WITHIN minutes of Jurgen Klopp’s bombshell announcement that he will leave Liverpool, panicked fans were making comparisons with Sir Alex Ferguson.
While Ferguson’s tenure at Old Trafford was three times longer than Klopp’s Anfield reign, that is the extent to which the German embodies his team and his club.
It instantly felt impossible to imagine Liverpool being recognisable as Liverpool without Klopp. And it felt highly likely that the club will head into decline.
There is no Boot Room now. And while Xabi Alonso is an obvious successor with Liverpool connections, he is a very different character to Klopp.
But while comparisons with Ferguson in 2013 are obvious, the more immediate concern for Kop supporters should be comparisons with Fergie in 2001.
It is often forgotten that the great Scot announced, at the start of the 2001-02 campaign, that the upcoming season would be his last at the Red Devils, only to make a mid-season U-turn.
Indeed, when told of that Ferguson story yesterday, Klopp was staggered that he wasn’t aware of it. But Ferguson described that announcement as the “biggest mistake I ever made”.
He added: “I think a lot of the players had put their tools away. They thought ‘Oh, the manager’s leaving’.”
United had just won three titles in a row but that season they ended up third and failed to win any silverware.
As Liverpool hunt a quadruple — top of the league, having just booked their place in the Carabao Cup final and still going strong in the FA Cup and Europa League — the worry should be that Klopp’s announcement will derail this excellent current campaign.
His players won’t suddenly lose their desire to dethrone Manchester City as champions or to beat Chelsea at Wembley next month.
Indeed, there will be plenty of talk about ‘doing it for Jurgen’.
To give him the perfect send-off by winning the Europa League and FA Cup finals in late May.
Yet subconsciously, the blow of knowing that a man regarded as a force of nature has admitted to “running out of energy” cannot be underestimated.
Klopp is only 56. Fifteen years younger than Ferguson when he eventually retired. Twenty years younger than Roy Hodgson.
But in an honest, soul-bearing press conference yesterday, he kept referencing how old he felt.
He said he was “no young rabbit”. When asked if he would give the board advice on his successor, he claimed: “The last thing they need is advice from the old man walking out.”
He said he looked as though he had aged far more than nine years since his arrival in October 2015.
RIGHT TIME TO GO
And he admitted to feeling “relief’ in November, when he made his decision to go. Klopp even started talking about himself in the past tense.
He sounded burnt out, while insisting that he wasn’t burnt out yet but was convinced he would be burnt out by the summer, which is not how burn out usually works.
To his players this must be unsettling. Klopp will have felt like a constant, life without him unthinkable until yesterday. Only defender Joe Gomez predates the German’s arrival.
Klopp embodies this Liverpool side because their greatest attribute is an energy which originates from the manager himself. Watch him on any matchday.
The way he stands and eyeballs the opposition from the halfway line during their warm-up, while rival bosses take a breather.
The way he kicks every ball and harangues every fourth official. The way he celebrates routine wins so exuberantly in front of the Kop.
Then watch his team, pressing the opposition with murderous intent, smothering them and attacking with such speed and focus.
Klopp and his team of mentality monsters are as one. And how Klopp has embraced the ‘us against the world’ mentality of his adopted city, their outsider identity, their ‘This Means More’ romanticism.
Even yesterday, as he announced the mother of all distractions, he claimed the only distractions would come from an “outside world” desperate to derail his trophy-chasing team.
FOREVER A RED
He may be German but he is more Scouse than most Scousers. Klopp is a great of English club management. Yes, there has been ‘only’ one European Cup and ‘only’ one league title.
But between 2018 and 2022, the Reds reached three Champions League finals and chalked up at least 92 Premier League points on three separate occasions — a tally Fergie only reached once.
And after last season’s dip, Klopp refreshed his midfield and reinvigorated his team to such an extent that their only defeat in 27 domestic matches was the VAR-inflicted farce at Tottenham.
For a club without Manchester City’s state-funding to have challenged Pep Guardiola’s side so frequently has been extraordinary.
While there is spite between City and Liverpool on the terraces and in the boardroom, there is vast respect between Guardiola and Klopp.
Guardiola often refers to Klopp as his greatest rival and motivation.
The Catalan has been at the Etihad for only eight months less than Klopp has ruled Liverpool and the two share an obsessive workaholism.
Klopp’s announcement is a reminder that even the most relentless men still have limits.
For now, Guardiola will regard this as a boost before another classic City- Liverpool title run-in.
Klopp’s admittance of exhaustion is no sign of weakness. His self-awareness is commendable.
Yet still, when a manager announces he is going, the dynamic of a football club changes. Just ask Ferguson.