While The Roof Falls In On Ten Hag, Klopp Is Reaching For The Stars Again
By Gareth Roberts
IT’S NOVEMBER so we’re due a Premier League manager sacking soon.
Lower down the ladder Nigel Pearson, Gareth Ainsworth and Joey Barton have all been binned in recent days.
With the average managerial tenure for top-flight managers now less than two years, it's a fair bet someone will be receiving their P45 pretty soon.
And isn’t it heartening to know the last person in the world that will be is Jürgen Klopp?
Sheffield United’s Paul Heckingbottom is odds on to be the next manager to go, followed in the bookies’ sack race list by Bournemouth boss Andoni Iraola and Burnley’s Vincent Kompany.
So that’s the managers of the bottom two clubs followed by the boss of the side just a point above the relegation zone. Nothing too shocking there then.
Can you guess who is next in the list though? It’s Erik Ten Hag.
And he’s very similar odds to Kompany to be the next manager given the boot.
The papers are already talking about how much it will cost Manchester United to swing the axe on the increasingly more unconvincing Dutchman (£15million in case you were wondering). And they are already touting his potential successor (Zinedine Zidane is the favourite).
At the other end of the sackable scale is Klopp, alongside Pep Guardiola, current media darling Ange Postecoglou and Unai Emery.
Our man is now the longest-serving manager in the league. Ten Hag, meanwhile, hasn’t even hit the two-year mark. Let’s not pretend this isn’t at least a little bit enjoyable.
The positioning of the two rival clubs is quite stark right now. Liverpool are alongside Arsenal as second favourites for the title. Manchester United, 11 points off the pace of the leaders already after they were patted on the head by Manchester City at the weekend, are 300-1 to win it this season. 300-1!
If, as expected, a miraculous turnaround doesn’t happen, it will be 11 years without a title for our friends from Granada land. Are they "doing a Liverpool" here?
When Klopp arrived at Anfield in October 2015, Louis van Gaal was in the dugout at Manchester United. The man who once got his tackle out in a Bayern Munich team talk to prove he had the the balls to make big decisions was soon followed by Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick before Ten Hag was appointed.
In terms of points, Mourinho clocked up the most for United in one season while Klopp has been here; 81 – enough to finish in second place.
But Manchester United have also knocked around finishing fifth and sixth (three times) during Klopp’s time at Anfield. Right now, they sit eighth
How are the two football superpowers viewed right now?
United fans still routinely trot out the “biggest club in the world” line, particularly those allowed near a microphone. Yet their ground has holes in the roof and their team has wide open spaces also, recently featuring a centre-back pairing of Leicester past – Harry Maguire and Jonny Evans.
Evans is 35 now and Maguire? He cost more than Virgil van Dijk. He was almost sold for £30m to West Ham in the summer. Say no more.
Their side looks to be lacking leaders on and off the pitch, has a questionable captain in Bruno Fernandes and doesn’t seem particularly likeable all round.
Thoughts and prayers with Bruno Fernandes after Stefan Bajčetić ended his career tonight 🙏 pic.twitter.com/Mnqz4T1mBg— AJ (@_Version4) March 5, 2023
While Liverpool seem to have successfully plumped for a “no knobheads” recruitment policy under Klopp it seems like something approaching the opposite has been in play at Old Trafford.
A lot of football, a lot of life, is a story. And right now ours is good and theirs is bad.
Klopp you can easily buy into. You can believe. You can become a bit obsessive about.
We hate football being talked about as business and brand but a lot of our behaviour says it’s just that. Why do you buy brands? Why are you loyal to them? It’s a sign of quality. It makes you feel good. You know what you’re getting. You back it to deliver.
One of our brands is Klopp. As Reds we see only good. Outside our bubble, plenty of supporters elsewhere gripe about his griping. The things we love, they hate: the air punch, the spiky interviews, the haranging of officials.
Is he always right? No, who is? But he is definitely more right than wrong.
Once again at the weekend he found the right tone. What Luis Diaz is going through is horrendous. Klopp was statesmanlike in his handling of it.
Mass protest in Barrancas demanding the release of Luis Diaz’s father.pic.twitter.com/9PGyva9JDO— Anything Liverpool (@AnythingLFC_) November 1, 2023
Talk of clubs being a ‘football family’ is heavily cliched, but at Liverpool it appears to ring true. Dissenting voices have been rare. Bad eggs haven’t been allowed to create a stink.
When Mamadou Sakho stepped out of line he was soon out of the door. And remember what Klopp said about Phillipe Coutinho?
"Stay here and they will end up building a statue in your honour," the boss said in January 2018, when the Brazilian was trying to force a move away from Liverpool.
"Go somewhere else, to Barcelona, to Bayern Munich, to Real Madrid, and you will be just another player. Here you can be something more.”
He was right, wasn’t he? From Barca, to Bayern to Aston Villa and now Qatar Stars League club Al-Duhail, it’s never seemed like Countinho has been as loved or has enjoyed his football like he once did here.
No one who has left in the Klopp era can really say they went on to something better. Yet plenty can say the manager and his staff made them better players, improved their attributes and their output. Not to mention made some memories for life and gave them some medals too.
The evergreen James Milner is up to 625 appearances in the Premier League now. So it’s fair to say he will know a thing or two about managers, players and the bonds between them.
On defining Klopp’s genius, he said in 2022: “How he is around the place, how he prepares us for games. He always talks to us about the situation around games, which I think is important.
“He talks to us about what people might be thinking, he anticipates people's thoughts before games – things such as getting tiredness out of our minds if there have been a lot of games.
“He's very good at anticipating things that could affect players or our performances, and stopping it before it happens.”
Sounds good, that. Wish I could work for Klopp.
Meanwhile, in Manchester, Ten Hag is dealing with leaks away from the Old Trafford roof. A dressing room mole has allegedly been revealing all, suggesting not only that players were baffled by his tactics against Manchester City, but also that he made them sit in silence post match and listen to City celebrating in their dressing room.
Less fun. I'll leave that, thanks. Sitting in my undies watching Homes Under The Hammer sounds preferable.
While Klopp is committed to Liverpool and offers stability to incoming players, Ten Hag is watching his odds for the sack plummet by the week.
If you’re choosing between Liverpool and Manchester United right now, there is no real choice is there? You've no clue who you will be playing for at Old Trafford.
Klopp has a great reputation. A positive brand, if you like. Players love playing for him. He’s sticking around. He’s building something new.
And, despite a big overhaul in midfield in the summer, Liverpool 2.0 looks like something to be excited about already.
Looking east to Salford, well you can hardly say the same over there, can you?
It’s more problems than plus points.
Let's get in the disclaimers to wrap up. It shouldn’t matter what they are doing, some will say. We shouldn't compare and contrast and who cares, they might add.
But it does and we do, so why not enjoy it? It was the other way around for a long, long time. I'll take this to that all day, thank you very much.
-- Check out Robbo's podcast with Paul Cope, The Late Challenge.