Trophies are important, but Jurgen Klopp’s legacy at Liverpool is so much more

Jurgen Klopp brought joy and happiness to Liverpool fans during his tenure (Getty Images)

After all the noise, there is no anger. There is only peace. Now that Jurgen Klopp is leaving Liverpool, he has no real regrets. He literally won everything, even though there could have been more. There is a bigger debate about the latter, but even that has proven a point.

As Liverpool’s owners attempted to rebuild the club from 2012 to 2015, they gradually modernized every department until they had one of the best recruitment systems in the sport. That could take them so far, as we saw in 2013/14 when Brendan Rodgers guided them to second place in the Premier League – two points behind champions Manchester City. It just couldn’t quite reach them, not to what Liverpool was. There was still one element missing.

That was something that remains unchanged in football, no matter how much the game evolves. Liverpool still needed a charismatic and transformational genius manager to bring it all together. This was the alchemy in the midst of all scientific analysis. This is not to say that no one can succeed without it, but it makes a huge difference. And Klopp has really made a huge difference, not least to people’s lives.

It is also important to recognize what English football is losing. One of the game’s major figures leaves the stage.

That alone is simply moving: the passing of an era. It also points to what Klopp is most about and what he will be most remembered for. That is emotion; make people feel something again.

This is something that’s easy to scoff at, but is arguably more important than any trophy. Klopp brought the joy back. Has there ever been a time when Liverpool fans loved going to matches so much? They went into every game full of expectation and expectation, regardless of the circumstances. That could be the 4-0 comeback against Barcelona, ​​which is now his signature game, or any league match against a bottom half club. In 2018, no one laughed at the moment after a 2-2 home draw against West Brom when he led the players to salute the crowd. That may have been an act, but it was apparently not an empty gesture. It was about deepening an emotional bond that would serve the team in moments like Barcelona or so many other battles.

Liverpool's comeback from a 4-0 defeat to Barcelona was one of the most iconic moments in Champions League history (PA Archive)Liverpool's comeback from a 4-0 defeat to Barcelona was one of the most iconic moments in Champions League history (PA Archive)

Liverpool’s comeback from a 4-0 defeat to Barcelona was one of the most iconic moments in Champions League history (PA Archive)

Klopp has not only given Liverpool seriousness back. He restored a joy, a feeling. That achievement is truly of the highest order as one of his greatest feats is regaining the league title after thirty years, even if securing the Premier League crown will remain his signature achievement.

The other side of that emotion is that it could evolve into something else, much less worth celebrating. Klopp could be absolutely cutting with people, in a way that went against the initial bear-hug image. That was the case with players, staff and even media. Klopp was able to say things that could really hurt.

However, the brutal reality of elite sport is that this is almost the case with all top performers. They don’t get this far without being somewhat ruthless. That’s not to excuse it, but to acknowledge the reality. It is also true that Klopp, despite his outbursts, was generally seen as one of the more ‘normal’ elite managers. There was a much more human touch seen in how comfortable he felt in situations with fans who were ill or had gone through difficult life experiences. Klopp is extremely natural in such situations.

Such emotion has also completely refuted a barbed wire that was once said by one of his colleagues about the German himself. In the summer of 2016, as the Premier League celebrated the ‘competition of great managers’, a top European coach was utterly derisive of Klopp. “He hasn’t won anything,” said the rival. “The only two competitions he won with Borussia Dortmund were because Bayern Munich were so bad at the time.”

Then the most brutal humiliation of all occurred. “He’s just a motivator.”

That has been thoroughly discredited. Klopp is a motivator, but that psychological insight is the virtue that amplifies all his other capabilities to take teams far beyond their expected performance levels. That’s the source of so many unlikely comebacks. That’s the source of 97, 99 and 93 point seasons.

