"Idiot" Klopp's 10-step guide to greatness
JURGEN Klopp took over Liverpool when they were in 10th place in the Premier League. Through maverick decision-making, masterful motivating and tactical dexterity, he's made them England's best.
But it's been a ride. Three cup final losses in two-and-a-half years had many questioning his steel when it mattered, and Pep Guardiola's Manchester City had kept them second-best domestically.
Now Liverpool have been crowned champions for the first time in 30 years, and they're tumbling records along the way.
A squad transformation has played a part, but there is much more behind Klopp's influence at Anfield. Subtle technical changes, attitude shifts and behind-the-scenes genius have made them unstoppable.
Here, we look at Klopp's 10 steps to greatness.
1. CELEBRATING A 2-2 DRAW
How they laughed. Klopp was ridiculed. A 2-2 draw at home to West Brom didn't warrant celebration. One of that's side's players, James McClean, called him "a bit of an idiot".
But rather than celebrating a point, the new Liverpool manager was making one.
Weeks before, Klopp said he had felt alone during a 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace. Many fans had left at 82 minutes.
But during the draw with West Brom - Divock Origi scored a 95th-minute leveller - Klopp felt the supporters supported.
"Shut out the crowd and focus on your game" is not Klopp.
For a start, that's nigh-on impossible, and he has repeatedly placed importance on the relationship between fan and team.
Klopp criticises when panic sets in, his arms flailing in the air to all four sides of Anfield, and will praise when they're spurred on.
The result is a priceless comeback culture. When Liverpool go a goal down, there's an expectation they will score next, and it emanates from the crowd.
Since the start of the 2018-19 season, Liverpool have conceded back-to-back goals in a Premier League game only twice. In Klopp's first season and a half at the club, this happened 19 times.
"I really wanted from the first day that the people know about their importance," Klopp said of the West Brom celebrations. "In football, people always say it - that supporters are important - but then you don't treat them like that. So you have to make sure it's really a healthy relationship."
This does come with conditions, however.
"Please don't sing my name before the game is decided," he said in September 2016. "I don't play. It was the same at Arsenal. It is nice but not necessary."
The fans listened. Klopp's name is rarely sung at Anfield, and never before the end of a game.
He also said "enough celebrations" ahead of their season opener against Norwich, refusing to parade the Champions League trophy at Anfield before kick-off. At a club famed for their nostalgia, Klopp was making a big stand.
The relationship is so strong that one can control the other, and the benefit is clear. For all the talk of fans being "important", this bond is a rarity in football today.
Yes, winning helps, but Klopp is certain a large part of that comes from the stands.
2. A $135 MILLION MASTERPIECE
Klopp doesn't love the January window. But Virgil van Dijk is different.
It cost Liverpool a world-record $135 million for a defender. But it brought so much more.
Under Klopp, Liverpool were conceding 1.2 goals per game before Van Dijk's arrival. Since, it's 0.6 per game.
"I can imagine people think: 'Wow, what a number this is' but of course for me this is not interesting, we don't make the prices, the market makes the prices and the first thing all Liverpool supporters should forget is the price," Klopp said after the signing.
"We only talk about the player and what he can bring. It's quality, it's character, it's mentality and all that stuff. That's why we are really happy."
It was Klopp's first meaningful permanent January signing with Liverpool (remember Marko Grujic?), and quite possibly his best of a very good bunch, but not only for his skill as a centre-half.
His popular pose - arms outstretched, commanding his flanking defenders, a chessmaster spotting moves in advance - could be his statue outside of Anfield in years to come. He's just that good. $135 million? Bargain.
3. SAFE HANDS, AT LAST
Prenton Park, July 10, 2018.
Loris Karius spills a simple shot in the warm-up of Liverpool's pre-season friendly win at Tranmere, and later makes a meal of a free-kick leading to a goal.
Karius' howlers in Kiev six weeks before, and then on the Wirral, saw Klopp ruthlessly take action. He'd wanted to stick with his man, a signing from Mainz the previous summer, but within nine days of the Tranmere friendly, Liverpool break the transfer record for a goalkeeper at $121 million.
"If I knew Alisson was this good I would have paid double," said Klopp after his brilliant last-minute save against Napoli saw Liverpool progress to the knockout phase of last season's Champions League.
Liverpool haven't looked back, and Alisson's impact has been immeasurable.
4. COUTINHO'S GREATEST ASSIST
So, a world-record deal for a goalkeeper and defender, but where did the money come from?
