There are some days you just don’t forget. Your first day of university, your first date, the day you buy your first car. Everything about that day is clear, down to the last-minute detail. The most recent such day in my life was January 26, 2024.
It was a fine Friday morning. I was preparing to head outside with my parents, who had come to visit me in England all the way from India. In a good mood after my daily dose of morning coffee, I checked my phone. I was prepared for almost everything; after all, nothing is surprising anymore in 2024. Alien sightings in the USA? Normal. The French are rioting in Paris? That’s expected. My favourite fast food place from my home city shutting down? Sad, but life moves on. But let me tell you, I was not ready for the news that Liverpool FC were about to share.
The shock of a lifetime
“Jürgen Klopp has announced his decision to step down as #LFC manager at the end of the season, having informed the club’s ownership of his wish to leave his position in the summer.”
Wait, WHAT? I refreshed the post thrice. I headed to the club’s profile to double-check if it was the verified account and not an impersonator looking for cheap engagement. No issues there, but I was still not convinced. That’s when the notifications started pouring in—messages from friends, updates from football apps. I do not mean to be overly dramatic, but in 20 seconds, my life had turned upside down. It was cold outside, but my brain was heating up as if there was simply too much information for it to process.
Of course, my family could not understand how I was feeling. My dad laughed at my expression and kept asking me questions about my future. What future? A future without Jürgen Klopp? All I wanted to do at that point was lie on the bed, close my eyes, and wait to wake up from the nightmare. What do you mean, Klopp is leaving? Wasn’t that one of life’s constants? Like looking up at the sky at night and seeing the moon and the stars. Like a car having four wheels. Klopp has been the Liverpool boss for so long, done so much for the fans, that the thought of there existing a day when he was not on the sidelines at Anfield was inconceivable. Of course, it had to happen down the line, but surely science would have progressed far enough to clone him by then. There was no preparation for his announcement. Everything was rosy in Liverpool. And now, you have a 33-word nuclear bomb dropped on the fanbase and we’re expected to continue with our lives as if nothing has changed?
“..in an ideal world, I wouldn’t have said anything to anybody until the end of the season: win everything and then say goodbye,” Klopp told the club’s website. This was what the English football greats before had done—for Liverpool, it was Bill Shankly and for Manchester United, it was Sir Alex Ferguson. Win a trophy in your final season, call it quits at the top of your game. Shankly was 60, and Ferguson was 71. Klopp, 56, comes across as one of the most energetic men in any building he enters. But perhaps not.
“It is that I am, how can I say it, running out of energy. I have no problem now, obviously, I knew it already for longer that I will have to announce it at one point, but I am absolutely fine now. I know that I cannot do the job again and again and again and again.” The manager added, “I have to make this decision myself because no one will sack me. I have to for the commitment to the club and my feeling is I’m not the right one for the future.”
To hear Klopp say that he is not the ‘right one’ for Liverpool was the breaking point for me. Perhaps the man has gone senile because there is no way he thinks there is someone better suited to lead Liverpool. Any name you can think of to replace him—Xabi Alonso, Roberto De Zerbi, Thomas Frank—they all sound underwhelming. Great managers in their own right, but as Klopp’s successors?
It has now been over a week since the announcement. My life is still largely the same. Except this sadness slowly growing inside, the harsh reality that each passing game is the last chance to see the German cheer, curse, and rally his troops. Only a few more weeks until his last fist pump, until his last joke, until his last hug, until his final cheery quote that will uplift everyone in the room. The initial shock has been replaced with the inevitability of change, and my mind is going 3000 miles per hour trying to remember all the great moments he gave us.
Making Liverpool great again
So, let me reminisce. Let’s turn back the clock. It is 2015. Liverpool fans have more or less accepted that mediocrity is the name of the game. The 2013/14 title push took everything the club had but they still came up short. Steven Gerrard has left, his last memory at the club being a goal of zero importance in a 6-1 defeat to Stoke City. Raheem Sterling, the star youngster, has made the big-money move to Manchester City. Daniel Sturridge is injury-prone, and Phillipe Coutinho is not quite there yet as one of the league’s best players. The rest of the squad? It is better if I say nothing. You have to understand, Liverpool from 2009 to 2015 was not a relevant club. We had some moments here and there, Luis Suarez tore the league apart, but all we had to show for it was one League Cup. No world-class player wanted to join the team and even Shankly himself would have trouble motivating the squad and the fanbase.
