On October 8 earlier this month, one event happened in Premier League that has become a relative rarity in English football’s top tier. It is increasingly becoming rare that a manager is allowed to complete three years in control of a Premier League side without doing something dramatic – like saving them from relegation, earning a promotion or winning silverware. Jurgen Klopp, on paper, did none of those things, but he still managed to complete three years in charge of Liverpool.
This is a relatively rare feat in Premier League as only four other managers, Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, Sean Dyche at Burnley, Pochettino at Spurs and Chris Hughton at Brighton have served their clubs for a longer duration and barring Pochettino, all the other three have gained promotion and then fought relegations during their tenure. So, while the Anfield faithful are celebrating Klopp’s three years, rival fans and football pages have been harping on the fact that the German has not won anything at Liverpool despite spending big.
While on the face of it, they are correct – Liverpool under Klopp has spent more than £200 million (forget the net spend for a minute) and has not yet won anything. He has just ensured a couple of top-four finishes and got his club to three finals in three different years. Managers like Arsene Wenger have been derided for such results in the past. And some of that criticism Klopp has received is warranted – his record in cup finals is abysmal. But how should the Liverpool fans see their journey with Klopp so far? Has he been successful or not? The answer – I feel – is that if you consider a narrow definition of success in terms of silverware, Klopp has been unsuccessful. But, if you consider a broader definition – of improving the stature of a club, of making a club a favoured destination for star players, and even of making a club more attractive for the fans, Klopp has been an unmitigated success. Let us take a look at some facts and numbers that tell this story:
From 38th Best in Europe to 6th Best
When Jurgen Klopp took over the reins at Anfield, his predecessor – Brendan Rodgers had taken the club through a roller-coaster ride. His first year (2012-13) had been mediocre, his second was unexpectedly brilliant due to Suarez and Sturridge, and his third, tending towards mediocrity again, included a group stage exit in Champions League. As a result, Liverpool’s Club ELO rating was a mere 1711 on the day Klopp took over. In a ranking of European clubs, Liverpool was 38th in terms of their ELO rating. To put that in perspective, Leicester currently have an ELO rating of 1690. So, three years ago Liverpool were similar to the current Leicester.
Three years on, Liverpool’s ELO rating has risen to 1941 around the end of September and then has come down marginally to 1928. In terms of ranking, Liverpool is ranked 6th in Europe – better than Bayern Munich and PSG. To put that into perspective, this Liverpool side is closer in ELO rating to Pep’s Barcelona and Bayern sides (ELO ~ 2100), than they are to the current Leicester side. In simpler words, at present there are only five sides in Europe today that will get short odds to beat Liverpool. Three years ago, there were 37.
Back in Europe with Force
Liverpool fans like to sing their “Five Times” chant, especially in their European matches. But the opportunities to sing the chant and to live the magical Anfield atmosphere on a European night had been sporadic under Brendan Rodgers. True – both Rodgers and Klopp had two seasons of European football each in their first three years. But in case of the Northern Irishman, both those seasons ended early and more or less were eventless.
On the other hand, Klopp’s two seasons saw them beating sides like Dortmund, Manchester United, Manchester City and AS Roma quite emphatically. Yes, Liverpool faltered in both their European finals under the German’s tutelage, but they reached the finals with some pomp. Continuing in the same vein, Liverpool have already beaten PSG this season in Europe.
This is important, not just because going deeper into European tournaments means more revenue, but it also means that future stars take notice of the club. Back then Liverpool scouted, and the players were tempted away by Chelsea (Willian, Salah) or Tottenham (Sigurdsson). Now, players are eager to join Liverpool and respect the project that Klopp has underway at Anfield. Liverpool scout their targets and make sure those targets join them.
Anfield – Again a Fortress
Liverpool faithful, who have seen the club’s glory days in the 1970s and 1980s, do not stop talking about how Anfield was a difficult venue for most opponent teams. Under Jurgen Klopp, it is again turning out to be a fortress of sorts. Thomas Tuchel has been at the receiving ends of two games, where the Kop lifted the Liverpool side out of a draw or a certain defeat and delivered them a win. He first experienced it in 2015-16 with Dortmund and then again recently with PSG.
Liverpool are unbeaten in 25 home games in the league and they have not lost to any of the other Big Six in the league since January 2016. This Liverpool side has matched the club record of nine consecutive clean sheets at Anfield last set during Nov 2006 to Feb 2007. They have also not let in a single goal at home in almost 850 minutes of football.
There are several other reasons to like Klopp and to celebrate his three years in charge at Anfield. The atmosphere in the dressing room and among the fans, the style of game Liverpool are playing, the accolades they are receiving, etc. But, if all those seem less than solid, the above three – improvement in stature, attractiveness to star players, and impregnable at home – are good reasons for the Liverpool fans to continue believing in this German, who in his own words has put all he has – “his knowledge, passion, heart, and experience” into Liverpool. The Reds fans can feel it – by his fourth anniversary at Anfield, Klopp might have ticked the silverware box as well.