Jurgen, it's time to say goodbye
On October 8th, 2015 Jurgen Klopp become Liverpool’s manager. He agreed to take over a team that was languishing in mid-table, with the squad desperately in need of reinvention, and a fanbase desperate for real success. He dubbed himself the normal one and talked about Liverpool being a special club. From humble beginnings with a 0-0 draw away to Tottenham, Klopp would build Liverpool into a team feared throughout Europe. With his heavy metal football, built around gegenpressing, his team would take on and conquer the best of the best.
During the season in which he replaced Brendan Rodgers, he would reach his first European final with Liverpool. That Europa League final would end in defeat to Sevilla but the journey to the final would sow the seeds for the return of great European nights at Anfield. In the summer after that final Klopp would add Gini Wijnaldum, Joel Matip, and Sadio Mane to his team as he took the first steps towards reshaping it in his image.
In his first full season in charge, Liverpool returned to the top four and qualified for the Champions League. Following that season Klopp would build further adding Mohamed Salah and Andy Robertson who would become key players in the team that was starting to emerge. That season also saw the emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold and, for the first time since Steven Gerrard broke into the first team in 1998/99, there was a Liverpool academy graduate who looked likely to become a permanent fixture in the first team.
In his second full season in charge, Liverpool would reach the Champions League final. Unfortunately for Klopp, they would be more heartbreak at the hands of a Spanish club. This time Real Madrid would defeat his team and in doing so Klopp would see the areas that needed further strengthening. That season was more notable for something else though, the arrival of Virgil van Dijk. The rock on which Klopp would build his team, the Dutch defender arrived from Southampton for a fee of £75mil. That fee shocked many at the time but has proven to be an absolute steal.
After that defeat to Madrid in Kyiv Klopp would add further, bringing in Fabinho and Alisson Becker. Now his team was complete. Being a manager very much in favour of a small squad and an even smaller group of trusted players, Klopp now had 13 players that he was comfortable with. The eight signings mentioned, Alexander-Arnold, and four players he inherited from Brendan Rodgers – namely Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Roberto Firmino, and Joe Gomez.
In 2018/19 Liverpool established themselves as Europe’s best side, winning the Champions League while finishing just one point behind Manchester City in the Premier League but here’s where things started to go awry. Normally you would want to strengthen from a position of power because having climbed to the mountain top usually you would want to stay there, and it also becomes easier to convince players to join you when you’ve already had success. Having added players in each summer he had been at the club, key players every single summer, Klopp and the club decided to stand pat.
Now, some will say that this strategy worked as they would go on to win the Premier League title the next year but short-term thinking is a dangerous thing that can collapse an empire before it’s had a chance to properly pillage its conquered lands. In 2019/20 Liverpool began to suffer with more injuries than ever before. And they have failed to claim either of the two major trophies on offer since. Sure, they came close but “close” isn’t good enough for Liverpool Football Club, and it doesn’t matter if you come second by one point or ten because, as Bill Shankly once said, “If you are first, you are first. If you are second, you are nothing.”
It is undeniable that Jurgen Klopp built a great team and won the biggest honours, but unfortunately, all great things come to an end. The time has come for Jurgen Klopp to say goodbye.
He must say goodbye to the players that have given him so much and that he has put so much faith in over the past 7 years. For the first time in his career, he must separate the job as manager and the role as mentor, because things have become stale and drastic changes are needed. He must tell players that it’s time for them to leave.
Klopp is an admitted admirer of Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager who sustained a level of brilliance for longer than anybody in the history of English football. Ferguson was the master of reinvention and when he felt things were going stale he would do two things, He would get rid of an influential player and he would make changes to his coaching staff. Klopp must do similar.
Klopp has always said that he would never force a player to leave a club if they didn’t want to but for the good of Liverpool that is exactly what he must do. Sentimentality has no place in the modern game, and injury-prone players who can no longer run have no place in a Jurgen Klopp team.
In this most recent press conference Klopp made a point of saying that while he is loyal, he is not too loyal. He suggested that players who had once been good and were now not so good could be moved on. However, Dominic King has since reported that it would be no surprise if James Milner and Roberto Firmino were given contract extensions so it’s hard to know what the truth is as Klopp has a history of not being honest with the press.
But what we do know is that it’s time for Klopp to change tact, it is time for him to cut bait, and it’s time for him to say goodbye to players who are no longer fit for purpose.
One could make the argument that a large portion of his current squad are no longer fit for purpose, including the four players He inherited from Brandon Rodgers.
Milner and Firmino are out of contract this summer. Milner is now 37 and long past the point of being good enough to play for a team with ambitions to win major honours. In truth, he should have been released in the summer of 2020. Firmino will turn 32 later this year and for the last three seasons has been a highly inconsistent player who has become more and more injury prone as the seasons have gone by. He’s a club legend who was arguably the most important player in Klopp’s system in the early years of the German’s tenure in charge, but his best days are behind him and are not coming back. The best thing Liverpool can do is say goodbye to both.