In comes a charismatic German fella, with a smile wide enough to light up a city and words motivating enough to turn dismay into hope. Alright, we got Jürgen Klopp. We all know what he did at Dortmund, we all know he’s loved by the faithful fanbase there. This is the Premier League, you know! This is Liverpool, a club proud of its history but a fanbase who want to see history being made, not just talked about. English football elitism is real; you could have won the treble outside the country but ultimately, what you do here defines you. Klopp had never undertaken a challenge like this before.
“Does anyone in this room think I can do wonders? I am a normal guy from the black forest. I am the normal one.”
Klopp did not promise fans the world. He did not lay down a five-step plan to get the team back to the top. He was brutally honest about the task that lay ahead of him. He did however promise one thing—he would give everything he had for the betterment of the club. It was this personality and his passion for the job that won over the hearts of Liverpool executives in 2015, who chose him for the role over Carlo Ancelotti, already a two-time Champions League winner.
How then, do you take a mediocre squad that finished 25 points off the top of the table back to the promised land? The first step was simple. Klopp told the executives and the owners that it was his way or the highway. As per The Athletic, some of the earliest changes he made at the club included dividing the training field into three parts (each for separate training drills), making sure each team member knew every employee working in the building by their name, and printing out the word “TERRIBLE” in the locker room, to show how away teams must feel after having played at Anfield. The gaffer also asked for a new coffee machine—we can only thank God that his wish was granted (yes, I don’t want to test the butterfly effect).
His first game in charge ended in an anticlimactic 0-0; here is the squad he played:
If you show this image to a fan who started supporting the club under Klopp, they would look at you like how kids nowadays look at adults who talk about dial-up internet connection with speeds less than 50 kbps. Under Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool was an offensive juggernaut led by Suarez and Sturridge, placing little emphasis on defense. Klopp, a more experienced manager, took no time to change the team’s identity. Just like at Dortmund, he prioritised the need for players to run their hearts out on the field and press the opponent so much that they would need oxygen cylinders at half-time to catch their breath. Counter-pressing was key and you had to win the ball back as soon as you lost it. The former Mainz boss said after a few games in charge,
“We have to open our chests. Let’s run and fight and shoot, defend together and attack together, like your best dream about what football looks like. I want to see more braveness, more fun in their eyes. I want to see they like what they do.”
He could have been a writer for hit Hollywood films in another timeline. While initial training sessions were seen as “boring” by a few players, former Red Alberto Moreno said at the time, “[These sessions] are the ones that give results in the pitch. He explained to us that if we lose it [the game] was going to be his fault but he wanted us to follow his idea. And it is paying off.”
Not all was rosy, of course. Liverpool lost two finals that season—while the penalty shootout defeat vs Manchester City in the League Cup final was tolerable, the complete beating at the hands of Sevilla in the Europa League was a kick in the guts. Liverpool, the best English club in European competitions, was utterly outclassed by a Spanish side with much less hype and history. Hindsight tells us that the Reds overachieved by being in the final in the first place, given that Klopp had joined in October, without a preseason or getting in players he would have wanted. But no one wants to be logical at a time like that! Of course, everyone was devastated. Orator Klopp to the rescue again,
“There are more important things than football in life. I don’t think that God has the plan for me that I can go to the final and then always get a knock. Sometimes the way is a bit harder. I have a lot of luck in my life that I sit here and I am the manager of Liverpool FC. I do not think I am an unlucky person or life was not fair to me. Tonight was not too lucky, that’s true, and the other finals weren’t too lucky, that’s true. But we will carry on and I will carry on.”
The players have their version of how the gaffer motivated the squad after the defeat. Kolo Toure told LFCTV in 2020 about that loss, “We had a party after the game.”
The game that changed everything
A lot of changes happened from that defeat to the next European final defeat the Reds had to get through. Sadio Mane arrived, as did Gini Wijnaldum. Mohamed Salah was signed next summer after Liverpool qualified for the Champions League in the 2017/18 season (and in typical Liverpool fashion, they left the qualification to the last day of the Premier League season; nothing Klopp does is non-dramatic). Coutinho left for Barcelona, giving Liverpool a sizeable amount to reinvest in the transfer window. Andy Robertson, then Virgil van Dijk followed. The squad was picking up its shape and Liverpool’s identity was becoming clearer—here is a team completely different from what the gaffer had inherited in 2018. If you want to beat them, you would have to fight for it, with your lives, no less.
