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26th Jan 2024

Jurgen Klopp – the grinning Gegenpresser Man United fans couldn’t help but admire

Patrick McCarry

Although plenty will claim to be indifferent, a heap of Manchester United fans will be delighted the German is packing up.

Jurgen Klopp will leave his role as manager of Liverpool at the end of the 2023/24 season, and the Premier League will be the worse for it.

Back in 2012, Alex Ferguson met up with Pep Guardiola in New York, for dinner. Ferguson knew he would be leaving Manchester United at the end of the 2012/13 season but could not completely let that cat out of the bag, to Guardiola. He asked the Spaniard ‘to phone me before he accepted an offer from another club’. The call never came – maybe because Bayern Munich had already tied the deal down – and Guardiola headed to the Bundesliga in July 2013.

In his book, Leading, Ferguson recalled how succession planning did not go well, once he informed the Glazer family, in February 2013, he would be stepping down. Louis van Gaal had committed to leading The Netherlands to the 2014 World Cup, but was not even in United’s initial top three. Ferguson wrote:

“We established that several very desirable candidates were unavailable. It became apparent that José Mourinho had given his word to Roman Abramovich that he would return to Chelsea, and that Carlo Ancelotti would succeed him at Real Madrid. We also knew that Jürgen Klopp was happy at Borussia Dortmund and would be signing a new contract.”

Not securing the services of Pep Guardiola to take over from Alex Ferguson was the biggest mistake the club has made in the past dozen years. Not moving mountains, once Guardiola was out of the picture, to get Klopp installed at Old Trafford was the second.

11 years on, Guardiola and Klopp have brought nine league titles, two Champions Cups, three Super Cups, three world titles and 13 domestic cups to their respective clubs [Bayern, Liverpool and Manchester City]. United have won three domestic cups and a Europa League, all for more than £1.5 billion in transfers and having had five managers and three care-takers.

Much of the past decade, for United fans, has been false dawns, brief up-ticks of hope and the ‘pick your poison’ of seeing Liverpool and Manchester City squabbling for the trophies they used to hoover up. For United supporters that hated Arsenal – the newer rivals – in the late 90s and early 2000s, it is an odd sensation to wish them well in any league race, yet they are certainly the lesser of three evils.

As is footballing tradition over the years, United fans will lean towards hatred and derision of any Liverpool manager. Kenny Dalglish was the sour Scot, in their minds, whose team needed to be knocked off their perch. Graeme Souness arrived from Rangers with a decent reputation but left with that in tatters, Roy Evans often looked in over his head and Gerard Houllier had the ‘Mickey Mouse Treble’ and not much else.

Rafa Benitez, and his “facts”, was a comedy figure, in Manchester, for much of his time at Liverpool. That was until he won the 2005 Champions Cup and nearly repeated the dose, two years later. Many United fans were asking themselves how Ferguson’s United could only win a solitary Champions League, after plenty of cracks, only for nearly men Liverpool to almost plunder two in the space of 24 months. Fortunately, from the United perspective, AC Milan avenged their Istanbul implosion and Ferguson claimed his second European Cup, in Moscow, in 2008.

Roy Hodgson and the returning Dalglish combined for two droll seasons before the perma-white teeth of Brendan Rodgers gave United supporters a new figure to lay into. The smiles were almost permanently wiped off United faces when their side flopped under ‘The Chosen One’ David Moyes while Rodgers brought Liverpool to the brink of a first ever Premier League title. Liverpool were FIVE points clear with three matches to play, but lost the league to City.

Rodgers, somewhat cruelly, ended up without a single trophy in his three seasons, and change, at Liverpool. The club moved on, and brought in a man that had only been out of the managerial game for four months – Jurgen Klopp, the Gegenpressing devotee

Jurgen Klopp celebrates European glory in 2018. (Credit: Getty)

Ending the drought but beaten down by the City machine

As we have seen this season with Ange Postecoglou at Tottenham, a newcomer manager with fresh ideas and tactics can bring about an initial boost to as team’s fortunes. Postecoglou, like Jurgen Klopp, comes across as a likeable character and gives good copy to the media.

When results start to waiver, though, the naysayers and critics are never far away. Liverpool finished sixth and eighth in Klopp’s first two seasons at the club. Many of his squad were picking up soft tissue injuries – calf twinges, hamstring tears, thigh strains – and he was criticised for pushing his players to breaking point. His style, some lectured, would not transfer to English football.

Klopp endeared himself to many by jokingly setting himself us as ‘The Normal One’ but it was his ‘Mentality Monsters’ demand than sums up his nine years at Liverpool. He wanted his teams to have the mental and physical edge on his opponents. Many supporters, not just of Manchester United, mocked when he corralled his players down to The Kop to celebrate a 2-2 home draw with West Ham, but he was laying down a marker – teams could play low blocks at Anfield but there would be no cheap wins.

2015/16 was one of clear progress but Klopp’s detractors pointed to his iffy record in cup finals when Liverpool lost in the League Cup and Europa League deciders. It happened again when Real Madrid roughed them up, and beat them, in the 2018 Champions League Final. From 2018/19, though, Klopp had Liverpool hammered and honed in his image. They had a goalkeeper that was so good in one-on-one situations that they could play a higher line. Virgil Van Dijk was at his peak. They had an attacking trio of Mane-Salah-Firmino that were the envy of every team in world football. They worked their rears off.

Jurgen Klopp

Jurgen Klopp in a bracket of his own

Liverpool are in contention for four trophies, yet, this season so Klopp could end up with more than the six major titles, at Liverpool, he has to his name. Being harsh, he will be judged against Pep Guardiola and will lose most of those arguments. The big unsolved riddle here are the 115 Premier League financial rules charges that hang like a cloud over Guardiola and City. If financial doping is found to have taken place, titles may be stripped and Klopp may be regarded in an even greater hue.

For now, though, I join many United supporters in being gleeful that Klopp has been ground down by that Manchester City machine. If Guardiola can only be so kind as to follow suit, United fans can forget their own flame-engulfed house and bask in the potential of their rivals stumbling about for a while. Arsenal fans must be beside themselves, too.

Yes, Klopp would get on your nerves every now and then. He would be as biased and blinkered as most managers are when the big games come around, or big decisions swing against them.

Many United fans would tell you he was a pain in the hole from the start and, given the talented team he built, underachieved at Liverpool. The ones making more sense would admit is was hard not to admire him, sometimes. To wish United had got him.

There is something in the football fan D.N.A to instantly dislike the manager of a close rival.

There are others that you can hate but can also admit produce teams that play good football – Arsene Wenger and Guardiola [at Barcelona and City] come to mind. Mourinho [the earlier vintage, too]. Carlo Ancelotti is a hard guy to hate, unless his team are ripping yours and he just has that eyebrow raised with a half grin on his lips. In years to come, younger generations will ask us about Zinedine Zidane the manager [three European Cups, two LaLiga titles] and all we will do is gush about what a great player he was.

Klopp was in a bracket of his own.

You would often love to hate him, but could never quite manage to do so.

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