Jurgen Klopp is on the verge of being named Liverpool’s new boss – we look at how previous managers have been welcomed into the Anfield hotseat.
As a Liverpool fan of over 30 years, the interest surrounding the introduction of a new manager to the club has changed dramatically.
In the olden days, when the Reds won everything, it was a simple process of hiring from within. Shankly to Paisley to Fagan to Dalglish. Even Graeme Souness, for all his revolutionary ripping up of the Boot Room, was still a Liverpool legend and his exit merely paved way for another club stalwart. Roy Evans had been next in line to the throne and his turn came after things got too much for King Kenny and Souness mucked it all up.
With Liverpool’s star fading, Gerard Houllier’s appointment seemed exciting given that France had just won the 1998 World Cup. And with Evans being asked to step aside after the ridiculous joint-manager idea, I was all for Houllier dragging the team into the modern era with his clever French ways. I liked him, for a while at least. He did good, wide-eyed celebrations – especially when the young Michael Owen scored – although he squeezed Robbie Fowler out of the club after the treble-winning season in 2001 and that was a huge black mark.
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I actually went to the press conference when Fowler was unveiled as a Leeds player and seriously thought about doing an Emily Pankhurst and throwing myself in front of the King’s horse (well, David O’Leary) and stopping this horrible happening. With Fowler gone, Liverpool’s fortunes failed to suffer a jet movement (geddit?) and we witnessed the start of what has become a recurring theme at Anfield when it’s time for change – stodgy, morale-sapping football which produces poor results.
And so to Rafa. Having watched his Valencia team dismantle Liverpool 2-0 and 1-0 in the two Champions League clashes in 2002, he potentially looked in a different league to the now increasingly bumbling Houllier. He was. A feeling of great optimism surrounded his appointment and when, incredibly, he won the Champions League in his first season (at that time, pulling level with the combined successes of Arsene Wenger (0) and Sir Alex Ferguson (1) in that same competition) he achieved god-like status. How on earth could he do that Djimi Traore at the back and Milan Baros up front? It remains an unsolvable mystery.
Validating that win with another run to the 2007 Champions League final removed any ideas it was a fluke and when future generations skim down past results and see Liverpool as winners in 2005 and beaten finalists just two years later, they’ll realise that LFC’s reputation as a European force didn’t just last from 1977 to 1985. Under Rafa, we could win anywhere… Camp Nou, Bernabeu, you name it. In 2009 after that win away win at Real Madrid (get in their Yossi lad), Liverpool were ranked the No.1 team in Europe. Still think 2005 was a one-off fluke?
That same season, Rafa had his one big crack at the Premier League. A stunning 4-1 win at Old Trafford (just five days after a 4-0 home win over Real Madrid by the way), suggested the Mancunians could be reeled in but, despite eight wins and a draw after that, United had enough nous to get over the line. It’s hard to pick fault in a season that yielded 86pts and just two defeats (honestly!) but there was a feeling that Rafa had overdone the squad rotation thing earlier in the season and suffered too many draws as a result.
As with Houllier, it got a big ugly towards the end of Rafa’s reign. The tinges of over-controlling madness that had become evident before were magnified but, then again, this was under the Hicks-Gillett regime so no wonder he had the hump.
Following Champions League-winning Rafa was always going to be hard but Roy Hodgson made a complete pig’s ear of it. “Well, he seems like quite a nice man,” was as about as excited as any Liverpool fan got and, thankfully, his short reign was over quickly.
To older Liverpool fans like me, the return of Kenny Dalglish hit us with huge waves of double-winning nostalgia. I have strong memories of being in the stands at Craven Cottage when the Reds were 5-1 up at Fulham in May, 2011 and thinking I was in a rather joyous timewarp. Kenny was parading the touchline with hands in pockets and, from a distance, looked exactly as he had done 25 years earlier. The (dyed) hair appeared just the same and he was sprinkling magic. It also helped that he had Luis Suarez running rings around the Fulham defence of course.
Although he delivered a trophy the following year, the darker side of Dalglish also came out. Each press conference became increasingly painful as, in the midst of trying to protect Suarez in his racism row with Patrick Evra, a simple ‘Hi Kenny’ would be met with a look of heavy suspicion. Sad as it was, the time had come for Kenny to go.
Having been brought up on pass-and-move, the idea of Liverpool taking a risk on young Swansea coach Brendan Rodgers intrigued me. It would be a gamble but he was the one I wanted. Spanish Tiki Taka was where it was at now and I was delighted to see him given a chance. Yes, the David Brentisms were a little difficult to watch but Liverpool had slipped too far behind to appoint a meat and potatoes manager like Hodgson and maybe this mix of ‘death by football’ possession and philosophical musings would somehow all combine into something magical.
There was a lot more hope than expectation – and perhaps it was just simply a case of having the Premier League’s best player (Suarez) – but Rodgers made Liverpool fans dream again. I actually think he got us closer to the title that season than Rafa would have done. Liverpool were on a roll and he kept them rolling. I reckon Benitez would have continually benched Sturridge to get another body in midfield and spent two weeks working out a scientific plan to win at Cardiff when Rodgers merely settled on the idea of scoring more goals than them even it meant letting three in.
But, again, floating in the rarified air of a title challenge didn’t last and Suarez’s departure pricked the balloon. Results and performances dipped horribly, Brendan’s management-speak became hogwash and it was probably best for all concerned that he went.
While I’ll always respect and admire Brendan for his dignity under all circumstances, it’s now time for a breath of fresh air. While Liverpool would have been fortunate to attract a manger with the CV of Carlo Ancelotti, his appointment would have induced nods of respect rather than pure excitement. It feels time to get giddy again.
So, cue guitar solo, let’s get Anfield bouncing again and unleash the ‘heavy metal’ football of Jurgen Klopp!
The more I read about the German, the more I like.
There’s a brilliant Mike Leigh film called ‘Nuts In May’ and my first impression of Klopp was that he would have been a perfect addition to the cast, playing the role of an eccentric German backpacker on a walking tour of Dorset.
How can you not pull for someone who says, “Yes, it’s true. I underwent a hair transplant. And I think the results are really cool, don’t you?”
Klopp seems a brilliant fit for Liverpool. While Ancelotti would be the ideal man to polish and keep an elite car purring, Klopp gives the impression he wants to build something from scratch and fuel it with his engaging energy and passion.
We have some good, perhaps excellent, component parts to work with and, like the majority of Liverpool fans it seems, I can’t wait to see him piece it together, strap us in and take us for a wild ride.
By Dave Tindall
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