Three years ago (or, at a similar stage of the 2017/18 season, given that we started this bonkers season closer to October) I wrote a headline that Liverpool should sack Jürgen Klopp. This was designed to make those who thought Liverpool should indeed sack Klopp read why, in truth, it was a terribly dumb idea.
So, that time has come again.
I’m not sure people are calling for Klopp to be sacked, but out of the woodwork are crawling those who were very quiet when Liverpool almost won the Champions League later that same season, and almost won the league with 97 points the next season whilst actually winning the Champions League, and then who won the league with 99 points just a few months ago, after a run of having won 110 points from 114 (by far the best rolling 38-game period in English football history).
I compared these woodwork-exiters (Wexiters) to the kind of person who might have said a young Ian Rush was “never gonna make the grade”, and then, after a decade and a half of stoney silence, pipes up when Rush, aged 37, is no longer scoring 30-50 goals a season. “Ha! Told you so!”
Everything fails in the end; we all turn to dust. All life is entropic. If you wait long enough it will all fall apart, and you can crow; but you will have missed the magic.
And so, in my fervent backing of Klopp once again, I will use an overall record of my backing of – or refusing to back – certain managers to argue that, if you can’t trust my advice on which hair product to use, my judgement on Liverpool managers in the twenty years I’ve been doing this stands up to close scrutiny. I’m not psychic, but I know my onions (reasonably well; they’re orange and pointy with green leaves, right?).
This is a deep dive – 11,000 words, for those who don’t just read the headlines – that looks back over my decades of analysing Liverpool managers: what I got right, what I got wrong, the interactions I’ve had with the club, and what I’ve learned along the way. While far from perfect, I think I’ve done pretty well, all things considered.
None of what I say here is going to change in the short-term. It would need an extended period of failure from Klopp to even make my needle shift in a negative direction, as right now, it’s about as far to “great” as it can point.
Even if this season turns into a washout (and it could if there are any more injuries, that make even playing games unsustainable), there is more that a ton of credit in the bank for Klopp, and this is the freakiest season in history, for injuries, VAR insanity and the cramming of a quart’s worth of games into a pint-pot of a season.
I started doing this online column writing lark back in December 2000, for some independent Liverpool FC sites; twenty years ago, perhaps to the day. The manager was one Gérard Houllier, who has sadly just passed away.
I was a firm defender of Houllier at the time, although obviously I lacked the knowledge that I’ve gained in the 20 years since. I had that lovely Dunning-Kruger ignorance, and thought I knew more than I did; and now, while I know much, much more than back then, I better know how much I don’t know, and I can’t even guess at how much more there is to learn. I know much, much more than the average fan – I’ve written 15 books and millions of additional words on the club – but I have none of the knowledge or experience of people like Klopp and Michael Edwards, nor do I have access to the data they possess, from basics like seeing the players train every day (and to talk to them about their personal lives, if they didn’t sleep because of a newborn baby, an injury issues, etc.) to the terabytes of information they store and analyse on all aspects of the game, from training and from matches.
(The Dunning-Kruger effect is just one of many things I’ve learnt from the generally super-smart and knowledgeable subscribers to this site. This piece was partly motivated by a subscriber who signed up this season, posting only on two days: after the defeat at Villa, and starting again when Liverpool were losing at Fulham, which turned into a long debate. What about all the great games in between?! He made a point about Liverpool being slow starters this season, and went back to last season to cherrypick examples too. When people challenged him, he doubled down. Some agreed with his vague point, but when faced with the insane schedule, the injuries, the defensive changes, the lack of preseason, etc, he said that was just a load of “excuses”. I felt that this attitude was not what this site was all about; you can’t just strip away the reality of the true context. Various sophisticated and nuanced arguments were made to him, before he said this site was “terrible”, and that he had “learned absolutely nothing”. Which, of course, makes sense – because if you start shouting the odds in debates where people who know their stuff then outgun you, and you feel you are still 100% right in the face of a mountain of contradictory and exculpatory evidence, then you will of course learn nothing, as you have a fixed, unthinking mindset. But the timing of such naysayers – the Wexiters – struck a chord with me. I deleted the guy’s account as he was clearly trouble, and within an hour or two we had four pompous emails threatening to take us to court. Note: if you’re just like this guy, we don’t want your money!)
