A MEAL in a posh restaurant offered Liverpool a glimpse of their future, if Jurgen Klopp decides to walk away from the club.
Two men sat at a reserved table, plotting a return to imperial power. Sir Alex Ferguson and Erik ten Hag were separated only by the condiments and 10 years of decline at Manchester United. Ferguson left behind champions. Ten Hag inherited a broken club. It has taken a decade for anyone to get this close to the legend, literally and metaphorically, to uphold the illusion of all managers being equal.
They are not. Football’s conveyor belt produces a Jude Bellingham or a Declan Rice each transfer window, but no managerial production line churns out matching talents with such consistency. If Klopp leaves, the Reds aren’t just panning for gold, they’re looking for another Koh-i-Noor diamond.
Only Liverpool benefitted from their unique Boot Room, where the baton was passed from Shankly to Paisley and then Fagan to Dalglish. By the time Manchester United found a spiritual successor to Matt Busby, flared trousers had gone out of fashion with the Bee Gees and returned again with the Happy Mondays.
Arsenal still haven’t replaced Arsene Wenger, though Mikel Arteta is getting closer. Chelsea are yet to unite a trophy-winning dressing room like a young Jose Mourinho and Tottenham are still looking for the next Bill Nicholson, who resigned in 1974.
Stating the obvious, epoch-defining managers are once in a generation, if not a lifetime, as opposed to once every news cycle, which is how often fresh names are thrown up to replace Klopp. Apparently, Julian Nagelsmann is the latest in the frame to succeed the washed-up, has-been who was in the running for all four trophies until the final games of last season.
In England, the call-in radio shows are full of outraged Scousers saying the German has got to go. He’s out of ideas. He’s taking the club backwards. It’s over.
These angry souls banging away in their Liverpool WhatsApp groups sound like the sort of people who might lick batteries, just to try something different. It might be interesting. It might also be painful and pointless.
Consider those two wise men again, huddled together in a Manchester restaurant, still trying to bridge a decade-long divide. It’s not a stretch to imagine Klopp doing something similar years from now, offering sage advice to the fifth Liverpool manager since the German’s resignation, insisting that the comeback could be any day now.
It’s not a stretch because Liverpool have a fair bit in common with the Manchester United of 2012/13, with the old guard mustering one final surge for their adored manager, relying on muscle memory to mind the gaps.
Finding like-for-like manager rarely happens
And it worked for the Red Devils in 2013, earning Ferguson a final title. And it worked for the Reds for 15 minutes against Real Madrid. Those frenetic, opening passages at Anfield felt like a condensed greatest hits package. Mo Salah on the move, a decisive finish from a centre-forward, the hypnotic counter-pressing, it was the good old days again.
But the next 75 minutes for Liverpool was the next season for Manchester United after Ferguson’s retirement. They were exposed for what they really were. They came out to play heavy metal football like Black Sabbath under the floodlights. But the Reds in 2023 are Black Sabbath in 2023, with Ozzy Osbourne shuffling around on stage looking for his poodle.
Look again at Manchester United’s final title-winning squad of 2013. There’s a familiar checklist for the Reds to ponder. The finest centre-back of his era facing a sudden decline (Rio Ferdinand then, Virgil van Dijk). A classy midfielder in need of youthful support (Michael Carrick then, Jordan Henderson now.) A couple of strikers unable to repeat the heroics of seasons past (Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie then, Salah and Roberto Firmino now). An eclectic mix of ageing pros and inexperienced signings not quite matching the quality of those ageing pros (take your pick.)
So what do you do? Sack the manager, apparently.
To mimic angry contributors on fan forums, Klopp is persisting with a faded brand. Opponents sit back against Liverpool’s famed counter-attack, knowing that Salah seems slower and Sadio Mane is no longer around to retain possession. When the counter-attack invariably collapses, a weakened midfield and defence are exposed. The Reds concede more goals (five against Real and 28 in the English Premier League, just one fewer than relegation-threatened West Ham.) The Reds lose. The season is over.
So, according to that fuming minority, dump Klopp and start over. What’s difficult to understand?
Well, lessons in history for a start. As the famous quote makes very clear, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to mid-table mediocrity for many years after. Retired striker Iain Dowie coined the term "bouncebackability", but the quality generally applies to trusted grafters like Neil Warnock or Sean Dyche trying to beat relegation, rather than managers tasked with rebuilding empires.
Because it rarely happens. Name a manager who has assumed control of a fallen franchise and shaped another in a single coaching cycle. Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola’s names may be pulled out here, but they have often managed dominant clubs in one-sided leagues or those bankrolled by nation-states.
The Reds are neither.
Earlier this week, the Fenway Sports Group insisted that Liverpool are not being sold, which ensures consistency but not the limitless funds available to Manchester City, Newcastle United and presumably Manchester United, if they secure new ownership.
In short, a club that has overachieved with a charismatic, Svengali-like leader must somehow replace him with a like-minded individual. Just like that. Oh, and the next Jurgen Klopp must operate with fewer resources as rivals increase their spending power. And he’s got five years to win six trophies.
It’s ludicrous. Farcical. So why hound the man out of Anfield?
Only Klopp is equipped to handle the transition from one title-chasing squad to another – as Ferguson did at United – and needs time, patience and money to have any chance of succeeding where most fail. He’s earned that trust. Just as he’s earned the right to walk away if he feels he’s not getting it.
But his exit would be Liverpool’s loss, for years to come.
United needed a decade to find anyone that bore a passing resemblance to Ferguson’s character, temperament and ambition. How long would it take Liverpool to replace Klopp? It’s a reckless gamble not worth taking. A fool’s bet.
United needed a decade to find anyone that bore a passing resemblance to Ferguson’s character, temperament and ambition. How long would it take Liverpool to replace Klopp?
Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.
For more football news, visit our Football page on Yahoo!