Klopp found a way to consistently motivate his players (The FA via Getty Images)Klopp found a way to consistently motivate his players (The FA via Getty Images)

Klopp found a way to consistently motivate his players (The FA via Getty Images)

The base was still strong and refined. Liverpool went from a classic Klopp-pressing team to one with many more dimensions. There was even a period, arguably lasting from six months to eighteen, where they looked almost unbeatable. Liverpool first bullied you into submission and when you got out of there, the ball was thrown back to a talent like Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah to provide the divinely creative touches.

By then, around 2018/2019, Klopp’s Liverpool had inevitably developed elements of Pep Guardiola’s pressing and possession game. That’s something that inevitably happens in rivalries because they interact. However, there is a historical irony in this as Klopp can be seen as the anti-Guardiola and Liverpool as the anti-Man City.

This is the rivalry that has defined the most recent Premier League era and Klopp’s time in the role. It was also a dichotomy that was imbued with all kinds of other threads and stories, not least how to resist state projects and what constitutes ‘success’.

There’s quite a bit of irony in that too, considering Liverpool is a member of the game’s establishment and its owners are venture capitalists who ultimately want to exploit the sport by making money from it. Fenway Sports Group is hardly a force for good in football. However, this is the modern game and it’s about degrees.

Klopp has won every trophy and at the same time has probably been the biggest victim of what City has become as a state project under Sheikh Mansour’s ownership. If they weren’t there, Klopp would have at least three league titles with a huge points tally, in addition to the club’s sixth Champions League. It would be one of the great glory eras, this Liverpool would be seen as one of the great teams – with no argument about what they should have won.

Klopp won every trophy during his time at Liverpool (Getty Images)Klopp won every trophy during his time at Liverpool (Getty Images)

Klopp won every trophy during his time at Liverpool (Getty Images)

One caveat is that City’s level may well have contributed to Liverpool’s rise to date. Klopp knew what was needed. It was a major reason why there were such declines in 2020-2021 and 2022-2023. Most teams cannot maintain such levels indefinitely. Something has to give. It’s exhausting – as the man himself will confirm. Klopp could also reasonably argue that if they hadn’t had to play so intensely in the league, they might have had a better chance in the Champions League too.

The Premier League is not only losing one of its great figures, but also one of the individuals who have kept the Premier League alive in recent years. If you leave out Klopp’s Liverpool, many of those rankings would be a joke, characterized by the kind of points difference that turns people off. That’s why some at Anfield are quietly pleased that Arsenal now understand how difficult it is to compete with this version of City.

This is where the wider debate arises about how much Klopp has won. Although criticized in some quarters for winning ‘only’ one league, the German’s greatest legacy should be being the only manager to beat City to the title once Guardiola started winning.

It’s a huge overachievement, as immediately symbolized by these point totals.

And so we come to another caveat. City’s alleged breaches of the Premier League’s Financial Fair Play rules outweigh everything. Klopp may be more invested than most in the final outcome, as it could trigger a reinterpretation of his entire era.

Regardless of what outcome the legal system belatedly pronounces, there should be no other interpretation of Klopp’s legacy than that he is regarded as one of the great, elite managers and a great footballing figure. His achievements stand for themselves. He won Liverpool’s sixth Champions League and first in fourteen years. He won Liverpool’s 19th top-flight title, first in the Premier League era and first in 30 years. All of that created more memories and great events than many clubs have in their entire history. It’s an old and tired phrase, but never has it been more true than here. He made people happy.

Liverpool fans have loved Klopp almost from the start (Getty Images)Liverpool fans have loved Klopp almost from the start (Getty Images)

Liverpool fans have loved Klopp almost from the start (Getty Images)

As for lessons, perhaps there aren’t many, as Klopp is inimitable. It points to the reality that clubs like Liverpool shouldn’t actually be trying to replace someone like him straight away. They shouldn’t give a manager so much power before he has proven he is the right choice for the club. Those at Anfield have certainly realized that. They have restructured the football hierarchy so that Arne Slot is just a head coach.

It is an implicit recognition of what Klopp has been: irreplaceable.

Sunday at Anfield will be an explicit acknowledgment of that. The sound should appropriately be slightly different.

Leave a Comment