Perhaps Liverpool’s biggest “we are so back” moment came in April 2018. Manchester City were far and wide the best English team, cruising their way to another Premier League title. Three months ago, Liverpool had ended their hopes of repeating Arsenal’s Invincibles season by beating them 4-3 at Anfield. In April, however, the Champions League quarter-final beckoned. The Reds’ greatest test yet.
Pep Guardiola has a winning record against every manager he has faced more than ten times, except Klopp (12 defeats, 11 wins and 6 draws). Klopp’s Liverpool career cannot be spoken of without Guardiola, who has been his best rival. While the two share mutual respect and barely exchange verbal blows like Wenger vs Ferguson or Guardiola vs Mourinho, there is no love lost when it comes to the football field. It is fitting then, that Klopp’s true ascension into English football’s half of fame started with his Spanish counterpart.
Guardiola’s plan was undone by Klopp’s counter-pressing, and the players’ cohesiveness and ability to even triple-mark any player on the ball and cut down the passing space gave the Reds a fighting chance. Combine this with the noise Anfield is so famous for and the screamer that Ox scored; City were down 3-0 at the 20-minute mark. It stayed that way for the rest of the game, and Guardiola had his head in his hands in the return leg as a resilient Liverpool beat them 1-2 to advance to the semis.
Back in November 2015, during Klopp’s second home league game in charge, Crystal Palace took the lead with eight minutes to go and fans started exiting Anfield early. “I felt pretty alone,” Klopp admitted at the time. A month later, the players held hands and celebrated in front of the Kop after drawing 2-2 against mid-table side West Bromwich Albion. A gesture that was mocked by most, but the manager felt it was necessary to do so because the fans had stuck with them and their reward was a late equaliser. Good things happen when the fans back their players.
The process to make Anfield great again was not a simple one. It took time, it took patience, but, most importantly, it took a charismatic German fella with inborn leadership and motivational ability to unite a fanbase and make his players believe that everything was possible. “Call it cringe, but he’s just a special human being man. Kind of guy who in a past life would’ve led an army like Napoleon,” the words of Twitter user SeanDOlfc. The social media platform is not one where wisdom is often imparted, but truer words have rarely been typed.
In defeat, there are lessons
Two months later, Liverpool lost 1-3 to Real Madrid in the Champions League final. This was their third straight cup final defeat under Klopp.
I find post-game interviews to be a hilarious mandatory part of sports, especially for the defeated team. You’ve just played your heart out and lost, and probably the last thing you want to do is go in front of a camera and answer questions about why you lost and what’s next. We have seen some unforgettable moments in post-game pressers, with managers losing their heads. Klopp is not an exception as he has managed to blame everyone from the Sky Sports executives to the speed of the wind after defeats. But in the biggest moments and after the saddest losses, he has kept his head up and led the team like only he could, “I did the best I could and it was not good enough and I have to accept that, that’s it.”
At 6 am on the night after the heartbreaking loss to the Spanish side, a drunk Klopp was bellowing at the top of his voice,
“We saw the European Cup,
Madrid had all the fucking luck,
We swear we’ll keep on being cool,
We’ll bring it back to Liverpool!”
He added that he was the only one from his family who was not crying that night. Life has a way of working out, the manager smiled and added. Those are not the words of a man defeated, but, rather, the words of a man motivated. Life cannot defeat a man who keeps smiling when the chips are down. Klopp will smile at life and say, “What next? I am still here!”
And things did get better, as Klopp promised they would. Since I am a Liverpool fan who has barely seen his team achieve success before 2018, please indulge me as I list out everything the gaffer has won with the Reds – the Champions League (did you know we have won it six times?), the FA Cup, the League Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup, the Community Shield, and the UEFA Super Cup. Don’t worry, I saved the best for last—Klopp ended Liverpool’s 30-year depressing run without a top division title as the Reds won the Premier League in the 2019/20 season. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic putting a dent in celebrations, Liverpool’s dominance that season cannot be argued. No one deserved it more and no words can express what it meant to see the team finally conquer the mountain they always failed to climb. I don’t usually cry, but that night when the title became a mathematically foregone conclusion, I bawled my eyes out. Football, eh?
