Until the very end, Jürgen Klopp maintained his sense of dramatic flair. He paused before announcing his departure in the video, knowing that everyone already knew what was coming but still wanting to hear it from his own mouth. His voice trembled and faltered as he spoke, and he held a steady gaze straight into the camera, captivating the audience’s attention. And as always, his timing was impeccable, leaving a jarring shock that would resonate throughout the remaining four months of the season. It was one final mind game, one last advantage in the competitive world of football. For Klopp, the business and enjoyment of the sport were always intertwined, each serving the other.
His charisma and strong beliefs had the power to captivate a team, a crowd, or a large arena. Even in a foreign land and speaking a second language, he formed lasting bonds in a sport known for its chaos and hostility. He also transformed the perception of one of England’s most criticized cities. To this day, Christian Benteke, a striker whom Klopp never favored, rarely played, and eventually sold to Crystal Palace, still considers Klopp as the greatest manager he’s ever had. This is yet another example of Klopp’s talent and gives insight into his character.
He was the individual who achieved ultimate success, taking charge of one of this nation’s struggling clubs during a time when their standing was likely worse than his. He revived their reputation and transformed them into a formidable team once more. Upon his arrival in 2015, Anfield’s average attendance was comparable to that of Sunderland’s. He inherited a team with players such as Steven Caulker, Joe Allen, and Lazar Markovic, but he reconstructed it and led them to win the Champions League within four years. He then rebuilt the team once again. He ended Liverpool’s 30-year long wait for a league title, a feat that fans had thought was impossible. However, this is not the legacy that Klopp will leave behind.
He was the coach who introduced his unique style of high-energy, pressing football from Dortmund to the Premier League and then adapted it for the ever-changing modern game. As Klopp aged, so did his teams, becoming more tactically controlled, focused on possession, and intricate. They moved away from chaotic play and relied less on counterattacks and emotional surges. He took inspiration from Pep Guardiola, and in turn, Guardiola borrowed from him. Together, their eight-year partnership produced some of the best football and matches witnessed in English stadiums. However, this is not the legacy that Klopp will be remembered for either.
The coach transformed injured, inexperienced, or unproven players into the envy of the world using a combination of top-notch scouting, coaching, and interpersonal skills. Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Sadio Mané, and Andrew Robertson were all good or very good players who became exceptional under his guidance. He strongly believed in giving opportunities to young players, not to increase their value on paper, but because it was the most efficient way to create future heroes. In the Fulham match on Wednesday, with limited time and a close game, he substituted 18-year-old Bobby Clark and challenged him to win the cup semi-final. Klopp’s trust in Clark instilled belief in himself. However, this will not be the sole legacy of Klopp.
In the world outside of the game, where actual individuals exist, this is not the way football is truly remembered. What will truly last from those years of hard work are the human moments, the physical moments when Klopp and his team broke through the barriers and evoked emotions in you. The often mocked final bow after a 2-2 tie against West Brom. The shattered glasses against Norwich. The spectacular shot against Kyiv. The way Anfield echoed on the evening of their 4-0 victory over Barcelona or their 7-0 triumph over Manchester United, where you were, and who you were with.
Soccer has never been solely a mental activity or only a career-driven endeavor. When at its peak, it serves as the soundtrack to life, accompanying evenings in and out, highs and lows, and relationships forming and ending. Not everyone in the self-absorbed realm of soccer truly understands this. However, there was always a sense that Klopp did. Although Liverpool is not my team and Klopp has never been my coach, I sometimes found myself wishing he was.
Despite being a competitor at heart, Klopp understood that it was not enough to simply make others feel good. He also believed in doing good and actively worked with the club foundation, making time to meet disabled and elderly fans. His actions not only created great online content, but also came from a place of sincerity and genuineness. In March 2020, as the country prepared for lockdown, Klopp reminded Liverpool fans of the importance of looking out for one another and protecting each other. He emphasized that this should always be the case in life, but even more so in the midst of a crisis. He urged everyone to take care of each other.
Klopp was not the socialist figure that his devoted followers claimed him to be in the vein of Shankly. This was evident through his numerous commercial endorsements. He also did not try to portray himself as a paragon of virtue. In fact, some of his less appealing moments came when he indulged in self-pity and angrily complained about real or perceived injustices, such as early match kick-off times when others were facing more pressing struggles, like heating their homes. However, in some way, whether intentional or projected, he did symbolize a form of resistance: emphasizing the importance of human beings in the midst of a system driven by money and authoritarian power. Similar to Arsène Wenger before him, it was often difficult to separate his stance against state investment and fixture congestion from his own self-interest. But overall, he chose the right battles to fight.
Despite the celebration of his successful career at Liverpool, there is also a sense of sadness. Did Klopp ultimately achieve his goals? He won one Premier League title during a pandemic, one Champions League with a controversial penalty in the final, and two cups through penalty shootouts after 0-0 draws against Chelsea. However, the overall landscape of football that Liverpool attempted to disrupt is still largely unchanged. Manchester City has won five of the last six titles, Chelsea can still outspend them for top young players, and now the influx of Saudi money is once again tipping the scales. While Liverpool may have made some progress, they still do not reign supreme in the football world.
The coming four months and how Liverpool handles them will have a significant impact. It will be a time of intense distraction and misinformation as the next steps for both Klopp and Liverpool are heavily debated. There will be a drawn-out and painful farewell tour, along with memes, montages, and memories. However, there will also be a final chance for Liverpool to compete for the title, with a resurgent City closely trailing them by only five points. Despite experiencing many disappointments in football, Klopp still holds onto hope for a happy ending. This belief is perhaps his greatest act of faith yet.