Anyway, back to the point. I felt that Houllier was doing things in the right way, and Liverpool duly won an amazing treble and followed it with an 80-point 2nd-place finish and the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Some great players, an excellent team, and heading in the right direction. This writing malarky is easy, Liverpool are boss, etc.
But that excellent run coincided with Houllier’s near-fatal aortic rupture, in October 2001, and in his absence there was a big extra push by the players, which resumed again when he so dramatically returned against Roma, on a famous night. At that point I thought Houllier was going to take the club further and further forwards.
But he didn’t. He himself admitted that he returned to soon, as had Graeme Souness a decade earlier after his own massive heart surgery.
Up to that point, Houllier had got a lot of signings right, but often in defensive areas: Sander Westerveld was reliable for a while, and Jerzy Dudek had an amazing debut season (but his confidence would soon crumble), Sami Hyypia was a giant amongst men, Stephane Henchoz was an honest soldier who was great at defending the box (but who started to drop too deep later on), Markus Babbel was an absolute steal (before he fell seriously ill), and holding midfielder Didi Hamann became iconic in the role. Finally, Steve Finnan was a superb right-back, and John Arne Riise was a marauding left-back.
But in attacking areas the purchases were less good; perhaps because Houllier himself was a “solid defence and counter-attack” type of manager (like Klopp initially was) who never quite morphed the team into a side that could dominate possession and break down weaker teams at will, to rack up over 25 wins in a season (and which Klopp managed to evolve into, taking the club past 30 wins in a league season, twice in a row). The long-term successful full-back signings that moved away from the Frenchman’s four “big oaks” (four centre-backs as the back four) to more attacking replacements never quite worked out in Houllier’s time, in terms of the team developing as a whole; although later they proved very useful.
Harry Kewell should have become a legend, but after a great start, injuries took their toll. Emile Heskey was a superb foil for Michael Owen to play off, but – full of talent and physicality – lacked self-belief in his own game. The young French lads were worth taking a risk on, and there was no great harm in them not amounting to their potential, but El Hadji Diouf was, in hindsight, a terrible mistake; Nicolas Anelka had done so well on loan, although maybe wasn’t a natural partner for Owen. Diouf was superb at the World Cup, but this was before we knew not to trust players who were superb at World Cups. Milan Baros was later superb at Euro 2004, but never quite found that form in England, and Djibril Cissé, who cost a fortune at the time, arrived only after Houllier was sacked, and as a replacement for Own, was not the ideal striker for Rafa Benítez’s 4-2-3-1 (and anyway, suffered two horrific broken legs that, like Kewell’s constant problems, limited his effectiveness).
I was able to regularly use my season ticket up to 2002, but my personal life fell apart around that time, and I no longer had the money, nor the health, to regularly go to games. It was at this time the team fell apart, too. Dudek, so imperious the season before, was letting in soft shots, the goals dried up, the football became turgid. I ‘called it’ that winter, late in 2002, that Houllier had taken the team as far as he could.
Nowadays I often hate the notion that a manager has “taken the team as far as he could”. It’s guesswork. (Several infamous columns were written in 2006 about Alex Ferguson having taken Manchester United as far as he could.…)
I guessed right, but I was also clinically depressed. I’m not sure I was in the right frame of mind to judge, but it didn’t help that perhaps what I think remains the worst run of results in all my time following Liverpool (since the late ‘70s) came in that dark, dark winter. (I shudder to think of such a run during the social media age. This was early 2003.)
Liverpool had started the season well, even topping the table, but then, in a run of nine league games, lost five and drew four. Months went by without a league win, and the Reds fell from the top to 7th.
By that point I was out. I had taken to writing on a private email forum (populated by a couple of dozen people who did things like run football websites), and was clearly no longer convinced by Houllier. I had been one of the first people invited to write for RAWK when it started back in 2001 (I was the 50th user to register, I think), but as things got worse on the pitch I think I spent most of the final two years of Houllier’s reign on the email group.
