Sport

KING OF THE KOP

Anfield hero Jürgen Klopp aims for yet more trophies in his final season with Liverpool

Anfield hero Jürgen Klopp aims for yet more trophies in his final season with Liverpool
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp celebrates after winning an English Premier League match against Chelsea in Liverpool on 31 January 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Adam Vaughan)

It’s been almost a decade since the German took Liverpool from a middling club to a Premier League favourite every season. Can he add more trophies before he signs off?

When Liverpool lured Jürgen Klopp to Anfield in 2015, after the German manager had spent seven years at Bundesliga outfit Bo­­russia Dortmund, it seemed like a poetic union.

Especially as he described himself as a “football romantic” when he was officially unveiled.

Not long after that, he would become known as Klopp, king of the Kop – the latter being one of the most famous stadium stands in world football, known to house the staunchest of Liverpool’s supporters.

Surely the fact that their new manager’s surname rhymed with this iconic location at Anfield Stadium meant the two were destined for each other?

Klopp – who shocked the sports world when he announced that he would leave Liverpool at the end of the 2023/24 season – won almost every possible major trophy during what will be a nine-year stay by the time the current campaign concludes.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Shock as Klopp calls time on beloved Liverpool at end of the season

“In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have said anything to anybody until the end of the season. Win everything and then say goodbye, but that’s not possible. Because nobody will sack me; I have to make this decision by myself,” the 56-year-old said upon the seismic announcement.

“It was not my idea [to leave] when I signed the new contract,” Klopp, who signed a new contract valid until 2026 two years ago, added.

Jürgen Klopp

Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp applauds fans at the end of a Premier League match against Arsenal in London on 4 February 2024. Arsenal won 3-1. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Andy Rain)

“I was 100% convinced at that moment we would go until 2026. But I realise my resources are not endless. I’m not a young rabbit any more.”

In 2020, five years into the job, not only did Klopp deliver Liverpool’s 19th top-flight title, and their first since 1989/90 – but he did it in style.

That season, Liverpool won 32 of their 38 games, only losing three times on their way to a mind-boggling 99 points overall. Only Manchester City’s billion-pound machine has collected more points in a single Premier League campaign.

The Citizens managed a mammoth 100 points during the 2017/18 season. In fact, the four highest points tallies at the end of a Premier League season came with Klopp in charge of Liverpool and Pep Guardiola steering the City ship, including in 2019, when the Reds and Klopp gave the Citizens a close run for premiership glory. 

The Merseyside team put on a magnificent fight throughout that season, with the two teams separated by a single point – City finished on 98 points to Liverpool’s 97.

Jürgen Klopp

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola gestures during a Premier League match against Newcastle United in Newcastle on 13 January 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Adam Vaughan)

Before this fierce jostling between Klopp’s Liverpool and Guardiola’s City, the highest Premier League points tally belonged to José Mourinho’s Chelsea side that conquered England in 2005. The Blues recorded 95 during that memorable campaign.

However, in less than a decade, Klopp and Guardiola’s friendly rivalry saw them each twice topple Chelsea’s historic tally.

We are Liverpool, we went through harder things together. And you went through harder things before me. Let’s make a strength of it.

The fact that Klopp has made Guardiola sweat, in spite of City having a budget that is more than double Liverpool’s, is testament to the German’s brilliance.

Klopp helped Dortmund challenge German giants Bayern Munich throughout his time with Die Schwarzgelben, earning two German Bundesliga titles in the process.

Liverpool’s owners – who have run a tight ship financially – hoped the German tactician would bring his magic to Anfield. Which he has. During his tenure he won the Uefa Champions, FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Club World Cup – along with that drought-breaking league title. 

Klopp is hopeful that Liverpool can clinch a couple more major trophies before he finally departs the side. Along with being genuine contenders for the Premier League, the Reds are in the Carabao Cup final. They will face Chelsea, whose performances are less predictable than the weather.

Klopp said: “We are Liverpool, we went through harder things together. And you went through harder things before me. Let’s make a strength of it. That would be really cool. Let’s squeeze everything out of this season and have another thing to smile about when we look back in the future.”

Guardiola

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola celebrates after winning a Premier League match against Newcastle United in Newcastle on 13 January 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Adam Vaughan)

Love story

Two main hurdles stand in front of Klopp and Liverpool as they pursue a fairytale ending to their love story – Guardiola’s City and a resurgent Arsenal under Mikel Arteta. The Gunners beat Liverpool 3-1 in a crunch encounter to close the gap at the top of the table to two points at the time of writing.

But City are strong finishers in the final, frantic months of almost any campaign. If Liverpool finish above City, they will almost certainly be champions.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Lethal Liverpool claim historic victory over Manchester United in 7-0 record win

Klopp and Guardiola – who highly respect each other – are set for a final battle in their respective chapters of English football, with Arteta hoping to crash the party.

The pair harbour the same flattering thoughts about each other, as well as what their respective qualities have done to fuel each of them to greater heights.

“To fight with them [Liverpool] is one of the biggest achievements of my career. They are outstanding. Liverpool are the toughest opponent I have ever faced in my 12 or 13 years as a manager,” said Guardiola a couple of years ago.

“Hope­­fully we can say we are a pain in the arse for Liverpool too.”

Klopp agreed, saying: “I can give that [compliment] back.

“I could say City is the toughest op­­po­­­nent I ever had, but I should not forget I faced [Guardiola] already at Bayern, and I cannot say it was much easier.

“I know what he means. We pushed each other to insane levels in the last few years, with the number of points collected.

“I don’t think City would get the number of points they will get this year if we weren’t around.

“And if they weren’t around, it’s pretty much the same [for us],” added the charismatic German tactician.

Now the two clubs – who are first and second in the Premier League – are set for one last dance-off to claim the bragging rights. But Klopp will be aiming to end his Liverpool time on a high. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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