A Vauxhall Insignia estate sits in the space at Melwood where a Porsche Panamera GTS used to be. But that’s not it. Too superficial. Plus, he’s an ambassador for Vauxhall. Anfield now houses a luxurious main stand and an extra 8,500 supporters. But that’s not it either. The plans predate him. What about Adam Lallana, transformed from £25m substitute to player of the month nominee, or a team who lacked identity now powering their way into Premier League contention? Evidence of progress, unmistakably, but far from the only change Liverpool have experienced since Jürgen Klopp beamed into Anfield 12 months ago.
On Saturday it is one year to the day since the 49-year-old listened to what “I hear inside” and officially accepted Fenway Sports Group’s advances to become the most significant signing of its ownership. Sixty-one matches have followed, yielding 30 victories, 17 draws and 14 defeats, two in cup finals. His team are fourth in the table, two points behind the leaders, Manchester City, having played Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea away. Liverpool have produced more shots, passes and sprints, and covered more distance than any other top-flight team and are joint leading scorers with 18 goals. At the corresponding stage of 2013-14, when they went closer than ever to winning the Premier League title, Brendan Rodgers’s team had scored 11.
Back then, Liverpool had Luis Suárez returning from suspension to ignite their goals tally and style of play. And therein lies a difference with Klopp’s Liverpool. The focus is no longer on individual talent such as Suárez, Steven Gerrard or Fernando Torres to inspire and overcome the financial gap that exists even among the Premier League elite. Finance is not discussed in public by the current Liverpool manager. It is about the collective. Nothing else. Liverpool’s players and public, responding to the manager’s passion, acumen and honesty – something of a rarity among his peers – have bought into it, just as Klopp and his wife, Ulla, have embraced living on Merseyside. He gets the place.
“One thing he has brought in is he will make us believe we can win whether we play Barcelona or whoever,” Lallana explains. “You go out on the pitch thinking: ‘We can win this by doing this.’ You genuinely do believe him that every team is beatable.” James Milner, another to flourish under Klopp, even at left‑back, has said: “He says things that maybe a lot of managers think but won’t say. He is emotional and says what he thinks, rightly or wrongly. People can relate to that. It’s not an act. That’s the good thing – what you see is what you get.”
Revisiting Klopp’s first press conference it is striking how many pronouncements have materialised
It has not been a flawless 12 months – the second-half collapse in the Europa League final against Sevilla still stings the former Borussia Dortmund coach – and it is not all hugs and raucous laughter from a bloke fond of a pint in his local in Formby.
Mamadou Sakho and Mario Balotelli can testify to the disciplinarian streak of a manager who absorbs the spotlight despite an aversion to it. Saturday’s anniversary will be reason to welcome an international break for once.
“I don’t think he ever feels it is about him,” says Liverpool’s chief executive, Ian Ayre. “The biggest change we’ve seen comes from a few things – Zeljko [Buvac, first assistant coach] and Peter [Krawietz, second assistant coach] arriving, Pepijn Lijnders [the development coach] moving into the first team and all of them creating a good team with John Achterberg [the goalkeeping coach]. A new fitness coach and nutritionist arrived in the summer.
“For me, the biggest change is the energy they have created and Jürgen in particular. I would describe him as an energy giver. He brings a positive energy and he expects the same from everyone else. That changes the dynamic. You don’t go into a discussion wondering how the other person will react. He is very easy to get on with and that resonates through to the squad, the coaching staff, the fans and even the business. The measure of his impact has been in terms of the energy and spirit of everybody at the club. I don’t think he endeavors to do that, it’s just who he is and it’s infectious.
Revisiting Klopp’s first press conference as Liverpool manager, it is striking how many pronouncements made on that frenetic day have materialized. Once he stepped away from the TV cameras – looking every inch a man who had spent four months travelling, playing tennis and spending quality time with nearest and dearest – FSG’s man sat down with the written press and, forefinger jabbing the table, outlined his immediate aims for Liverpool.
