Two weeks ago Jurgen Klopp was reported to be eyeing the Bayern Munich job in 2016. But by suddenly opting for Liverpool, is he taking a massive gamble on his own reputation?
Top managers coming, not top players
Money and the Premier League’s unquestionable popularity appear to be big factors for top managers joining EPL clubs, but the best talents are still staying away. No Thomas Muller, no Arturo Vidal, no Paul Pogba, no Sergio Ramos, no Karim Benzema – all rumours.
So weak has been the players influx that Jurgen Klopp, joining Liverpool as manager, would rank amongst the top five stars to enter the league this season – alongside Kevin De Bruyne, Pedro, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Nicolas Otamendi.
Klopp’s appointment has taken the footballing world by surprise. Reports and experts suggested he was eyeing the Bayern Munich job in 2016. Since those reports surfaced, Guardiola’s team have played four games, scored a whopping 18 goals (that’s 4.5 goals per game), let in just two and are clearly the best team around. Klopp's insiders sensed Bayern are not keen to let go Pep, so he must look at alternates.
Klopp takes over a mid-table team (Liverpool were 10th placed in the league going into the international break) struggling to make any sort of impact. After Luis Suarez ‘s departure, Liverpool’s standing fell from second (2013-14 season) to sixth - the 2014-15 season finishing with a 6-1 thrashing from Stoke City. Then, Raheem Sterling departed over this summer. Their only notable results so far, this season, have been a 1-0 win over Stoke City and a 0-0 draw to Arsenal.
There is no hiding that the German was among the best candidates available and hence Liverpool fans’ excitement is justified. But it’s left to be seen how excited Klopp stays motivated playing in Europa League when not too long ago he was playing a Champions league final (June 2013) and two weeks ago dreaming of a Munich job.
Worse, if results don’t go his way, his exploits with Borussia Dortmund will start fading in memory and his aura will diminish rapidly. Liverpool are a massive brand and hog significant media space, inversely proportional to their on field performances.
In terms of focus, scrutiny and global expectations, Liverpool and Dortmund are just not comparable. Every loss gets magnified, multiple losses are counted as catastrophes. Klopp has taken a big gamble on his equity. However, he has a few things in his favour.
The league is competitive, unpredictable, but not as strong
The league doesn’t have the quality that it used to have half a decade ago. The Newcastle, Sunderland, Southampton, Stoke, West Ham, Everton and Spurs of 2010 were far stronger than their counterparts this season.
EPL elites (Chelsea, Arsenal and the Manchester teams) were expected to have their struggles in Champions league football 2015-16 group stages. But the way they got walloped to the likes of Dinamo Zagreb, Olympiakos, Porto, PSV and Juventus, gives us two thoughts. Like in 2012-13 and 2014-15 seasons, the chances of any EPL team reaching the last eight of Europe’s elite competition look bleak – one reason why top players aren’t keen on joining them. That Liverpool are struggling even amongst these teams means a lot of work is left to be done.
Klopp has strikers though
Top quality strikers are rare in the league this season. Most of the title aspirants are struggling to field even one decent striker upfront. Manchester City’s Aguero and Bony are frequently staying injured, Arsenal are starting most games with Walcott, Manchester United have a teen debutant Martial leading, Chelsea are unsure of whom to field in Costa’s absence and Spurs are lead by a misfiring Kane. In this scenario Klopp starts luckier, with three (now fit) strikers – Sturridge, Ings and Benteke – to choose from. If they are managed well, the league isn't too tough to conquer.
Best managers coming to EPL are doing well
Klopp will find that best managers joining the EPL are adjusting and faring well. Claudio Ranieri has started very strongly with Leicester City (at 5th place now). The team which finished 14th last season attracted the veteran manager of 29 years experience. Ranieri has coached some of the best teams in Italy, Spain, England and recently took Monaco to the Champions league.
At 6th place are giant killers of this season, West Ham managed by Slaven Bilic. They have beaten Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City at the opposition’s den. Bilic has managed the Croatian national team for six years working with players like Rakitic, Srna, Modric and Mandzukic.
Two places below Liverpool are Watford, managed by Quique Sanchez Flores. Quique’s Atletico Madrid of 2010 won the UEFA Europa league, UEFA Super Cup and were runners up in Copa Del Rey with a thin squad. He has also coached Benfica and Valencia. Watford, promoted this year to the Premier League have made a smart decision and it’s already paying dividends.
Klopp’s Dortmund vs EPL big four managers
When Klopp joined Borussia Dortmund in mid 2008, the club had finished a disappointing 13th the previous season. The appointment impact was steady as Dortmund finished 5th the following year and 6th in 2009-10 season. The next three seasons make Klopp what he is today to Dortmund and to the world – Two Bundesliga titles and a Champions League final spot.
Enroute to all this he ended up with a superior record over EPL’s Big four managers.
Dortmund eliminated Mourinho’s Real Madrid in 2013 Champions league final after toppling them in group stages. Not just in results Klopp got under the skin of Jose in press conferences too. No wonder the struggling Chelsea boss hasn't commented on this appointment with his sarcasm yet. Klopp made a 2-1-1 (W-L-D) record over Mourinho.
Prior to eliminating Madrid, Klopp’s Dortmund had eliminated Pellegrini’s Malaga in the Quarterfinals in a game the Spanish team were literally robbed by the officials – a legal goal not given and an offside goal allowed against. That was the only time both these managers had squared off with Klopp finishing 1-1-0 over the Chilean.
Klopp met Van Gaal’s Bayern Munich twice in 2011-12 season and recorded a 2-0-0 head to head over the club and manager. This was enroute to Dortmund’s second successive Bundesliga under their most loved manager.
Klopp though has come second best to Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger of the six times they met in Champions League group stages, over three years, with a 2-1-3 record.
The above data though makes a clear case that none of the managers listed above would be happy with this decision by the Liverpool board.
Will Klopp or Flop?
And it's a smart decision with enough reasons to be positive. Klopp has taken a personal gamble, but for the league, Liverpool and football, it could be the best thing happening this season. The German must target a great winter transfer window. Best players always like to work with best managers. If Klopp can take Liverpool to a top three position by November and keep them there till January, he will attract some good talents into the league. Liverpool’s public relations machinery will ensure all positive vibes come out of Anfield. And that will likely help Klopp have a great transfer window. It's not impossible and am tempted to think, at this stage, relative to other teams, it's more possible than impossible.
All the best Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool. The league needs a strong Liverpool back.