This total lack of faith in Houllier was also tied in to my own general lack of optimism, but I remember many of the old chestnut discussions about Alex Ferguson taking six years to win the title with Manchester United, with three of his first four seasons mediocre at best. At that point, Houllier had only had four or five seasons; but once his fifth was poor and his sixth got no better, the writing seemed on the wall.
The problem with this argument is that each different manager you plug into the equation is not Alex Ferguson; some are brilliant, like he had proved to be with Aberdeen, and others are not. Some are suited to the club they join, as he ultimately proved to be with United, but others are not. You can give Roy Hodgson six years at Liverpool or David Moyes six years at United, and all you will get is chaos and anarchy, long-balls and 73 crosses per game, and crowds of 3,000 in the bottom tier (I jest, but the idea is that things were only going to get worse, once they past critical mass).
Of course, almost 20 years ago you could more easily consider giving a manager a long time to turn things around, as that was still fairly normal. But even though I was proved right about Houllier, I’m still not sure if I was prescient or just lucky. I thought I could foresee how bad 2003/04 would be, as I had lost faith; but sometimes managers rebuild teams and turn things around. Bill Shankly did, after several mediocre seasons. But again, he was Bill Shankly.
Looking back, Houllier actually made two very astute signings in 2003 after the Ligue Une-raiding clusterfuck of the summer of 2002, but the injuries to Kewell stopped him from even being the player he was at Leeds, let alone going to a new level, as he had time to do. Steve Finnan proved a great servant, and a key part of Benítez’s trophy-winning teams, but it was too late for Houllier.
Then came Rafa. In the summer of 2004 I recall that I was leaning towards Martin O’Neill (I know!), but I was caught up in a mirage with that. He was a good manager, no doubt, but I was young(er), and naive. That said, he certainly had a way of getting Leicester and Celtic to win things.
I was no expert on Spanish football, but being at the game when Benítez’s Valencia made Liverpool chase shadows for 90 minutes had always struck me as the best visiting performance I’d ever seen, in terms of smothering and making it impossible for the Reds to play. I’d seen Barcelona in the flesh at Anfield, keeping the ball better, but Valencia crushed the ruddy life out of the Reds that night. It only ended 1-0 to the visitors, but it felt like Liverpool could’t breathe.
That said, I didn’t like zonal marking, as everyone kept telling me how bad zonal marking was; until, in late 2004, I finally had zonal marking explained to me by someone who actually understood it (rather than the TV commentators, who just told me it was rubbish), and around that time I just happened to look at a game between Norwich and Middlesbrough on Match of the Day where there were five – FIVE! – goals scored from terrible man-marking at corners, yet nothing was said about man-marking, and it clicked. Aha! All the things Benítez was being criticised for could actually be the things that take the club forward. Studying the data could show that he had the right ideas.
After an indifferent league start and the FA Cup exit to Burnley I wrote a passionate defence of Rafa in January 2005; after the BBC had aired a radio show discussing how badly he was doing, and if he should be sacked. Three months earlier, Cissé’s boot had got caught in the turf and his leg snapped, the bone protruding through his sock; needing pins to repair, and he later said he was close to having it amputated. Given that Michael Owen and Emile Heskey had already left, it wasn’t like Benítez had many striking options left.
Shortly after that January I wrote a syndicated piece that also appeared on Football365 that said Liverpool could actually win the Champions League, detailing how potential opponents were beatable, and stating that if the Reds met Chelsea in the semi-finals then Rafa’s team could do to Chelsea what Chelsea had done to the superior Arsenal side a season earlier; the team that wants it most – to seal their greatness, having virtually wrapped up the league with a toon of leeway – can sometimes feel like it has the most to lose. (We have since seen this time and time again with Pep Guardiola’s sides.)
I finished writing my first book later that season, with a friend flying me out to Istanbul for the final. (Note: Liverpool won the Champions League. I flew in on the day, sitting behind DJ Spoony on the flight, and flew back the next morning, after the best, and maddest, 24 hours of my life. My son, born a few years earlier, remains by far the best thing to ever happen to me, but that was like spending a day on a different planet.)
