
Back then Liverpool had a place in the Premier League’s Champions League hierarchy to tempt a two-times La Liga winner. Now it is possibility that attracts a two-times Bundesliga champion after one Champions League qualification in six seasons. Great possibility, of course, as Brendan Rodgers discovered only 18 months ago during Liverpool’s pursuit of the title, but realising it will be a formidable challenge even to someone who led Mainz to the Bundesliga for the first time in their history and built the Borussia Dortmund we know today. For Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s owners, the attraction of Klopp is obvious, his appointment a no-brainer. Twice they had tried to tempt the German coach from Dortmund and twice they were rebuffed. Their third successful pursuit is an ideal way to celebrate their fifth anniversary as Liverpool’s owners on 15 October, although it is an oversight to say they have finally got their identikit manager. That manager was Rodgers, a young up-and-coming coach prepared to give young, often raw players time to develop and who went along with their transfer committee structure.
Regardless of the complaints and the consistent malfunction, he went along with it.
Rather than a manager who finally suits its model, Klopp is FSG’s last chance to repair Liverpool’s profile and haul the club back into the Champions League before the completion of the £114m main stand. FSG has always denied rumours it intends to sell up, maintaining Liverpool is for the long haul, although the investment appeal of a club boasting one of the biggest managerial names in Europe and a redeveloped stadium is clear.
This is not to diminish what FSG has accomplished in luring Klopp to Anfield. Along with resolving the decades-long stadium dilemma, the fourth manager of its tenure – the third it has chosen – is their most important achievement. Every leading European club was put on alert when Klopp announced he and Dortmund needed to go their separate ways on, of all dates, 15 April. Liverpool, with an imbalanced, modest squad and no Champions League football to offer, moved more decisively than all to tempt Klopp into ending his unspecified sabbatical. And to create the vacancy, of course, something other clubs have been reluctant to do. A reminder of the club’s enduring appeal was timely after the despondency and setbacks of recent months. Rodgers’ sacking invited fierce scrutiny of FSG’s failings, as it should, but having spent £291m on 31 players during his 40-month reign and almost £120m during Kenny Dalglish’s brief tenure, financial support for a manager is not one. The reduction of the club’s overall wage bill, however, is reflected in the quality of player now at Klopp’s disposal, although he had several months to study the Liverpool squad and was undeterred.
Similarities between Dortmund and Liverpool have been cited as a reason for Klopp’s decision to accept FSG’s offer. He is a coach who acts on feeling and, as he told the Guardian’s Donald McRae before the 2013 Champions League final, was drawn to the “worker’s club” honesty of Mainz and Dortmund. That is undoubtedly part of the attraction of Liverpool, although it is hard to reconcile the socialist idyll espoused by Bill Shankly with a club run by an American investment company who are installing 7,000 corporate seats.
For all the emotive characterisation of Klopp, who will ignite Anfield simply with an impassioned reaction to James Milner’s pressing game, there is pragmatism in his choice. Having led Dortmund to two league titles, German Cup success and the Champions League final, it was supposed Klopp would have his pick of the European elite yet there were no guarantees Bayern Munich would ask him to succeed Pep Guardiola. He had already discounted Spain owing to language difficulties and, despite speculation, the managerial seats at Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and United remain occupied. He, like FSG, chose not to wait.
Klopp is placing an esteemed reputation on the line to revive Liverpool, not only for a passing title challenge but consistently, and to overcome the problems that drove him to distraction in Germany on a wider scale in the Premier League. He is no longer fighting one wealthier rival with the resources to tempt his best players away, and needs a squad lacking in confidence to buy into his different tactics and double training sessions quickly.
But, at 10am in the Reds Lounge on Friday, when a new beaming smile walks into Anfield, a club widely criticised for a lack of character these past three years will showcase one of the most captivating in the game. Klopp’s entrance should be accompanied by Spinal Tap’s third studio album – Back From the Dead.