Jürgen Klopp strode into the Anfield press room one year ago with one simple objective for his new club’s fans – “to turn doubters into believers.”
Within minutes of his first press conference getting underway, he had every journalist and photographer in that room in the palm of his hand – as well as the thousands watching live at home.
Liverpool were a club in desperate need of a jolt, the fire powering the Brendan Rodgers era had been extinguished long before he was eventually put out of his misery, after a listless showing in a Merseyside derby of all things. The Northern Irishman had reached the end, and it was time for the club to start afresh.
In many ways, Klopp was given a free pass last season. The squad that he inherited was not particularly fit for purpose, an assortment of individual strands that had not yet been woven into anything tangible. (Plus, Liverpool could count themselves lucky that such a highly-regarded manager would even look at them given the state they were in.)
The lack of a pre-season with them meant that the new manager and his players would have to familiarise themselves with each other almost instantly – and for a boss with methods as meticulous and strenuous as Klopp, that was never going to yield immediate on-pitch success.
And so that proved to be the case. The level of intensity that Klopp was able to generate from the get-go was evident in their cup runs, the comeback wins against Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal for example, or the taking apart of Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United, but it wasn’t conducive to league success.
It seems likely that they would have finished higher in the Premier League table had Klopp not decided to focus on the Europa League towards the end of the season, but not by much. The run to Basel (and Wembley for the League Cup final) papered over a lot of cracks, but in a season where fans were not expecting much of an end result at that early stage, such crack-papering a nice bonus.
That Europa League defeat robbed the team of Champions League football, but while there would have been obvious positives to an early return to the to top table of European football, the quiet rebuild of the squad was probably better off without it in the short-term.
The summer came rolling around, and attention turned to which players Klopp would be bringing in. Would he use his Dortmund connections to snare a player from his old club? Would his reputation and infectious personality be enough to convince a bona fide superstar from one of Europe’s top clubs to join the project?
The answer was no, but not because he failed to land his targets. The obsession with a marquee signing seems to be of an English nature (apart from Real Madrid), whereby the spending of money is an automatic success in and of itself.
To that end, the signing of a Schalke defender on a free transfer, a backup centre-back and young goalkeeper from Augsburg, a midfielder from recently-relegated Newcastle, a 39-year-old goalkeeper and yet another player from Southampton was enough to raise one or two questions.
Where was the new left-back? Why did Klopp pull out of the race to sign Mario Götze? Why are the club making a profit on transfers (actually attempting to construe selling Christian Benteke, Joe Allen and Jordon Ibe for a combined £60m as a negative)?
Klopp could have spent more, but he simply didn’t want to. He didn’t identify an available left-back that could fit into his system so he didn’t buy one just for the sake of it. He trusted the signings he made and wasn’t about to break the bank to placate the more transfer-hungry elements of the fan base. That’s the sort of panic that led to the arrivals of Andy Carroll and Mario Balotelli.
He trusted his players, he could see the potential in them and wanted to spur them on to the best of their ability before even attempting to replace them. (That’s not to say there weren’t any departures of course, as fourteen left permanently, but there could have been more but for Klopp seeing something in them.)
Development, rather than replacement, has been Klopp’s aim. Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino have been prominent examples of this – the former looks an absolute world away from the terrified, error-prone mess that he was under Rodgers, while the latter has gone from looking like a potential flop to arguably the most important player in the team right now.
Most important, perhaps, but not the crutch that Luis Suárez, Steven Gerrard or Daniel Sturridge had become. Liverpool won at Stamford Bridge without Firmino, for example, and did so by completely overrunning Chelsea.
That is another example of how Klopp has changed this team. They can and will hurt you – you might not be sure of how exactly, but you know it’s coming. They top the charts for shots taken, chances created, distance covered, sprinting – this Liverpool side is capable of working almost any other team into the ground and then picking them off and the goals can come from just about anywhere.
For all the talk of gegenpressing upon the manager’s arrival last year, this is it in full flow – this is what a Jürgen Klopp team looks like.
Liverpool’s stats under Jurgen Klopp this season??? pic.twitter.com/3EmHYbyAeg
— 101 Great Goals (@101greatgoals) October 1, 2016
Klopp was always going to be judged on this season far more than last, and in that regard the transformation has been phenomenal. The players could not have been happy with the manager’s training plans initially – he is a notorious taskmaster and some players did not have the stomach for it.
Now, the methods are the same but the players are responding to it – not least because they have seen what it can do for them. The ethos of the manager that training should be a tough exercise but still leave the players smiling afterwards, it’s an ambitious one but it’s working. Collective belief in the methodology is vital and the playing staff are buying into what Klopp is selling.
How else could Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and James Milner have been coerced into not only playing in totally new positions this season, but excelling in them?
It is still relatively early days with Liverpool under Klopp, the consistency is still something that needs to be cemented and the defence needs to be tightened. But the spirit and desire to improve is there, and belief permeates this club in a way not seen for a long time.
A year of fist-pumps, swearing in press conferences, gegenpressing, stunning comebacks, broken glasses, cup final heartbreak, crushing victories and frustrating defeats – Klopp has been many things for Liverpool in his first year in charge, but never has he been boring.
The doubters are becoming believers, and the believers are becoming disciples.
Read More About: adam lallana, Daniel Sturridge, divock origi, dortmund, europa legue, james milner, joel matip, jordan henderson, jurgen klopp, Liverpool, loris karius, philippe coutinho, Premier League, Roberto Firmino, sadio mane, Top Story, zeljko buvac