Henderson turns 33 later this year and while he does have two years remaining on the contract Jurgen Klopp insisted on giving him, which has already proven to be a mistake, the time has come for him to be moved on. Club captain or not Henderson is no longer good enough to play for Liverpool Football Club. One of the most notable things Alex Ferguson did at United was move on Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, and Roy Keane when he felt they were no longer capable of producing at the required level. All had lifted trophies, all had enjoyed distinguished careers at United, all had multiple years left on the contracts but for Ferguson, there was no place for sentimentality and Klopp must take an example from the man he admires. It’s unlikely Henderson would bring much in the way of a transfer fee but removing his sizeable wages would help the club and removing his presence would free minutes for better, younger, players who can actually contribute to the future of the team.
Joe Gomez will turn 26 before the end of this season and should be entering his peak years however the former Charlton defender has had a career racked by injuries. This is year eight for Gomez at Liverpool and those 8 years have brought just 164 appearances. For comparison, Firmino joined at the same time as Gomez and has made 348 appearances. Milner joined that same summer and has 309. The knee injury suffered in the 2020/21 season, a torn patellar tendon, is a particularly horrible injury with no guarantee of full recovery and based on Gomez’s performances this season he does not look like he’s going to get back to being the defender he was pre-injury.
To further emphasise how unfortunate Gomez has been here is the season-by-season minute breakdown of his Liverpool career:
2015/16 – 618 minutes a season ended by a torn ACL.
2016/17 – 270 minutes. A season of recovery during which he also suffered from an Achilles tendon issue.
2017/18 – 2463 minutes. A season that ended early because of ankle surgery.
2018/19 – 1583 minutes. A season disrupted by another ankle surgery after an injury suffered away to Burnley.
2019/20 – 3289 minutes. Gomez finally got through a season without injury. He established himself as Van Dijk’s first-choice partner and was outstanding as Liverpool romped to the title.
But then came the 2020/21 season and that horrific knee injury. He only managed 979 minutes before his season came to an end in early November .
Last season he clocked only 1036 minutes as he worked his way back and while this season he has managed 1330 minutes and, thus far, remained largely injury-free his form has not been of the required standard.
Gomez will undoubtedly have admirers throughout the Premier League and it should not be hard to find a club willing to pay a decent fee for him. It’s not that Gomez is a bad defender, he’s just unlucky. At this point in his career, he should have established himself as the first-choice partner for Van Dijk but that is not going to happen. Ibrahima Konate is younger, bigger, stronger, and frankly just better at this point, so Gomez’s best hope for a starting spot at Liverpool would be to wait out Virgil van Dijk but is that in anyone’s best interests? If Van Dijk plays another four seasons for Liverpool, which is absolutely realistic, Gomez will be 30. Is he willing to waste his whole career as a squad player? Become this generation’s Wes Brown, a talented defender who should have gone on to be a regular first-choice for Premier League team and a regular in the England squad but instead stayed too long at the top club where he was never going to become a regular starter. Is that what Gomez wants his career to be?
It’s not just those that Klopp inherited that he must consider moving on. Joel Matip and Fabinho should be seen as candidates as well. Matip will turn 32 later this year and has only one season after this left on his contract. This is the last chance to get a good fee for the Cameroonian defender. Fabinho’s contract runs until 2025 and he is only 29, but there are already signs of decline and as Bob Paisley said, it’s better to let a player’s legs go on somebody else’s pitch. Neither of them have performed well this season and they are two players who could bring in the money to fund their own successors.
Liverpool have not been quick enough to move players on in the past. When you are a sell-to-buy club, that can only spend what you generate, you have to be more ruthless with players when their contracts are expiring, or it becomes clear they are no longer of the required standard.
Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri, Alberto Moreno, Emre Can, and Gini Wijnaldum were all allowed to stay too long. Moreno, Lallana, Can, Origi, and Wijnaldum all left on free transfers just as Firmino, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain should this summer. For a club that operates on a tight budget, you simply cannot spend £200 million and get nothing back when those players leave the club. When it becomes obvious that those players are A) Not good enough, B) Not reliable enough or C) Not going to extend their contracts, you need to move them on.
This summer is crucial for Liverpool and Klopp needs to get it right. With Manchester United and Arsenal returning to prominence, with Todd Boehly spending money as if it’s going out of fashion, and with the Oil Classico duo of Manchester City and Newcastle United willing to spend whatever it takes to have success, Liverpool are on iffy ground. There is a real risk that Liverpool, particularly if this ownership stays, falls into a rut of mediocrity that sees them competing with Tottenham Hotspur for sixth in the Premier League because the other five become uncatchable.
Liverpool’s methodology, the blueprint they followed to build Klopp’s first great team, has proven to work when it comes to winning major titles but the problem is that Liverpool moved away from their own ideas. Whether this was at the request of Klopp, only a handful of people will know but the simple truth is they now need to go backwards in order to go forwards. They need to go back to being the smartest, best-run club in the land. They can begin this rebuild in a much stronger position than they began the initial build because the calibre of players at the club now is far superior to the cesspool of dross Klopp inherited, but Klopp needs to commit to it and stop clinging to the past. Say goodbye to the players who can no longer take you forward, rather than have them hold you back.
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