That summer I got asked to write a weekly column for the official Liverpool website, which I did for the next five years. I got tons of abuse, starting that autumn when Liverpool started the season poorly (“Rafa had to go” frequently entering my inbox), but the team soon turned it around to finish with 82 points whilst winning the FA Cup, which was still, just about, a meaningful trophy (as well as a great game: the best goal I’ve seen in the flesh was Steven Gerrard’s equaliser; I’m not a fan of thunderbolts as much as solo goals, but that was like an Exocet, and it was the last kick of the game, out of nowhere, from 40 yards).
For years, via emails and on forums, starting from the autumn of 2005, I was called a “sunshiner”, and told to take my fucking red specs off whenever I defended Rafa. (These were the more polite criticisms. I had to read links people would send me of posters on forums calling me a paedophile, that I had AIDS and not M.E., that I’d been convicted of benefits fraud, and weirdest of all, that I’d never been to a Liverpool game when I’d been to hundreds. People I’d met at the games, and who sat near me in my season ticket seat in the Lower Centenary as it was at the time, were able to disprove that. I asked friends to stop sharing such links – let people call me whatever they want – and I never felt the urge to google myself, as little good can come from it. I did listen to constructive criticism, which I weighed, and then either used as a means of improving, or a form of motivation, or I dismissed it as wrong.)
It didn’t help that sometimes my pieces were edited, to remove even minor criticisms of players (such as a note about Peter Crouch lacking pace), but I always spoke what I felt to be the truth; it just couldn’t be the whole truth and nothing but the truth on the club’s official website.
Soon, disclaimers started appearing at the foot of my pieces, making clear it was not the club’s official stance. That said, the people who worked for the website were great, and I owe them for picking me out, even if it was an unpaid role for a couple of years.
Equally, to get that chance, I’d spent a lot of time writing a ton of articles and comments, unpaid, on various Liverpool websites, and had committed to writing a book the year before with no promise of any reward, and so it wasn’t as if I hadn’t put in the years of donkey work, in addition to the decade or so spent writing fiction, as a hobby and budding novelist – the time where I worked out how to do this thing called writing. (Overnight success takes a decade, usually.)
In 2006 I even released two football books; one of them a stats tome with Oliver Anderson. When Paul Grech recently reviewed my most recent book he called me a ‘visionary’, and in addition to launching a paywalled site in 2009, before almost anyone else (thanks to good advice I was given, and it’s been a blessing to not have to run nasty advertising to make a buck), being a visionary or pioneer is a pretty cool thing, until people move on and forget, and you’re just some old fart. As I approach my 50th birthday, it’s hard to remain relevant in an era that has cast out many of its elders before they are even out of middle-age. You have to make room for new voices, and fresh ideas, but not to throw out all wisdom in the process.
While things have moved on a hell of a lot since then – stats became analytics – some of the stuff still holds up as good analysis, and I occasionally see something similar to what we did 14 years ago appear as a new idea on some site. (But the advanced stuff these days is well beyond my capabilities. I just hope that, from the past 15 years, I have a good sense of what stats are handy and what ones aren’t, and how to question whatever method or model is being touted – but the arena is now dominated by Physics PhDs!)
We also looked at set-pieces from that season 2005/06: Liverpool had the best record defending them. Who would have known? Even after six months without conceding from a corner, the next that went in had “zonal marking is terrible!” odiously parping from some mouth-breather on TV. While the stats can lie, good data can inform, as Liverpool have proven.
Until recently, the best Liverpool team I’d seen in the Premier League era was the 2008/09 vintage, which ran possibly the best-ever Manchester United side close for the title, and also beat Real Madrid 4-0 at Anfield around the same time it stuffed United on their own patch.
(For the record, my first ever game at Anfield was in 1990, when I was in my late teens. It was October, just after the fateful 18th title had been sealed, and it coincided with the final win – beating Derby County – in a sequence of eight straight from the start, that was a new club record. That was as good as it got, for a long, long time.)
The 2008/09 vintage was miles better than the 2004/05 team that won in Istanbul (which was half a great team, half a team of makeweights or inconsistent players, that rode a beautiful wave), as was the 2006/07 team (not as good as 2009, but far better than 2005), but often managers can only prepare properly for success, and if they do things the right way they may get the rub of the green; but sometimes they can be a great side that loses due to one key moment of bad luck, especially in Europe. Benítez won the final in which his team was second-best, and lost the final that they dominated.
