Liverpool’s title hopes may be decided on Wednesday night, when Manchester City take on Manchester United in the local derby, which will either propel the Citizens to the top spot or give the Reds the edge.
The man responsible for giving Liverpool their best hope for finally winning the title is, without a doubt, Jurgen Klopp.
Managers have come and gone, players have entered and left the team, tumbleweed has rolled across the plains and seven more Star Wars films have been released.
Jurgen Klopp on the title race:
“The Manchester derby is not something that we can influence. It doesn’t look like United are in a place to influence it either.”
Shots fired. pic.twitter.com/VsWT7K7DRj
— SPORF (@Sporf) April 22, 2019
So how has Klopp, a man without a distinguished playing career and with absolutely no affiliation to the club as a player, taken the Reds to within touching distance of the title, and actually given them REAL HOPE?
Well, it really comes down to the players, and specifically, what he’s done with them.
We can all agree that 99% of football players are like mercenaries – they have a career that’s extremely limited by time and age, they’re in a field in which money talks, BIG MONEY, and they have to capitalise on a skill they’ve been honing since childhood in order to maximise the return on what they’ve invested.
Armed with that knowledge, how does a person who plays football find his way into the corner of a fan’s heart? What makes us see a player as a hometown hero rather than what we know they are; simply a gun for hire?
Not too long ago, there was only one way to truly become a club legend – grow up through the ranks, stick with the team, lead them to victory and write your name in the history books.
But in today’s world, top clubs can’t afford to sit around and wait for players to develop. With big money and success comes a big appetite.
A club like Liverpool can’t afford to wait for that 16-year-old to bulk up and learn how to play professional football when there are trophies to be won! The fans won’t sit around and say: “So we’ve finished 13th again this year, but not to worry, there’s some good lads in the academy and it could someday be a bit better!”
Can you imagine such a time? When clubs were measured by generations rather than seasons?
So what do they do when they have a lot of money to spend, an unquenchable thirst from supporters and the media alike (who clubs need in order to have a lot of money), and inadequate homegrown talent?
Enter the transfer market.
When Jurgen Klopp took the reins at the club almost four years ago, his biggest blessing was the fact that Liverpool hadn’t won a Premier League title ever, missing out on English football’s biggest title for 25 years. A huge club with one of the most distinguished histories in world football, yet the fans had suffered for so long that they were willing to do what almost no football fan is ever willing to do – be patient.
And so Klopp went about rebuilding the once mighty Red empire. He identified and gave a chance to players who used to be loaned out rather than given an opportunity, armed with the belief that he has time to accept mistakes.
But in order to compete in the most difficult league in the world, in the age of big spending giants such as Manchester City, United, Real Madrid and PSG, the transfer market cannot be avoided. However, in the case of Liverpool, it has to be used wisely.
Because Liverpool fans can accept a lack of success in the short term if they see there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and if they agree with the steps the club is taking. Giving hometown players a chance at first team football gives the fans a way to identify with their heroes on the pitch, which makes being successful all the more special.
I mean, wouldn’t you rather see one of your mates or someone you went to school with succeed, than someone who grew up halfway around the world and had he not been bought would never know the colour of the shirt? Could you identify with them? Could you grow up watching them and say – ‘someday that could be me’?
But unless you live in a town with a remarkably good gene pool that pushes children to do nothing but play football their entire lives, you probably have a very slim chance of winning a Premier League title in the current era.
Klopp took his time to make good signings. Each season he’s managed to identify the weak points and either find a talented youngster within the club on the verge of becoming what he needs him to be, or
The best example of this is the main man himself, the next PFA Player of the Year (if there’s any justice in the world), the GDOAT, the myth, the legend – Virgil van Dijk.
When Klopp shelled out the most money ever spent on a defender, many eyebrows were raised. Liverpool’s defence was a shambles, admittedly, but spending so much on one player and expecting him to magically fix everything was a laughable notion. Spending so much on, let’s face it, not the sexiest position in football seemed a bit absurd.
But the former Celtic centre back, who grew up playing Dutch football, who spat blood in the aggressive Scottish Premier League and made a name for himself holding the Saints’ back-line, was exactly what Liverpool needed and could not grow at the time.
The stars had aligned, the position of every planet and the angle between the moon and sun was just right to give the Reds fans the hero they deserved. And it couldn’t have happened without the patience of the fans. Patience that had been paid for by tears many times over.
What separates the smiling German manager from his predecessors is exactly what any struggling football club needs, a gaffer who can convince the fans and the club’s hierarchy to give him the time and patience, because he can make their dreams come true.
It may not happen this season. Despite the Reds’ incredible campaign, breaking almost every record they’ve ever held, losing only once over the entirety of the league season, City have the advantage and may very well capitalise on it.
But thanks to Klopp, every man, woman and child who puts on a red scarf knows that it’s going to happen – soon. And when it does, be it this season, the next, or in five years – it’s going to be that much more special.