Liverpool have run out of steam. But Klopp’s legacy is already cemented | Jonathan Wilson

Liverpool have run out of steam. But Klopp’s legacy is already cemented | Jonathan Wilson

And so there will be no glorious farewell for Jürgen Klopp. Saturday’s 2-2 draw with West Ham, coupled with victories for Manchester City and Arsenal, means any realistic hope of a second Premier League title is effectively over. Klopp is exhausted, his team is exhausted and the manic emotional energy that gripped the side during the League Cup final and immediately after has dissipated.

There will be questions about the wisdom of revealing when he did that he would be leaving. This has been a truism if English soccer since Alex Ferguson announced in 2001 that he planned to quit Manchester United. Do that, even if you’re as fearsome a figure as Ferguson, and the danger is that authority wanes. Something similar seems to have happened with Emma Hayes, who will leave Chelsea Women in the summer after a hugely successful 12-year stint to take charge of the USWNT. Would Saturday’s touchline spat with Mohamed Salah have happened had the Egyptian thought that Klopp would still be his manager next season? (It now seems likely that Salah, who has only a year left on his contract, will also leave in the summer).

The oddity is that Liverpool haven’t played especially poorly in recent weeks. As Klopp has pointed out, they had the chances to beat not only West Ham, but Manchester United in the league and FA Cup, Crystal Palace and even Atalanta. It’s just that when the wheels come off, they all come off. Chances were missed, defensive errors were made and slowly, a spirit-sapping combination of fatigue and anxiety spread through the side.

Injuries haven’t helped. Given changes in the midfield, this was always likely to be a transitional season; there was no expectation that either Fabinho or Jordan Henderson would leave, never mind both, and Wataru Endo, as well as he has performed, was only ever a stopgap signing. It’s not unreasonable to wonder whether either Darwin Núñez or Luis Díaz has the precision of finishing to be the highest level of forward. Salah, having begun the season brilliantly, has been desperately out of sorts since damaging his hamstring at the Africa Cup of Nations.

In that context, Liverpool did exceptionally well to remain in the title race. And yet these past couple of weeks have meant that Klopp has ended his time at Liverpool with the sort of season that has been characteristic of his career. With Mainz, with Borussia Dortmund and with Liverpool, he has always been fighting against the odds. He has always had at least one far better-resourced opponent to struggle with, and yet at the same time he has narrowly missed the prize remarkably often.

With Liverpool he won the Champions League but also lost in three European finals. He ended the league title drought but also finished second twice; this season is likely to be his second third-place finish. With Dortmund, he won the Bundesliga twice but finished second twice. He won the Pokal once but twice lost in the final and also lost in the Champions League final. With Mainz, there were two agonising near-misses for promotion (they took two points from their final three games in 2001-02 and were undone by a three-goal goal-difference swing in the final 10 minutes the following year) before it was secured.

It would, obviously, be absurd to be too critical when in so many of those cases the achievement is to have got into the position in the first place. But equally it is a telling flaw that Klopp has faltered near the line so often: it’s one thing to be defeated at the last by Bayern or Real Madrid or City, another to have lost out to Eintracht Frankfurt, Wolfsburg or Sevilla.

There are those for whom his record of one Champions League and one Premier League feels a little meagre, but context is essential. He has done that against a far wealthier club in City that has one of the greatest coaches in history. In those two seasons when Liverpool finished second, they amassed 97 and 92 points, tallies that even 15 years ago would have guaranteed the title.

Or put it another way. Who are the greatest five managers in Premier League history? Would anybody really not have Klopp in there alongside Ferguson, Arsène Wenger, José Mourinho and Guardiola? He has transformed Liverpool, turned them from faded giants into serious contenders. He has taken a form of soccer favoured in England 40 years ago, rejuvenated it, repackaged it and sold it back to the English. He has produced a side that even neutrals thrill to watch.

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It has not ended as Klopp or Liverpool would have wanted. Fatigue has won and reality has set in. It’s been another season of excitement, of greatness glimpsed but not quite grasped. And for Klopp, nothing could be more characteristic.

This is an extract from Soccer with Jonathan Wilson, a weekly look from the Guardian US at the game in Europe and beyond. Subscribe for free here. Have a question for Jonathan? Email [email protected], and he’ll answer the best in a future edition