Eleven years ago, 86 points was a hell of a lot; few champions ended up with more than 90 back then, and plenty racked up less.
People said Rafa should have changed things and Liverpool would have won more games, but to win 25 and lose just two could often get you the title; the draws were games that a lot of teams would have lost. Even then, most champions could lose five or six games, and draw up to ten; so every draw was a valuable point gained from what would otherwise have been likely defeats. And this was no ordinary side that just pipped the Reds, in an era (2005-2010) when the Big Four in the Premier League was especially strong in Europe as well.
It just happened to be the Man United of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Dimitar Berbatov, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, as well as several of the old-school homegrown batch. Rafa was criticised for his “rant” about United, but actually, Liverpool produced a great run-in, including a 4-1 win at Old Trafford. Liverpool then battered Arsenal, scoring four times, but somehow Andrey Arshavin had four shots and scored four goals. Shit happens.
Liverpool just happened to have a far cheaper squad than United, a smaller wage bill and fewer homegrown marvels. They had less winning experience, and yet Rafa had United worried. Looking back, United had a lot of respect for that side. In other years it might have won the league, but it peaked at that point. Just as United twice came up against the best Barcelona side in Champions League finals, you can be exceptional, and then face the rare opponent who is even better still.
I obviously defended Rafa the next season, and it was just before the Reds beat United 2-0 at home in October 2009 that I spent the day with him at Melwood; I’d never met or spoken to him before then. But his PA dropped me a line, and I was only too happy to go and hang around, and spend a few hours over lunch talking football, after he’d taken the morning training session (during which I stayed on the balcony watching an excellent 19-year-old goalkeeper train: Peter Gulácsi – whatever happened to him?!)
I didn’t realise at the time that there were rifts with Benítez and the likes of Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard, and that some of the team had lost their faith in the manager. I also didn’t realise quite how bad things were behind the scenes with George Gillett and Tom Hicks, or that Christian Purslow was a total snake (who soon put me on a list of the club’s enemies). It was clear that all of the money Rafa was promised, from the sale of Xabi Alonso (who wanted out a year earlier) and Robbie Keane (who looked strangely lost) did not materialise. The cowboys were cutting corners. Benítez signed a great player in Alberto Aquilani, but he arrived injured and his injury took much longer than expected to heal; and he was not able to get fit and sharp, and then Benítez was gone. The season got off to a bad start, and never fully recovered, although 63 points was still a decent enough return (not great, but not catastrophic), and the Reds almost made the Europa League final.
By the end of that season I was struggling to publicly defend Rafa due to the weight of the abuse I was getting, and it was also clear that some players were not happy with him, and things were unravelling. I messaged Rafa to apologise, and he understood. I was still upset when he was sacked, but also relieved that I didn’t have to keep running the gauntlet of hate. I also didn’t want to see him put through the ringer, although his love of Liverpool became ever clearer after he stayed living on Merseyside.
I wasn’t totally opposed to the appointment of Roy Hodgson in 2010, but looking at his record in detail at the time showed a big failure at Blackburn, whom he essentially got relegated after a massive spending spree on a load of duds (but he was sacked with them marooned at the foot of the table halfway through the campaign, and so he escaped the stigma of relegation, even though they improved their win percentage and league position after he was given the boot). Also, his time at Inter Milan wasn’t as successful as he and others liked to hint at.
He had a very good record in Scandinavia, but most of it was decades earlier, when he was a true pioneer, exporting 4-4-2 to sweeper-land. His more recent teams didn’t seem to score many goals, although his Fulham side famously put four past Juventus, which impressed me, as had getting them up to 7th in the table. That said, it didn’t fool me; they were clearly mostly a solid unit who kept men behind the ball. A sampling error would have people look at that one big win against the Italian giants and assume it summed up Hodgson’s approach. It did not.
I then quit the official Liverpool FC site when it ran a piece – not in their media section, but on the homepage as its main item – from Paul Hayward (that had just appeared in The Telegraph, I think) saying that after the gloomy years of Rafa, brand new boss Roy Hodgson would light up Anfield with attacking football and bring the fans flooding back in joyous droves.
