In our 2022-23 season review, we drew a parallel between Jurgen Klopp’s need to rebuild a new generation of legendary Liverpool players and a similar situation that faced Bill Shankly in the 1960s.
At the end of 2023, we were already entertaining the thought that our 2023-24 season review would revolve around Klopp’s re-building job being way ahead of schedule and well beyond the most optimistic expectation that could have prevailed last summer.
Liverpool FC are top of the Premier League, a Wembley trip is on the cards in one month and we are also looking very much forward to progressing in the FA Cup and in Europe.
Dreams of a second Klopp glorious era were already beckoning. Much faster than Mr. Shankly’s re-building which took seven years before clinching the next trophy.
Then last Friday, the similarity came back with a vengeance.
Klopp’s announcement that he will step down at the end of the season had the same blast of shock and disbelief to Liverpool supporters as Mr. Shankly’s almost half a century ago.
Most of us probably did not experience the consternation that the Red-half of the City of Liverpool went through on that summer day in July 1974.
There is a famous video of people on the streets of Liverpool being stunned into disbelief when a journalist broke the news to them that Mr. Shankly had stepped down. Some of them were perhaps even mentally checking that it was not April 1.
But on Friday, we came to know exactly how they felt. Yours truly choked on his breakfast as he learned the news on that depressingly drab Friday morning.
Running on Empty
Both Klopp and Mr. Shankly cited being burnt out for their stepping down.
Jurgen added he now has a bigger desire to lead a more normal life, giving further credence to his quip that football is the most important of the least important things in life.
Both of them had given so much of themselves to the club, and to the city and provided countless unforgettable moments to generations of LFC supporters.
We should feel privileged to have had the one-of-a-kind Klopp as manager. What team would not want him at the helm? His heavy metal football and his transformation of good players into world-class ones have long been assured the stuff of legends.
Indeed, the highly pressurized managerial job at a high-profile football club is excruciatingly demanding to the point of the manager having practically no personal life.
Eventually, the never-ending stress gets on you and can affect your ability to make good decisions.
Klopp feels he has now reached that tipping point and we should respect that before things potentially get worse to the detriment of the team and of the club.
In his 2010 book “My Liverpool Home”, Kenny Dalglish gave an insight on how being overstressed affected his ability to take decisions.
Although King Kenny’s stress came from a different set of circumstances of him willingly doing whatever he could to help with the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, he felt this eventually affected his ability to properly run the team.
In the book, he revealed that he already wanted to step down during the summer before the 1990-91 season but was talked out of it by the then top brass of the club.
Then came the infamous 4-4 FA Cup tie at Everton in February 1991 which was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Liverpool took the lead 4 times but Everton crazily came back 4 times. After John Barnes scored Liverpool’s 4th goal on the 103rd minute, Dalglish and assistant Ronnie Moran talked about closing down shop by moving Jan Molby in a defensive sweeper position.
Yet Dalglish did nothing about it, revealing that he was too paralyzed by his then state of mind to bark the order to the Dane. Consequence: Tony Cottee scored Everton’s 4th goal at the 113th.
King Kenny was honest enough to recognize his managerial tenure was no longer in the best interest of the team and the club.
Two days after that match, yours truly again choked on his breakfast while reading in the morning papers that Dalglish had stepped down from Anfield the day before.
It is more than understandable if Jurgen Klopp does not want such a scenario repeating itself at Liverpool FC. Will he regret his decision?
Mr. Shankly deeply regretted it. After he stepped down, he even showed up at Melwood’s training ground barking instructions to the players as if he had never left. Eventually, his former assistant and successor Bob Paisley had to sternly dissuade him from coming to Melwood.
As for King Kenny, attempts were again made to talk him out of walking away in February 1991. He was even
offered a sabbatical, a break before coming back the following season. To no avail.
He did take a break though, going to Orlando with his young family and came back refreshed, feeling that he could resume with the Liverpool hot seat which Ronnie Moran had provisionally filled in.
But it was too late. Graeme Souness had already been appointed as the next gaffer.
His My Liverpool Home book also revealed that he had always harboured hopes of coming back to Liverpool when he was manager of Blackburn Rovers.
He initially declined to sign a new contract before the 1994-95 season as he was persuaded that Liverpool would come calling. A call that never came. Ironically, he led Blackburn to the Premier League title during that 1994-95 season.
But he still had to wait 15 years before FSG finally called him as he was the only one who could put the club back on the rails after the suicidally disastrous previous ownership. He paved the way for Brendan Rodgers and Jurgen Klopp to take over in far less dire circumstances.
As for Klopp, it is the third time that he has stepped away from places where he is adored to the point of being worshipped.
After spending seven years each at Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, he went on to his next chapter without looking back.
Sadly for us Liverpool supporters, looking forward seems to be the more prominent feature of his mind.
The inevitable question of who will now succeed Klopp is naturally swirling around. While we won’t venture into this guessing game, another parallel exists.
In his Friday announcement, the Normal One tried to assure that he is only one member of a large organizational platform at Anfield, specifically built to ensure the future of the club.
In the Shankly days, there was the famous Boot Room from which three of the Scot’s successors (Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Roy Evans) were plucked over the following couple of decades as the club staunchly adhered to its then policy of appointing from within for the sake of seamless continuity. Not to forget Dalglish and Souness are legendary former players themselves.
Would that platform that Klopp alluded to, be as effective in ensuring continuity? i.e. a new manager will come in and the rest of the club will carry on with minimum disruption.
That’s going to be put to the sternest of tests given that 4 of his backroom staff will also be leaving and football has radically changed since the heyday of the Boot Room.
The famous adage that no one is bigger than the club will also be given the sternest of tests over the next season(s).
There is still plenty of games for Klopp to be in charge until May. Needless to say, we should enjoy and cherish each and everyone of them.
Hopefully, the players are now galvanized into giving him an unforgettable sending-off with more trophies under the arms.
One thing is for sure, the Kop will do its best for Klopp to go out on top.