A brilliant manager; an unmatched human being
A lot can be said about Klopp the manager. He made the False 9 role famous again, he wrote the book on modern-day overlapping fullbacks who operate as the team’s primary creative weapons, his ‘heavy metal’ football approach rocked England and saw Liverpool reach three Champions League finals in five seasons. Klopp was the one to make sure his midfield’s legs and movement compensated for some defensive frailties, he controlled the egos of two all-time African greats as Mane and Salah formed a partnership no one will ever forget, and his tactic to switch play with long balls from the wide and centre positions was art. Klopp the manager is one of the best to ever do it, especially given that he did not always have the financial advantages that some of his rivals did.
But look, football is not just about winning trophies. It is important, very much so. Klopp would not be remembered as fondly if all Liverpool won was a League and an FA Cup. But to truly understand why he is so adored, you have to look beyond the 90 minutes on the football field.
I can talk about the time he made a six year old’s year by visiting him at the local Liverpool Alder Hey hospital (via The Athletic). The boy was diagnosed with leukaemia, and he told Klopp that he wished Liverpool won before every single game. Klopp hugged him and whispered, “Keep some of those wishes for yourself..”
Or let us talk about the time in 2016 when Klopp sent a personalised message to a fan after learning that his eldest son had passed away,
There are a dozen more stories like these, but you can only truly understand how well-loved Klopp is if you have been to Liverpool. I had the privilege of living out a childhood dream when I was in the city for just over three months, from September to December last year. Barely any local will call him by his name; it’s simply ‘the boss’. You could be the receptionist at a student residency or the manager of a big firm, but as long as you are in Liverpool, your boss is Jürgen Klopp and no one else.
There are not only murals across the city with his wide grin, there is a bar named after him, there are motivational Klopp quotes plastered across Liverpool, and people would sell their cars just to get the chance to shake his hands. Many managers have won trophies with their clubs; how many of them command such adoration from the city locals? Because at the end of the day, Klopp mirrors the city of Liverpool. Friendly but taking no one’s shit, left-wing political affiliations leaning towards socialism, approachable and larger than life. Why did the fans connect him with so much? Because just like Liverpool’s fanbase, the manager lives life with his emotions on his sleeve. He feeds off of the energy he receives. As the Guardian’s Sachin Nakrani writes—To use that most horrible of cliches, he gets us and we get him.
From doubters to believers is a quote that could very well have been used in any independence revolution. Klopp used it in his early days in Liverpool to convince the fans that better things were in store. Former Pope John Paul II was quoted as saying, “Out of all the unimportant things, football is the most important.” While Klopp reminded us several times that some things are bigger than football, football seemed like the only important thing in life, when Liverpool played and when he spoke after a win. He fought with the referees for us, he spoke about issues that we cared about, and he stood up for people who needed someone to stand up for them.
Even in his departure, there is a lesson to be learnt. Klopp has two years remaining on his contract after this season, and even if Liverpool did not win a single trophy in that time, he would not have been sacked. Hell, he could have demanded a lifetime contract tomorrow and very few people would have objected. But in a time where power has corrupted almost every mind and money seems to be everyone’s God, the boss decided it was time to leave. At the age of 56, he decided that he would oversee one last overhaul at the club and leave his successor to take over an awesome project. He could have taken it easy and collected the cash, but walking away is what he chose. And honestly, the man owes the fans nothing more.
Managers come and go, football moves on. Liverpool will likely not have to wait another 30 years for a league title (I pray and hope). They might win the Champions League within the next decade; trophies have been a part and parcel of the club for most of its existence. But winning with Klopp just meant more. He would make the League Cup feel like the Champions League. He could make a bad day turn around by making sure we remember what is important. That big grin, the cheeky quotes, the memes he gave us from the sidelines, calling out league executives, beefing with relegation sides’ managers. And the fist bumps—my God, the fist bumps! I was lucky enough to attend a game at Anfield this season and an away game at the Emirates in 2022. There is nothing quite like the gaffer running towards you, his signature cap on, and the movement of his hands giving you a serotonin rush like nothing else.
Liverpool will be successful again in the future. Jürgen Klopp, the manager, might eventually be replaced. But Jürgen Klopp, the man? There aren’t too many like him. And that is what hurts the most.