The Klopp template, and a tale of two Reds

Out of the public eye, Klopp sold a dream and everybody at the club fell for it.

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This is how Manchester United have paid over the odds under different managers post Sir Alex Ferguson: Paul Pogba – £89 million, Harry Maguire – £80 million, Fred – £52million, Aaron Wan-Bissaka – £50 million, Anthony Martial – £36 million (potentially rising to £58 million) and Jadon Sancho – £73 million.

Compare this with Liverpool’s transfer activities under Jurgen Klopp: Mohamed Salah – £36.5 million, Sadio Mane – £30 million, Thiago Alcantara – £20 million, Ibrahima Konate – £36 million, Luis Diaz – £37 million and Andrew Robertson – £8 million.

Liverpool are chasing the quadruple. United are staring at the Europa Conference League ignominy. Liverpool ooze a proper football culture. United reek of player power, the club recently investigating into the dressing room leaks. Not a single United player would get into the Liverpool side.

They are the two biggest football clubs in England and also the most popular in the world. United had knocked Liverpool off their perch under Sir Alex. Paradise was regained, gradually, after Klopp came to Merseyside in October 2015. Liverpool, too, were in a bad place, especially under the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Then, Fenway Sports Group took control of the club and brought in the German manager, who healed the 30 years of hurt by winning the Premier League besides annexing the Champions League as well. United badly need the wretched Glazers to go and as regards to their new manager Erik ten Hag, he needs to follow Klopp’s template for a rebuild.

How did Klopp transform Liverpool? “Does anyone in this room think I can do wonders? No. I’m a normal guy. I come from the Black Forest. My mother is probably sat at home now watching this, not able to understand a word of what I’m saying but very proud. I am the Normal One,” Klopp had said at his unveiling. He was also very precise on player signings: “We only want to discuss very good players, discussing on the highest level. I’m not a genius. I don’t know more than the rest of the world. I need other people to get perfect information.”

Out of the public eye, Klopp sold a dream and everybody at the club fell for it. The Liverpool hierarchy allowed him to be the most important man at the club, football-wise. It augured well for the 19-time English top-flight league champions.

Klopp gradually rebuilt the team. In his first season, he had opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation, given the players at his disposal. The idea was to quickly switch to a ‘heavy metal’ 4-3-3, but the manager had to offload players and bring on new faces to implement his style. So out went the likes of Christian Benteke, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, who were replaced with two super signings – Salah and Mane. As per the Premier League stats, Liverpool conceded 92 goals in Klopp’s first two seasons. The rearguard was crying out for steel and Liverpool broke the bank for centre-half Virgil van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson Becker, forking out £75 million and £65 million respectively for the two players. Those were the two transformative signings. Klopp upgraded the full-backs, shipping out Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno and introducing Trent Alexander-Arnold and Robertson. But right signings had to be complemented with proper team culture. Under Klopp, Liverpool achieved that.

Mind, he didn’t have the luxury that Pep Guardiola enjoyed at the Abu Dhabi-backed Manchester City. Klopp’s net spend at Liverpool is around £116 million vis-à-vis Guardiola’s £563 million at City.

As former United captain Gary Neville said, the “conveyor belt” of talent that Klopp has brought to Liverpool was reminiscent of Sir Alex’s time at Old Trafford. “What Sir Alex Ferguson did for many years was get the next one ready so that no one was holding the club to ransom. Great clubs don’t just build for three years, they have that next player to come in and that’s what Liverpool are doing here,” Neville told Sky Sports last month.

There’s a lesson to be learnt for United from this. First, they need to give ten Hag enough authority and time for a proper rebuild. The world’s most popular football club has hit rock bottom and resurrection is likely to take at least five years. Hopefully, the new manager will weed out the bad elements from the dressing room and take control of it. That’s the starting point. “What it’s all about is the dressing room; you need to be able to manage the dressing room. You have to make it function. That’s how you win games,” ten Hag recently said.

The 52-year-old Dutchman is expected to take care of the on-pitch problems. Will he have the right support from the club administration? Will United eventually prioritise football over commercial signings, shirt sales and noodle partners? As things stand, ten Hag, too, runs the risk of being thrown under the bus.

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