My main exception, aside from it seeming a bit deluded – Hodgson had previously been sold to us as a steady hand (never trust a steady hand) – was that throughout my time writing on the site I was told not to criticise any previous managers – it wasn’t a good look – yet no sooner had Rafa gone than the knife was in his back. This was surely due to Purslow and his bulldog buddy, who created the blacklist of nasty Liverpool fans, on which I found myself. That’s how twisted and paranoid they were.
My vague support of – or rather, lack of total opposition to – Hodgson lasted mere weeks. I didn’t know everything about him, but one thing I did know by then was what a Liverpool manager was supposed to be; and the special bond that is required with fans. He quickly proved that he was not that, or even close. You don’t have to be a Bill Shankly – after all, Bob Paisley wasn’t even remotely similar – but you can’t take the piss.
In preseason Hodgson said he hoped his side didn’t lose 6-0 to Middle Eastern also-rans, and although the friendly was cancelled the next day, it set massive alarm bells ringing.
Still, I cut him some slack. Then before his second league game he said he hoped the Reds wouldn’t lose 6-0 to what was then an unproven Manchester City side. He played two up top, eight at the back, and the team hoofed it long all game. The Reds lost 3-0 and he seemed satisfied. It was twice as good as he hoped! You lucky Liverpool fans! You’ve never had it so good!
Never before or since have I seen such a frightening lowering of standards; gaining a draw in the derby (which he failed to do) famously became “utopia”, after a decade of frequently of winning at Goodison Park. This was the pattern, and it was insulting.
That’s why Hodgson had to go, in addition to the football being so dire. He remains a very capable mid-table manager, who continues to win around 35% of games whether he is managing bigger clubs or smaller clubs. You have to go back 20 years to the last time any of his clubs won more than 46% of their games in a season, and his England win% was a fair way down on Fabio Capello’s, and below Gareth Southgate’s. He was utterly wrong for Liverpool, and that became clear early on.
To suggest that Liverpool fans were deluded and didn’t give him a chance is to ignore the reality of how he handled the job from the first day until his last, six months later. He was rude to the local press, rude about the fans, and while Liverpool were not the powerhouse they were of the 1970s and 1980s, the club had reached two Champions League finals in the previous five years (plus a semi-final and a quarter-final), and almost won the league 12 months earlier.
While he joined the club at a difficult time behind the scenes, he had a lot of support from the executives and certain players, but the signings only added to the sense of a man who didn’t appreciate that he was at Liverpool now, not Fulham, not Örebro, not Neuchâtel Xamax. The bigger the job, the worse Hodgson does; the smaller the job, the better he does. That’s just the type of manager he is: a canny corner-shop manager who can never run a supermarket. (Just ask Iceland.)
Every passing week it felt more wrong. The club had consciously tried to go for an English culture, as if having top Spaniards was a problem. Rather than get an English manager they should have focused on the right manager, irrespective of nationality; ditto in bringing in Paul Konchesky, and a washed-up, hunched-over Joe Cole on superstar wages.
Anyway, in October 2010 I was contacted on Facebook by a guy with about a dozen friends, calling himself John W Henry. I ignored him, obviously. Then a few days later he emailed, and once I realised it was actually the new owner, I met him for lunch in Liverpool. Planned for an hour, it ran over to two, and Hodgson called to see why the owner was late to Melwood.
I was asked to provide some advice, and to just talk about what had been going on at the club. Henry was under the misapprehension that Hodgson had won the league with Inter Milan; he never got close. (They did better immediately once he’d left, finishing 2nd and winning the UEFA Cup.)
Hodgson, full of typical immodesty, once said: “Of course, my track record, if people bothered to study it, would put me in the same category as [Sir Alex] Ferguson enjoys today, but people don’t talk about what I’ve done outside England.”
Finishing 7th and 3rd with Inter Milan (winning just 15 games in that 3rd-place finish) is hardly Fergusonesque, although admittedly he inherited a struggling Inter side that he got up to 7th, albeit one that, like later at Blackburn, had pumped a lot of money into the team. Star man Roberto Carlos left, unable to get on with Hodgson, who wanted to play him as a winger. The season after Hodgson left, Inter won 33% more league games.
