Simply the Best: Jürgen Klopp

(Image courtesy of Marco Bertorello/AFP)

Liverpool’s extraordinary German manager is currently in the top one of football coaches. Now, if he can beat his nemesis from the blue half of Manchester to the Premier League title come May, Klopp would cement his current standing along with his place in Anfield folklore…

Milan. Messi. Megan. The Best Fifa Football Awards took place on Monday in the city of fashion. The ceremony saw the legendary Argentine claim the men’s best player award, while USWNT star Megan Rapinoe took home the women’s top prize. Elsewhere, though, a certain German beamed as he bounced confidently towards the stage to claim the men’s coach of the year award. That man was Jürgen Klopp: the man who has taken Liverpool from mediocrity and serial under-achievement to being European champions; a genuine force of nature at the peak of world football in less than four, fun-filled years.

“Nobody would have expected that I stand here 20, 10, five, four years ago,” Klopp said upon winning the award. Perhaps not. Yet, among the wider football community, the prize serves as just recognition for the ever-developing story of Klopp’s Liverpool which fans have become accustomed to: a story never short of raw emotion, consistently accompanied by that pearly white smile, but more so in the past couple of years a story of a ruthless winning machine embodying their outstanding leader on the touchline. 

In the second half of Klopp’s reign up to this point, he has built a side that has reached an altogether new level. It could be argued that the mere fact that they are providing competition to Manchester City at the top of the Premier League is over-achievement. Since City’s 100-point title-winning campaign of 2017-2018, Klopp’s Liverpool have bridged a 25 point gap in approximately two years, crushing City in a Champions League quarter-final demolition and now worrying Pep Guardiola’s side — the most expensively assembled squad in football history — more than anyone else across the footballing landscape.

Seemingly, the greatest praise that can be laid out at the glorious feet of the Liverpool manager is that excellence has become normal. Never-before-seen levels of performance from his side have become regularity. In fact, in maintaining their perfect start with a 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, Klopp’s Reds became only the second team in Premier League history to win 15 consecutive games.

They also secured a record seventh straight away league win and became the first team since the Premier League’s inception to win their first six games in back-to-back campaigns. On the back of last season’s outstanding 97-point haul (the club’s highest tally in a season), the Reds have started 2019-20 where they left off. This Liverpool team, under this manager, are setting historic, unprecedented levels of routine brilliance.

With regards to the man in the tracksuit and signature glasses himself, an equally impressive record was accumulated along with another vanquished opponent at the weekend. In his 150th league game in charge of the Reds, Klopp won his 92nd game (a record second only to Jose Mourinho and better than that of Sir Alex Ferguson at the same stage). That is easily the best of any Liverpool manager ever: Klopp may well be on his way to replicating those greats of the past and his excellence at this stage cannot be underestimated.

The German manager led the Reds to their sixth Champions League triumph in Madrid, but the Premier League title still eludes them. (Image courtesy of Matthias Hangst/Getty Images).

Another indication of just how excellent Klopp is can be seen in the performances of his players, most notably those who prior to playing under the German were performing several levels below the calibre they now find themselves at. Put simply, Klopp improves every player he coaches, with very few exceptions.

In fact, in the current, almost perfectly balanced point-accumulating beast of a side he now oversees, the vast majority of the team’s core have reached an undisputed world-class level of performance. Two of those — defensive lynchpins Alisson Becker and Virgil Van Dijk — were part of the Fifa Fifpro team of the year and competed for respective individual prizes.

While Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané (who Messi voted for his as number one choice for the award) can also feel hard done by not making the team, the exclusion of flying left back Andrew Robertson stuck out even more to some fans. The reason being that Robertson is perhaps the perfect embodiment of the Klopp evolution: a main stay in the side since the drastic, consistent upturn in form a couple of years ago and now widely regarded as the best left back on the planet. Having signed for just eight million pounds from Hull, the Scot is the perfect example of Klopp’s star qualities: his ability to get a tune out of previously ordinary players and extraordinary transformative capacity.

On a human level, the reason for Klopp’s certified place as a fan favourite and much-admired coach even for fans of other clubs is the sheer strength of his extraordinary personality. In receiving this award, regardless of his obvious footballing merits, the stature of the man outside of the game shone through. Klopp showed outstanding humility, directly addressing Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino and further demonstrating the off-the-field characteristics which have endeared him so much to Liverpool fans, as much as his sideline tactical astuteness and raw passion which he is so often associated with.

“That’s how football is but we all know what an incredible job you did, what an incredible job Pep did; what so many coaches out there did,” Klopp said to Pochettino as he picked him out in the crowd.

Acknowledging the damage he inflicted upon the Spurs manager in defeating his side to lift the Champions League trophy back in June, Klopp was also keen to give thanks to those involved on his side of things.

“To the owners: thank you, they gave me an incredible team. I have to thank my team – as a coach you can only be as good as your team is… I’m really proud of being the manager of such an incredible bunch of players.”

While it is a valid description of the support he has been provided with to achieve such success, along with the necessary acknowledgment of the players putting his vision into action, it seems “incredible” is very much an apt way to describe the German himself. Further, the transformative effect he has had in a short period of time is nothing short of remarkable and testament to the sheer will power and talent of the man as an elite level coach.

There is one step left in Klopp’s assault on world football, and the next significant leap forward in his ongoing progression in management. Having fallen just short in the Premier League last season, Champions league glory was a welcome saving grace. Despite this, it is no secret which trophy the Anfield faithful seek more than any other, to the point that many have said they would accept significant underachievement in Europe if it aided their pursuit of the Premier League title. With a five-point lead over City at this early stage, defensive issues for the Citizens could provide the opportunity for Klopp’s side to further press home an advantage and potentially pull clear. However, the newly crowned “best” manager in the world will not care too much how they do it, rather hope they simply get over the line.

If he could do so, Klopp would simultaneously end the club’s 30-year wait for a title and instantly skyrocket above his already comfortable position among Liverpool’s greatest ever managers.

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