Jurgen Klopp is doing something Graeme Souness did at Liverpool some 24 years ago, in the Summer of 1991, trying to resurrect a sleeping giant. The Modus Operandi is going to be the same 24 years later with a “root and branch” change to attempt to drive more professionalism, focus and a winning ultra-competitive edge.
Souness arrived after four years of unbridled success at Glasgow Rangers and Klopp is arriving after eight years of unbridled success at Borussia Dortmund (BVB). Souness had a stellar playing career as a bombastic midfield player at Spurs, Middlesborough, Liverpool, Sampdoria and Rangers, whereas Klopp’s playing career was largely at Mainz it was successful but less stellar, more effort and drive than talent. Souness was more talent and drive than effort.
They both arrived in the Anfield hotseat with burgeoning expectations from a demanding, in Klopp’s case, Premier League starved fan base. In Souness’ case the conveyor belt of success and domination was “expected to be continued.”
Souness is reported to have ripped out the boot room, a mythical place for Shankly, Paisley and Moran and attempted to modernise the whole approach dispensing with years of tradition. (In his defence he says it was a club decision to expand the press room.) Four titles in five years in Scotland after a nine year Rangers wait, bankrolled by David Murray, gave Souness mountains of bravado. Alan Hansen the stalwart had retired, Barnes had lost his pace due to an Achilles injury, consequently it wasn’t the Anfield Souness had departed as a player seven years earlier. A changing of the guard given the ageing squad was the prescription for the wheezing patient.
Whelan 30, Rush 30, Houghton and Nicol hitting 30, in 3/4 months major squad surgery was needed. Klopp doesn’t require major surgery in the sense of an ageing squad, the surgery Klopp requires is in instilling a winning mentality. “From doubters to believers” rarely if ever has a new manager hit the nail on the head as intellectually astutely as Klopp did in his first press conference.
Klopp needs a Jan Molby to orchestrate the orchestra, Souness had a 28 year old Molby struggling with his weight and other lifestyle issues culminating in a spell in jail for driving offences (later in his career). Hence they both have professionalism and focus issues combined with fitness and endurance issues. Souness had the mentality within his squad not the legs, Klopp has the legs and not the mentality.
Gary Gillespie felt and still feels Souness got rid of too many too quickly, including Gillespie himself. Managers do this to stamp their authority on the squad and their blueprint, or to bring in a player who they have previously worked with to say “Hey guys copy him and your new manager will be happy”. Disastrously for Liverpool the duo of Borini and Allen for Brendan Rodgers, both players Brendan had worked with previously at Chelsea and Swansea, have had a negligible impact three years on at a combined cost of £24m.
Souness brought in Mark Walters from Rangers, this pacy tricky winger as a replacement long term for John Barnes’s trickery and delivery. Barnes went into the Pirlo role incredibly successfully, smoothly spraying the play like Xabi Alonso. Graeme’s signings were a mixed bag: Stig Bjornerbye, Torben Piechnik, Paul Stewart, Mark Wright, Julian Dicks, Neil Ruddock, Dean Saunders and Nigel Clough culminating in a solitary trophy an FA Cup Final win versus Sunderland during his reign.
Souness and Klopp both have goalkeeping issues, Souness having to replace Grobelaar bought the promising David James from Watford; Klopp has a problem with Mignolet being more of a shot stopper than a well rounded Keeper in the vein of Cech, De Gea or Courtois. John Terry famously said this year Petr Cech will be worth 12-15 points to Arsenal. That’s the magnitude of the goalkeeping position in today’s game and I would add Cech, De Gea and Courtois will all be worth 12-15 points to their respective teams. Does Klopp stick or twist with Mignolet? One immediate solution would be buying a better back up, Brad Jones the previous No.2 has only recently managed to sign for NEC a mid to low ranking club in Holland, that’s reflective of the demand for him. Bogdan does not sufficiently challenge Mignolet so there is no real competitive rivalry to create an edge.
Souness, much like Klopp, had uber talent coming through but not ready to be ploughed in head first, such as Redknapp, McManaman, Fowler, Hutchison, Marsh; Compared to Origi, Gomez, Brannigan, Smith, Kent, Ojo, Sinclair, Dhanda, Klopp has an imminently arriving youth infused cavalry. The in-between time of bringing that talent to fruition and the top four chase this year is the Klopp conundrum. How much do you blood them without hindering your top four chances, and not stunting their development with the pressure of top four. Social media is also very unkind to promiscuous Liverpool talent with Emre Can, Origi, and Firmino all being chastised at various times this season in radio phone ins and social media.
Souness moved Beardsley on prematurely and he scored an impressive 71 league goals post Liverpool in ostensibly a no.10 role. Does Klopp move Benteke and the injury prone Sturridge on? Nigel Clough, a £2.75m expensive buy not quite hitting the heights is analogous to Adam Lallana, a £25m buy, not quite hitting the heights 18 months in, but both are excellent technicians. Clough managed 9 goals in 44 games and Lallana has 5 goals in 43 games. For two respective big money signings there is an air of disappointment in what has materialised in both cases. The prevalent enigmatic talent is not influencing games and performances in the manner it should.
Will the problems Souness had fielding Rob Jones, one of his best players, be analogous to the problems Klopp has fielding Daniel Sturridge? There are many many comparable situations in the Klopp and Souness reigns. David James was deemed a calamity by the media in goal, and Benteke has significant confidence problems with Coutinho appearing to bypass Benteke as a passing option. Confidence, the holy grail of football, is both brittle and fragile for both Souness and Klopp.
Klopp is far too in tune with the fans and has a far humbler ego and demeanour than Souness and would never make the calamitous decision of selling his open heart surgery story to the Sun, 3 years after Hillsborough. Klopp has also undertaken far more research, maybe a consequence of his humble, ego devoid-approach “the normal one.” He doesn’t have the aura that Souness had that managerial success is my birthright after a stellar playing career with five league title and three European Cup wins. Klopp is studious and his Sports Science understanding of rehabilitation and injuries is at the cutting edge.
Unearthing an unheralded Goetze, Hummels, Reus, Lewandowski, trusting a Shinji Kagawa and a Nuri Sahin to be pivotal as relative unknowns is what Klopp has cut his teeth on at BVB, something Souness dismally failed to do with a revolving door of player entrances and exits in his ill-fated three year Anfield managerial spell.
“From Doubters to Believers” is the seismic jump Klopp envisages, and fans will certainly enjoy the ride more than the kamikaze Souness years.