It being hours away from what most perceive as a new decade (the 20s don’t actually start until a year from now but, yeah, whatever), I thought I’d extol a bit on the recent past and the present. I’m not so interested in “X of the Decade” stuff, since so much changes over the course of 10 years in the modern game that those are usually lists that just set people up to complain about how “X goal/player/transfer/game/upset was left out!” Plus, I spend a lot of time here talking about the ancient past, so I figured I’d bring it back to the now. This reminds me of a series I wrote for our comic studio, back in the 90s, with a character who always talked about “The difference between the real and the now.”, where the “real” was the real world and the “now” was the electronic world because it moved so much faster. This is the world we live in at the moment, with the Reddits, the Twitters, the VAR cameras, and the plane-tracking sites. So, let’s talk about the now.
Jürgen says we’re the perfect club for him. Klopp recently reaffirmed something that I think everyone knew. When he said that there were only a couple clubs in the world that could coax him out of his sabbatical after he left Dortmund, we were one of them. Man United apparently came at him hard. Real Madrid said they were interested. Bayern was snooping around. But he was determined to take a break unless he could find a club that suited him. FSG, of course, had been eyeing Klopp while he was shaking the Bundesliga to its roots at Dortmund (as were most other eyes in football) because there’s something of an aphorism about managers in football (and sports): Even when you have one, you’re still looking around. Only rarely is that not the case because you never know when things are going to turn south (like, say, at Dortmund in Klopp’s last year) and a good club wants to be prepared, instead of just grabbing the most obvious name on the list like an Everton or a West Ham.
With this latest contract extension, I think we’ve reached the point where we don’t have to be looking around for a couple years. Maybe Pep Ljinders will get the youth team job so FSG can see how he performs on his own. Everyone will still keep an eye on Stevie’s progress in Glasgow and beyond. But we have Klopp for another four years, which is reassurance to FSG, supporters, and players like Minamino, who want to know that they’ll get the full Klopp experience if they come to Liverpool, in the same way that players used to look to north London and Arsene Wenger for the way that club and that coach could transform players. That’s something that brings a wry smile to my face, knowing that rival clubs will be envying our status for the next four years, even if we’re not winning as much, but because we have the best coach in the game who’s “just so damn likable!”, as the ManU fans on the Reddits say every game day. It was the best match we could have gotten.
Speaking of Minamino, let’s talk transfers. In the first couple seasons, I brought along my usual cynical eye about most transfers that weren’t blatantly obvious. In 2016-17, I thought we overpaid for Sadio Mané. I was wrong. I thought we overpaid for Gini Wijnaldum. I was wrong. (You’ll start to see a theme here.) I shrugged my shoulders about Joel Matip, I knew about Trent, but wasn’t yet convinced. In 2017-18, I thought Klopp was crazy for waiting on Virgil, especially given the way that season started. I was wrong. I was OK with paying for Mo Salah, given the Sadio example, but I thought paying as much as we did for Ox, a player who’d never really produced at Arsenal, was way over the top. I was still kinda wrong, since injuries have disrupted his career at Anfield the same way they did at the Emirates. I shrugged at Andy Robertson. He’d been OK for Hull, but nothing amazing. But we got him for pennies and Moreno was still unconvincing, so whatevs. I thought Solanke was going to be a steal. And I was wrong. But that time, so were Klopp/Edwards. Still, we got him for (relative) pennies.
So, by the time 2018-19 rolled around, I was ready to shut up and was firmly on the Edwards/Klopp bus. People had laughed at us for buying Virg at that price and now his signing date rolls around with collections of the tweets of those people, which are funnier to us now than the situation actually was to them. I was fine with the prices of Alisson Becker, Fabinho, and Naby Keita and continue to think that the price for Xherdan Shaqiri was a total steal. Similarly, I was totally on board with doing nothing last summer because, in all honesty, we didn’t need anyone. The first half of this season has proved that repeatedly. Picking up Takumi Minamino was just another example of getting incredible value and adding depth for our ridiculous schedule. The best fortune was finding the perfect manager. Coinciding with that was having an excellent director of football to go with him. And it’s a quality of Michael Edwards, who fervently avoids the spotlight, that leads me into my next thought.
The team. The team. The team. That’s a famous quote from Bo Schembechler, scion of Michigan’s revival in the late 60s and hallowed name even today, 30 years after he last coached a game and 13 years after his death. He was Michigan’s Shankly, bringing the program back to the status that everyone felt it could achieve and maintain. But a lot of that revival had to do with the quality of people he brought into the program and whom bought into the ideals that he was preaching. That’s what we have at Anfield today. Alisson cites the fact that “there is no vanity in the dressing room.” It’s a bunch of guys who genuinely enjoy spending time together, playing together, and winning together. They all believe in what the manager is teaching them and they believe in what they and the club are about. This is part of that socialist thing that I mentioned before. When everyone is pulling for the team, the team wins. There are no other agendae. Everyone is thinking about playing- and winning -together. It’s the pinnacle of what Klopp established at Mainz and at Dortmund. It’s an identity that made Liverpool ideal for him and for almost all of its followers. Obviously, we’ve had players and staff leave while Klopp’s been here, but they’ve almost always been for playing time behind superior starters (Moreno, Sturridge, Ings), the desire to try a new thing (Can), or fantasies (Coutinho.) The only player I remember leaving at Klopp’s insistence was Sakho. Guess it’s worked out for him(?)
So here we sit, 18-1-0 halfway through the season, in the knockout rounds of the Champions League, and winners of the Euro SuperCup and Club World Cup. We have a new training ground opening in the summer. We just signed a new kit deal with one of the biggest suppliers in the world (Nike.) And our manager has said he wanted to stay on for a couple more years, not just for himself, but for the continuity of the club’s success; embodying the team thinking, once again. Someone I hadn’t seen in a while pointed to the liver bird on my shirt the other day and said: “How are they doing?” I laughed and said: “Almost couldn’t be better.” See you at Anfield (or, y’know, Magee’s.)