Sports

What Do Liverpool Have to Show For Eight Months of Jurgen Klopp?

In a tangible sense, very little. Thankfully, Klopp’s worth goes far beyond the tangible.
May 19, 2016, 1:38pm
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This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.

Jurgen Klopp, being exceedingly German. Jurgen Klopp, bursting into laughter for no apparent reason. Jurgen Klopp, saying nonsensical things in a tone that suggests we should laugh, and so we do laugh, because it's Jurgen Klopp. Jurgen Klopp, fist pumping on the touchline and gurning his jaw off like the last guy at Fabric in the small hours of Sunday morning.

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This is a typical day in the managerial life of Jurgen Klopp. This is his persona, his self-caricature. Liverpool fans love it, and it does have its charms. His winning air of jocularity has earned him converts far beyond Merseyside; he is the neutral's favourite Liverpool manager, the conceptual opposite of Graeme Souness.

Nonetheless, what have Liverpool actually got to show for eight months of Klopp? In a tangible sense, very little. With Wednesday night's defeat in the Europa League final, their season has ended trophyless. Despite a run to the final that included impressive wins over Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal, Klopp's men were soundly beaten by a dynamic Sevilla side. The supporters who travelled to Basel must have felt an overwhelming sense of déjà vu at the final whistle, having experienced precisely the same despondency at the culmination of their League Cup campaign in February.

If Liverpool's two cup final losses have been visceral and gut-wrenching, their league campaign has been more of a creeping death. The Reds finished eighth in the end, dogged by inconsistency throughout. While performances and results did improve somewhat in the last few weeks of the season, they rarely threatened to break into the European spots. All in all, the last eight months have been defined by the the team's disappointments. On the pitch, things have been painful and forgettable by turn.

Liverpool have endured a fourth consecutive season without silverware // PA Images

That's the tangible result of Klopp's short spell in charge, then. While such an underwhelming season might serve as a damning indictment of other managers, it doesn't seem to have damaged Klopp's standing whatsoever. There is good reason for this. His effervescent personality has doubtlessly helped to distract people from the team's failings, with less affable managers afforded significantly less goodwill from commentators, columnists and fans alike.

The ability to deflect criticism is an asset in itself, of course. It's a talent Klopp has in abundance, in stark contrast to his managerial predecessor. Brendan Rodgers' meaningless corporate-speak left Liverpool fans increasingly frustrated, while seemingly sucking the charisma and confidence out of the club. By comparison, Klopp's intangible value starts to become apparent.

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Klopp wasn't merely faced with a crisis of confidence when he arrived on Merseyside. It's almost impossible to judge a man who was lumbered with £32.5m worth of misfiring Christian Benteke, and who found himself having to give a pensionable Kolo Toure extensive game time as the season went on. Several members of the incumbent squad – Jose Enrique, most notably – seemed to have justified inclusion solely on social media presence. In his last season and a half at the club, Rodgers (and the infamous transfer committee) had assembled a group of expensive misfits, a lopsided team with very little chance of success.

The fact that Klopp has steered that same squad to two major finals is a minor miracle. They may have fallen at the final hurdle, but by rights they shouldn't have been in the race at all. Liverpool have nothing to show for Klopp's efforts in terms of silverware, but he's managed to galvanise an erratic collection of mavericks, screwballs and chronic underachievers into something that closely resembles functionality. He might not have produced much tangible success, but he's done his absolute best with what he has.

Herein lies Klopp's real value to the club. If he can make a semi-coherent side from the likes of Simon Mignolet, Dejan Lovren and Joe Allen, imagine what he might do with a team of his own design. This season has not been about material gain so much as restoring a sense of hope, a feeling of optimism among the Anfield faithful. Klopp's antics, his humour and his disarming honesty have been crucial in buoying the supporters' spirits. He's more than willing to live up to the caricature, as long as it gives the fans something to cheer.

Klopp now has his first real chance to shape the squad in his own image. While it might take a couple of transfer windows before we can really judge his worth to the club, this summer represents the real start to his reign. This is his time to acquire the players who are capable of playing his brand of football, and to usher out some of the dysfunctional also-rans he's had to work with up until now. Add quality players to an environment of optimism and togetherness, and Kloppmania ensues.

@W_F_Magee