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Friday, April 19, 2024

Jurgen Klopp leaves Michael Edwards a gift at Liverpool – and a daunting challenge

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Football

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Jurgen Klopp has spent the last few years imbuing Liverpool with confidence about his team and the last few weeks trying to fill them with optimism about a future without him. An ability to make supporters feel better about their club can seem one of his greatest assets as a communicator. Perhaps Klopp’s buoyancy will be part of his legacy but some of his predictions can take on a prophetic feel: give people enough hope and the remarkable can become the reality.

Yet if it has long been apparent that Klopp’s bequest to his successor would be far better than his inheritance – a team in 10th, a club with one trophy in nine years, distanced from the English elite, yet alone their European counterparts – the spell since he announced he will leave in the summer has served to support his case and justify his positivity. Liverpool have nine wins in 11 games, a trophy secured, a quadruple still very much possible.

As important, though, are the circumstances. Liverpool’s succession planning gathered pace with Michael Edwards’ return to Anfield confirmed, the former sporting director assuming control under his new role as Fenway Sports Group’s CEO of football. “Top news for the club,” said Klopp. “I am really happy. I just want this club to do as well as possible, and I’m really sure [that can happen] if we create a good basis with the right people in charge and Michael is a top choice.”

Edwards is expected to be accompanied by Richard Hughes as sporting director. Klopp may have downplayed his own importance with his sunny expectations, but he declared: “The club is in a really good place. Of course, people will only measure that at the end of the season when they have a look at what we really achieved, but that’s not that important for the future; what we achieved this season is for now.”

And for now, Klopp has been expanding the pool of players available to the next powerbrokers and illustrating fringe figures can assume greater duties. Recent weeks have featured a series of rookies making an impact, whether Jayden Danns or Lewis Koumas, Bobby Clark or James McConnell; meanwhile, Conor Bradley, Caoimhin Kelleher and Harvey Elliott have traded a status as substitutes for talismanic roles. The instructive element may be how good each is without Klopp’s alchemy, whether the team have sufficient chemistry without him, if anyone else can exhibit his redoubtable resourcefulness and show his sure touch, whether in his rotation or use of replacements.

The Klopp factor can feel huge but he said: “What’s important for the future is how good is the team, how good are the players, how good is the structure, how good is the organisation. That’s where my optimism comes from. That’s why I think it’s a rather good moment to be with LFC. That’s how it is and I’m really happy about that.”

Klopp: ‘I want to see the club in the best possible place after I’ve left’

(Action Images/Reuters)

And if a question remains of how good everything is without Klopp, he has given Edwards an insight into his thinking. They collaborated with great success for much of his reign. Since Edwards’ departure in 2022, however, the Klopp rebuild has gathered pace. Liverpool 2.0 is largely his construction: signings such as Darwin Nunez, Cody Gakpo, Dominik Szoboszlai, Alexis Mac Allister, Ryan Gravenberch and Wataru Endo occurred in Edwards’ absence. Many of the mainstays from his era, often players he recruited, are gone now: Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane from the attack, Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Fabinho from the midfield. If Edwards fashioned Klopp’s team, he has helped assemble his successor’s side.

“Our conversation was obviously great,” Klopp added. “We spoke about a lot of things, about what I think about different things, players, situations in the club because I was here all the time when he was not, what did change, what might have to change.”

If the biggest decision concerns the change of manager, there will not be a change of thought from Klopp. Edwards did not ask him to reconsider. “Because, and it’s very important in his job, he’s not dumb,” Klopp said. “That was not a subject to talk about.”

Edwards’ return is not persuasive enough. Nor, he insists, is anything else. “For me, it is the best club in the world and I am still leaving anyway,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to explain. I don’t say these things [about leaving] without thinking about them before. It would mean I realise only now how great this club is; I have known about it all the time. I’ve said a few times that I want to see the club in the best possible place after I’ve left, so everything we can do as long as I am here I will do. After that, other people have to do it.”

Now the identity of one of the “other people” has become clear. And Edwards’ first task may be determining how much of the formula working so well now is Klopp himself and how to compensate for his departure.

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