It usually takes a while for the mainstream journalists to cotton on. The 2-5 defeat this week was a moment when even the world’s most self-satisfied ostriches raised an eyebrow above the line of the sand.
“Jurgen Klopp’s first great Liverpool era is over” shrieked Chris Bascombe.
“Liverpool may even struggle to qualify next season” simpered James Pearce.
“Liverpool have to address their midfield failings” patronised Henry Winter.
Well, no shit.
These things have been obvious to most of us since August. Liverpool have been consistently out run, out fought, out thought and out played. They even had a 6 week break in the middle to sort stuff out. But came back worse.
What isn’t obvious is how to fix it. The task is a large one. I have become convinced a full rebuild is required. 8 to 10 players out, 6 to 8 players in. The team needs new leaders, new standard setters, new ideas and new legs.
It’s also not at all obvious (to me) that Klopp is the right man for the rebuild. He has never rebuilt a team before, after all. Just as the team’s successes were Klopp’s successes, the team’s failings this year are Klopp’s failings. Just as he created the mentality monsters, he created too the mentality minnows.
For the rebuild, five things need to be in place.
First, we urgently need to appoint a good and strong Director of Football, and put in place a structure and personnel for recruitment that works independently from Klopp. This doesn’t mean at odds with him. It means going back to what worked before. Using scouting and data to identify profiles of players that fit how we want to play. It means if Player A doesn’t work out, there is a Player B, C and D waiting in the wings. It doesn’t mean buying players who had good games against us recently, or players the assistant manager is personally invested into.
Second, we need new leaders. New culture and standard setters. For all that Henderson and Milner have taken the praise for these things (often quite painfully highlighted to obscure their failings at the actual football thing) – now things are going badly they must take their share of the blame. The team we have seen this season lacks leadership on the pitch. They have capitulated time and time again. The leadership has been woeful. Take the financial hit on that absurd Henderson contract if you have to.
Third, we need lots of money. You’d be right to be hopeful this may arrive, even after John Henry could finally be bothered this week to offer some clarification of his intentions. You’d be right to be sceptical that it won’t. You’d be right to forsee the tweet sitting in Paul Joyce’s drafts that Liverpool’s expected big summer never quite materialised for [reasons]. Kid me once…
Fourth, we need new legs. We need runners and physicality in midfield.
Fifth, we need a new head or two. The Pep Lijnders experiment has failed. That plan is no good. It makes Ardiles’ Spurs look compact. Ditch it, ditch him, move on.
These five conditions are not black and white, not mutually exclusive, not exhaustive. It is possible to do a decent rebuild without the super nerds running the show. You don’t need to spend Chelsea type of money to become competitive. (In fact that much money may be a hinderance). You might be able to get another song out of some of tired legs like Fabinho and Matip. (Though I doubt it).
But I don’t think you can do enough of the things we need, meet enough of these conditions, with Klopp.
He is too powerful now to cede power and authority to a third-party DOF.
He is too attached to the leaders (as he sees them). He won’t let Henderson go quietly into the night. He will probably want Milner around.
He is too nice to play hard ball with FSG and demand they cough up a slice of the fortune he has helped them amass. (If I were them I would think hard before letting Klopp and Pep spend my money too).
He is too invested in our weak legs to let enough of them go. In Fabinho, Elliott, Gomez, Robbo, Firmino. (I could go on…)
He is too involved with Pep’s tactical disasterclasses.
He is too loyal to the wrong people, the wrong ideas. It all feels like a bridge too far for Jurgen. I really hope I am spectacularly wrong.