The $264 million sale of Philippe Coutinho in January 2018 helped. It was met with some concern, but the deal turned out to be fantastic business for one side only.
Ultimately, it was Klopp's decision, and it didn't just fund squad depth, it changed the way Liverpool played.
So often they had played through Coutinho, the brilliant expressway from midfield to goal. But if he was off form, so were Liverpool. His greatest assist for Liverpool was leaving the club, allowing others to flourish.
Klopp changed to the 4-3-3, having swung between 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1. They haven't looked back.
Jordan Henderson, often part of a deep midfield two before Coutinho's departure, moved to more of a No 8, changing his game and bringing him a new lease of life.
Who would have thought it? Klopp, quite clearly.
5. WHISPERS TURN TO WINNERS
It's easy to forget there was a time where things weren't going well for Klopp.
Winter in the 2016/17 season was tough - they picked up only half available points in the Premier League over a 13-game period which included defeats against Bournemouth, Swansea, Hull and Leicester, a draw at home to Plymouth in the FA Cup, and a League Cup semi-final defeat by Southampton.
Arsenal were favourites to pip them to fourth spot, and Klopp's first full season in charge was being labelled a transition year, otherwise known as justified underachievement.
Some had expected more, and there were whispers - only whispers - that Klopp's disastrous final season at Dortmund had splintered his touch.
What followed was a nervy three-month period which had a huge part to play in what Liverpool are today.
Eight wins in their last 11 games, including a twitchy final-day victory over Middlesbrough, gave them Champions League football by just a single point.
Even that win against relegated Boro wasn't straightforward; with Arsenal leading against Everton, Liverpool had been impotent in the first half, while Dejan Lovren had been lucky not to give away a penalty and see red.
But Gini Wijnaldum's opener in first-half stoppage time prompted an explosion of relief, and Liverpool went on to win 3-0. It was their season in a microcosm.
"I think we have created a wonderful base for next season," Klopp said afterwards. Liverpool are still reaping the benefits.
More importantly, Champions League qualification allowed Mohamed Salah, and eventually Virgil van Dijk, to join, and those whispers are long forgotten.
6. EDWARDS DOING THE BUSINESS
For most in the market, one hit and one miss is a decent rate. Liverpool sporting director Michael Edwards is hitting 90 per cent.
For every Loris Karius there's a Joel Matip, Sadio Mane, Gini Wijnaldum, Mo Salah and Andrew Robertson.
For every Dominic Solanke there's a Virgil van Dijk, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Fabinho and Alisson.
The list of incomings is staggering, but a closer look at the sales is equally as impressive.
Jordon Ibe. One goal and three assists in 41 league appearances. $27 million to Bournemouth.
Joe Allen. Just one year left on his contract. $23 million to Stoke.
Christian Benteke. Three goals in his final 23 appearances. $49 million to Crystal Palace.
Mamadou Sakho. Demoted to reserves for not respecting club rules. $47 million to Crystal Palace.
Dominic Solanke. One goal in 27 senior appearances. $34 million to Bournemouth.
Danny Ings. Only 25 appearances, playing under 1000 minutes in three years due to injury. $36 million to Southampton.
Danny Ward. Just three senior appearances. $23 million to Leicester.
He also inserted a genius clause with the Coutinho sale, meaning Barcelona would have to pay a $161 million premium for any of Liverpool's players. The Barca juggernaut haven't come calling for an Anfield star since.
While Liverpool are doing the business on the pitch, Edwards is doing the business off it.
7. KLOPP'S RIGHT-HAND MAN
Klopp is the leader and motivator. Peter Krawietz does the analysis. But Pep Lijnders is the trainer.
When Zeljko Buvac abruptly quit as Liverpool's assistant manager before their 2018 Champions League final in Kiev, there was concern that part of Klopp's clout would go with it.
Liverpool had lost what Klopp called 'The Brain', and a 17-year working relationship, but Lijnders has not only stepped in seamlessly, he's improved the team.
At 36, he keeps a low profile, but having been forced to retire from the game at 17 due to injury, Lijnders has years of experience, and was even wanted by Manchester United.
His level of detail is incredible. Even before the semi-final second leg comeback against Barcelona last season, Lijnders wanted to schedule in a friendly with a side setting up similarly to Ajax or Tottenham between the end of the season and the June 1 final.
Liverpool beat Barca, then chose to play Benfica B behind closed doors, raising the shield around the pitch at the Marbella Football Center to keep out peering eyes. Liverpool won 3-0, scoring an early goal - a ball over the top to find Sadio Mane in space on the left - staggeringly similar to the move that handed them a first-minute penalty against Tottenham in Madrid.