The team would learn to “conquer the ball” and counterpress relentlessly. “That is not a proposal, it is law,” he stated. Signaling a departure from the fixation with transfer committees and net spends, the new arrival insisted he was more concerned with developing players than how much money was available for fresh talent. Potential signings who hesitated about joining a club without Champions League football would not be pursued, a promise Klopp fulfilled this summer when withdrawing interest in Mario Götze.
The overriding message, however, was for the entire club to create conditions for “emotional football” to exist. “It is very important that we make it all closer,” Klopp explained. “It is important they don’t think: ‘These are the good paid guys, we are the fans.’ The atmosphere in the stadium is good but nobody is really enjoying themselves.”
Liverpool have adopted the counterpressing law, while business in two transfer windows (with this summer yielding a small profit) has highlighted Klopp’s faith in the first-team core he inherited and an eye for a Bundesliga bargain.
But it is unity at Anfield, the feel around the place, that reflects his impact alongside two cup finals in seven months and an imposing start to his first full Premier League season. As demonstrated by a furious reaction to hearing his name chanted before the final whistle had sounded on a resounding victory over Leicester City, and appeals for patience whenever a chance is missed, there is a little way to go before he will be satisfied. More important, he is the first to say the same about the team. Defeat at Burnley and last Saturday’s first-half display at Swansea City back that up.
The night before being unveiled as Rodgers’s successor, Klopp celebrated signing a three-year contract worth £7m per annum (replaced by a new six-year deal in July) with dinner at the city’s Hope Street hotel. Ayre, the Liverpool chairman, Tom Werner, and the backroom team who had survived the transition – Lijnders; Achterberg; the academy director, Alex Inglethorpe; the former head physio Chris Morgan and the first-team doctor, Andy Massey – were present.
Liverpool’s chief executive recalls: “Other than myself and the owners, I don’t think Jürgen had had a lot of exposure to the other people in the room but he spoke to everyone about what he had achieved at Dortmund and Mainz by bringing people together. That was what he focused on immediately – bringing the players and their families, the staff and their families, together.
“He is inclusive of everybody at the club. That is crucial to him and plays a significant role. His interaction with the fans on a match day is part of that belief that we are all in it together. That’s why he encourages fans to sing – or tells them when to stop. It is about bringing everyone along for the journey whether he is in a room of 10 people or a stadium of 50,000.”
That inclusivity extends to Liverpool’s former players, taken by surprise when Klopp turned up unannounced at their Christmas party and spent hours listening to tales of yesteryear. Players’ partners and children were invited to a warm-weather training camp in Tenerife during March. By contrast, access to Melwood – the “HQ”, as Klopp calls it – is more restricted for players’ associates than under previous managers. Training sessions are intensive and tailored to mirror kick-off times. Small, simple details perhaps but as relevant to Klopp as his No10 dictating where to squeeze the space and options out of the opposition.
“I wouldn’t say the club itself has changed massively,” Ayre suggests. “Jürgen wants to understand why or what you do in every situation. He’ll either adapt to it or say he doesn’t feel that works. He is very open and honest and it is very difficult to get in trouble if you’re open and honest. It sounds really simple – and it is. I’d love to say he’s changed things by sprinkling magic dust but it really is very simple – good communication, good collaboration, good energy and good spirit. He’s an easy character to deal with. There’s no agenda and no ego – that’s not what the guy is about. You can say he’s one of the biggest managerial names in world football but it doesn’t play out that way and he doesn’t act that way. Externally there seems to be a general feeling among people of: ‘What are you hiding?’ But what you see is what you get. It is normal dealing with him. Whether you’re a steward in the tunnel at Anfield or the CEO, he’s the same with everyone.
“I’ve worked with five managers at Liverpool now and three or four at other clubs, and the reality is managers can make life difficult because they don’t want to be honest or own up to their own decisions but there is none of that with Jürgen. We have had differences of opinion but you always feel you can have an honest conversation with Jürgen and it wouldn’t change the relationship in any way. He’s straightforward, honest and a pleasure to work with. That’s how it should be when you are all striving for the same thing, success for the football club on and off the pitch.”