Jurgen Klopp has led Liverpool to the Premier League title. It is an achievement he predicted within a four-year time frame in his unveiling press conference back in 2015, and he has accomplished it in his fourth full season.
For the Reds, it is a first top-flight title since 1990, with 30 long years to wait between that triumph under Kenny Dalglish and this incredible season under Klopp. That kind of wait is a travesty, given the club’s storied history and how close they pushed the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City in multiple 2nd-placed finishes.
The extent of Liverpool’s lead over City this time around has made the title a foregone conclusion for many months – extended even more so by an enforced pause amid the coronavirus pandemic – but the magnitude of their feat should not be overlooked despite the long wait throughout 2020.
Much of that is credit to Klopp, who in his five years with the club has taken them from the despair of Brendan Rodgers’ final months to the pinnacle of world football.
Here are five key ways the charismatic German has led Liverpool to the glory of a first Premier League title.
The power of Anfield
Klopp made a point early on in his reign to acknowledge the importance of Liverpool’s supporters; his was, after all, an appointment partially informed by his ideals and the relationships he shared with the fans at Mainz and Borussia Dortmund.
There are a number of touchstones in his first months with the club that signal this emphasis: his ‘doubters to believers’ line; his plea after feeling “pretty alone” as fans filed out of Anfield with 12 minutes to go in a 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace; his much-derided celebration in front of the Kop after a 1-1 draw with West Brom.
They may have felt small – or perhaps even barmy, to those watching from the outside – at the time, but these were significant moments as Klopp worked towards uniting a Liverpool support fractured by years of false dawns.
Now, it is difficult to go a single press conference before a home game without the manager stressing the importance of Anfield, with supporters undoubtedly serving as the Reds’ 12th man.
This is no less apparent despite the remainder of the season being played behind closed doors, as Klopp explained after the 4-0 thrashing of Palace at Anfield: “Imagine if this game happened with 55,000 people in the stadium, that would have been incredible.”
There have been times during Klopp’s time at Liverpool that he has delegated managerial duties to those among his backroom staff, such as during this season’s League Cup run when his assistant, Pepijn Lijnders, fulfilled media obligations.
Whenever Lijnders speaks, he proves himself one of the most astute tactical minds in the next generation of coaches, and that was evident as he crystallised Liverpool’s ethos into one catchy phrase.
“Our identity is intensity,” the Dutchman enthused.
On Klopp’s arrival, dossiers on his exhaustive training methods were swiftly produced by all manner of media outlets, drawing from his time in Germany and the success he enjoyed at Dortmund.
The expectations on his squad were high, and the hallmarks of his game were clear from the first game away to Tottenham, while at Melwood – and particularly during pre-season – the focus on fitness is astonishing.
It is the foundation of Liverpool’s success, and has made them the suffocatingly intense, relentlessly attacking side that has earned the Premier League title.
Signings and sales
The squad Klopp inherited from Rodgers in 2015 was in no way poor, but the changes he has made in working with the club’s recruitment staff – most notably sporting director Michael Edwards – has transformed them from a group scraping for top four to one comfortably top of the pile.
Of the side that started the 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane that heralded Klopp’s start, only four remain at the club – and that is set to be reduced to just two as Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne depart this summer, leaving only James Milner and Divock Origi.
He has overseen the gradual reshaping of a side that included the likes of Martin Skrtel, Lucas Leiva and Alberto Moreno as staples, ensuring there was no disruptive overhaul as the club slowly brought in players with the quality and potential to lift them to the level required.
From the side that thrashed Palace at Anfield, for example, only Joe Gomez, Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino were already in the first team prior to Klopp’s appointment.
Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson, Fabinho, Gini Wijnaldum, Mohamed Salah, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Harvey Elliott and Takumi Minamino are all Klopp signings, while Trent Alexander-Arnold and Neco Williams were promoted from the academy ranks.
He has presided over tough decisions regarding sales, too, with Philippe Coutinho’s switch to Barcelona the most prominent, but more often than not they have proved ultimately beneficial – the £142 million the Reds received for Coutinho effectively paid for the transformative signings of Alisson and Van Dijk.
As gifted as Klopp is as a manager, he could not have won the league without the right squad, and that they are one with considerable scope to improve even further bodes well for the future.
Upgrading the staff
One of the biggest landmarks in the unravelling of Rodgers’ time at Liverpool was the decision to part ways with his long-serving assistant Colin Pascoe in the summer of 2015 – Pascoe had moved with Rodgers from Swansea, but the Ulsterman decided to “move in a different direction.”
It was painted as a scapegoating, and Rodgers became increasingly isolated in his role as manager, and with results not improving following a dismal 2014/15 campaign he was given his marching orders.
Klopp embraced Rodgers’ staff on his arrival, but there has been a shift over the years as he has sought to upgrade the club’s backroom with some influential appointments.
The fitness department, for example, required a shakeup, and in came Andreas Kornmayer from Bayern Munich and Philipp Jacobsen from the renowned Qatar facility Aspetar.
Mona Nemmer, the club’s first full-time head of nutrition, made the same trip from Munich to Liverpool, with her appointment a signal of change – it was an essential move, but one that focused on marginal gains over other sides that has been reinforced by a series of other arrivals.
Thomas Gronnemark came in as throw-in coach and Lee Richardson operates as a psychologist at the training ground, while Klopp even called in professional surfer Sebastian Steudtner to help improve the squad’s mentality during a pre-season training camp in Evian.
It is a staff Klopp trusts, and one that, in Lijnders, could even point towards a succession plan when the German eventually opts to leave the club – and the importance of Liverpool’s backroom cannot be underestimated.
Mastery of the media
Klopp made it clear from the start that he was no fan of the media.
In his first press conference, he admonished photographers for snapping their shutters while a journalist was asking a question, before answering that question with “I don’t care about things like this, I don’t think too much about the press, I’m really a normal football manager.”
He may be a larger-than-life character, and one of the most infectious personalities in football, but this is no facade – there are countless testimonies from players and staff at Liverpool, and among the opposition, that, with Klopp, what you see is what you get.
But while he insists he “doesn’t care” about the media, he has used his opportunities in front of cameras and microphones to his advantage while at Liverpool, sending messages to his squad, the supporters and their rivals, both blunt and subtle.
A dampening of expectations has been a key mantra from an outside perspective, and this has fed into a winning mentality among the Liverpool squad until the day the title was won – the message was ‘this isn’t over yet’.
No doubt when Klopp next sits in front of journalists, despite his status as a Premier League champion it will remain business as usual: onto the next one.