Klopp arrived in England to a great deal of excitement. For neutral football fans, his Dortmund team had been a hipster favourite, a footballing mecca for those fetishizing an old kind of football, one that English fans long for. He declared himself in his first press conference (a satirical take on Mourinho) as ‘The Normal One’. There were stories of him stopping by Liverpool’s pubs for a beer, bumping into him in the smoking area. What seemed to make him so likeable (as is so often the case in football and, indeed, the wider celebrity culture) is that he seemed so human. Fast-forward six years later, and it is that very quality that sees him criticised. To be human is to be a bit of a dick sometimes. And that is what Klopp looks like to me at the moment – a bit of a dick.
He seems like he is performing his own Shakespearean tragedy and is in full Act V mode.
Liverpool’s recent poor form has shown us a tetchy side to Klopp. Take away his smile, uncannily white, a Frankenstein’s monster of a sneer, and his post-match interview after the City game on Sunday was almost sinister. His passive aggressive laughter has been replaced with a patronising bark, which shows no sign of disappearing. Since his spat with BT Sport’s Des Kelly, there have also been barneys with managers too, most recently accusing Pep and Manchester City of having a ‘two-week break’ because of various Coronavirus postponements. Pep’s response was us all when it comes to Klopp right now – a bemused look, a laugh, a dismissal of nonsense. It has to be said that this difficult side to Klopp could be forgiven to be a result of one of the rawest human emotions – grief. The death of his mother back in Germany meant that her son was unable to say his goodbyes on what is surely one of the most damaging parts of someone’s life. Arguably, it makes this whole piece unfair, obsolete. What is football when you’ve lost the person who gave birth to you?
But football doesn’t stand still, it rolls on. Let’s call this what it is – Klopp is under pressure. At the time of writing, his team have taken just five wins from the past sixteen Premier League games; they had the young Phil Foden run rings around them as well as a defeat to title-contenders Leicester and their Merseyside rivals Everton to rub it all in. Let’s not forget that 7-2 loss to Aston Villa either. Yes, there are injury problems. It would be hard to write about Liverpool without referring to the colossal loss of a certain Virgil ‘The GOAT’ Van Dijk (yes, it’s sarcasm, don’t worry) but we have to ask ourselves: is it the injuries? Or is this the end? Have we seen the imperious peak of one of the most dominant sides in Premier League history? A Champions League final. A Champions League trophy. A League title. Next, top four?
Maybe it is history that can help inform us. Klopp’s Dortmund sides were energetic, youthful, successful – until they weren’t. On 04 January 2014, it was announced Robert Lewandowski had announced a pre-contract with Bayern Munich and would leave in the summer; with Mario Götze having followed the same path just a year earlier. In March of that year, Klopp was sent off and fined €10,000 for a ‘verbal attack’ on the referee (sound familiar?) and after an alarming drop of form at the beginning of the 2014-15 season, Klopp announced that he would be leaving come the end of it. Despite his meteoric rise, league titles, a Champions League final and doing something Bundesliga teams rarely do (compete with Bayern Munich), it all ended in tears.
As is often the case with successful sides, the momentum runs out somewhere; Wenger struggled to stretch his initial success at Arsenal across his tenure, Mourinho rarely holds down jobs despite his usual titles, in fact, it was only really Ferguson who had the ability to keep this momentum. He was a master of renewing, re-energising his squads, of being ruthless when it mattered and, as a result, won thirteen Premier League titles – a feat that surely, in the current state of football where managers rarely make it past their first blip, will never be beaten.
And so, could this really be the end for this Liverpool side? With the current state of Klopp, it appears maybe so. He seems like he is performing his own Shakespearean tragedy and is in full Act V mode. A tyrant. A dead butcher. We really liked him in Act I – he was kind, loyal, funny, heroic. But now, we’re not so sure. He’s transgressed, the audience are no longer rooting for him and the curtain might fall soon enough.