But it's not just Lijnders. They took Bayern Munich's nutritionist Mona Nemmer and their fitness coach Andreas Kornmayer, pivotal to the players' condition in a side where physical demands are enormous. There are no blanket rules; plans are broken by positions, body types and even cultures.
They even brought in a throw-in coach in Thomas Gronnemark. Again, how they laughed, but Liverpool retained possession from throw-ins 68.4 per cent of the time last season. Across Europe, that's second only to FC Midtjylland (70.2 per cent) and miles above the Premier League average (49.2 per cent).
Big signings have been key, but small gains have helped make Liverpool a powerhouse again.
8. HEAVY METAL BECOMES ORGANISED CHAOS
Don't pigeonhole Klopp to heavy metal football - he hates the phrase now - or even gegenpressing.
Yes, the German used these styles at Anfield, but even in the past 12 months he has varied his approach and triumphed.
Liverpool would dominate bigger teams but came undone against smaller opponents who sat deep in the early days.
A shaky defence routinely held them back, but that has gradually improved year on year; in his first four seasons they conceded 50, 42, 38 and 22 in the Premier League.
As the squad developed, Liverpool's most impressive performances were punctuated by short siege periods. In the run to the 2018 Champions League final, they scored three in 19 minutes against Manchester City, and three in 13 minutes against Roma.
But with the addition of Fabinho, heavy metal is now organised chaos.
"You cannot win only with offensive football, it's not possible because you are open and the pitch is too big for that," Klopp said late in 2018. "You need to be organised and, on the other side, you need to create."
A Champions League win and 97-point haul last season wasn't enough for Klopp, so he changed things again.
This season, that high press is being used less and less, but they're still compact, still fluid and still narrow. The defensive line is noticeably higher - Liverpool want to push up at opposition goal kicks due to new laws allowing 'keepers to pass inside the box.
They don't swarm as a front eight, and though the front three's role hasn't necessarily changed, the development of the fullbacks has. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson create the majority of Liverpool's chances. By the way, that's an academy midfielder-turned-defender and an £8m signing from relegated Hull.
Tactically, Klopp is proactive, not just reactive. And he certainly isn't one-dimensional.
9. THE MASTER MAN-MANAGER
"I'll be their friend, not their best friend."
There's nothing strict about Klopp's Liverpool regime. There is expectation and responsibility, yes, but that comes flanked with trust.
"If a player is full of motivation, concentration, readiness and passion, I am not hard with them," he said after arriving. "I have open arms."
Mo Salah and Sadio Mane were allowed to attend the 2017 African Player of the Year awards 24 hours before an FA Cup tie with Everton, and Salah was given permission to jet to New York to celebrate being on a Time cover days before a vital game with Huddersfield last season. He played 90 minutes.
In November, Virgil van Dijk missed a training session to meet the Dutch Royal Family. Eyes off the ball? No. He's been ever better.
But it's not all fun, games and awards ceremonies. Klopp can trigger.
"Klopp knows exactly how to get the best out of me - by being critical," Van Dijk recently said. "When the media are hyping me and being very positive, he will downplay the praise and all that - often with a wink.
"When I was voted UEFA Player of the Year and had to go to the ceremony, Jurgen told all the lads that I was picking up the trophy on behalf of the entire team.
"All the boys in the squad know I can take that sort of stuff very well. I know what he means. At the same time, the boss gives me a lot of respect and responsibility."
10. THE ART OF USING DEFEAT
Defeat is growth for Klopp. The world doesn't come crashing down.
"A lot of things lead into the mentality," Klopp said in an interview with Sky Sports in January. "The big defeats lead into the mentality. If you can get a mentality of, let's say, 'never give up', before that you have to give up once or twice to realise that's how it feels to give up, so don't do that again. This is the learning process."
Confused? His players aren't. Taste defeat and then avoid it. Simple concept, but so difficult to implement.
Klopp has had no trouble: since he arrived, Liverpool have never lost consecutive games. After the heartache of Kiev came the glory of Madrid: only two sides in the modern era had won a European Cup final the year after losing one.
"So we had tough, tough moments. We lost big finals, the biggest finals in world football, which made us ready to win it the next time and we did that pretty much with that group."
It's like finishing second with one defeat, a record 97 points, and picking yourself up to get even better the next season. Liverpool's past disappointments make this undeniable dominance all the more impressive.
This article was originally published by Sky Sports and reproduced with permission
Originally published as Idiot's 10-step guide to greatness