Anyway, when Henry was told by someone in Boston earlier in 2010 that Liverpool would be a good club to buy, he went and bought some books, and a couple of them were mine.
I declined to get involved in any permanent or official way (by then it was clear that club politics was not a place I wanted to inhabit, even if I didn’t have a chronic illness), but was happy to answer questions any time he had any. For a couple of years he’d drop me a line or call me up, and I gave my honest opinions.
And of course, in getting to know Henry, and also being told by American TTT subscribers like Jeff Reed who followed US sport obsessively, that their record in baseball was superb (in contrast to the State-side failings of the cowboys, whom Jeff, in particular, had been warning me about for years via email), I also felt happy to vouch for them as owners. That doesn’t mean they knew a lot about football, as they clearly didn’t back then; but they were asking around, trying to learn. I’m sure I was just one of several people canvassed for opinions.
I also regularly did some stuff with stats, that Henry was curious about, but the guys they ended up employing were several levels above what I could ever hope to achieve, which was mostly designed to just to give me information to write about. It was never stats “trivia”, but trying to find patterns and to understand existing research, to help analyse how the Reds were faring; but it wasn’t going to unlock any secret code to how to win games. I wasn’t that smart.
That I backed them from day one doesn’t mean that I agree with every decision they’ve made, or that I think they are only in it out of the pureness of their hearts (they are businesspeople, after all), but after inheriting a cash-strapped relegation-threatened side in 2010, managed by a man out of his depth, and having a mixed few years where experiments failed (albeit after nearly succeeding), they have since turned Liverpool into the club that I didn’t dare dream possible.
Two Champions League finals, winning one? Two Premier League finishes with 97 or more points, winning one? Two more last-day title misses, too? Rising to be ranked the 4th best team – and best-ever English side – in European history (league and European form combined) by the Club Elo Index? All while expanding Anfield, building a new training ground, landing the best boss, producing the world-leading analytics team, and procuring players by selling smart and buying even smarter.
So, back in late 2010 I was telling Henry that Hodgson was a disaster, and, having heard from close members of Kenny Dalglish’s family, I told him to speak to Kenny, who was being ignored in his role at the Academy (and not “down the pub” as apparently the Fulham programme recently claimed), and whom I felt would do a great job on a temporary basis, in terms of lifting the toxic mood. This was before 10,000 empty seats at Anfield, but I could sense that was the road the club was on long before then. Managers can turn things around, but never once it gets that toxic, due to their own self-inflicted problems. Hodgson also showed no evidence that he understood the problems; that he understood anything the job required.
In that sense, I was right about Kenny. After three games there was a sudden change, and a relegation battle turned into form that was Champions League-qualification standard. The football was great, perhaps as the dark force of dull football was gone.
Perhaps it went too well, as Dalglish was then given the job on a permanent basis. But at that point I was swept up in the mood; and Steve Clarke (where’s he now?!) was clearly a very good coach, with Dalglish the figurehead who “got” the club and who could attract the right players. He didn’t have to be a tactical guru if Clarke was doing that.
Now, obviously “getting” the club is not in and of itself enough; but after the insults aimed at fans by Hodgson, someone who would simply stop taking the piss seemed a good idea.
Dalglish’s Reds made both domestic cup finals in 2011/12, winning one and almost taking the other to extra time, having beaten pretty much all the top sides on the way to those finals. Those extra big games left a bit less gas in the tank in the league, and Liverpool kept dropping points – albeit also hitting the woodwork a record number of times, and often being unlucky late in games with opposition keepers making three or four saves in injury time. Other times it was all just a bit flat.
Luis Suarez arrived but at the time couldn’t hit a barn door, while Andy Carroll was a brilliant physical specimen who, it turns out, didn’t want to leave Newcastle and still lived a lifestyle that wasn’t suited to that of an elite sportsman. Stewart Downing was decent and effective, but massively overpriced. Jordan Henderson was also seen as a costly flop, but while John Henry never criticised the player to me, he did ask what I thought, and I said – as I did on these pages – that he was a very good prospect doing a steadying job on the right flank, but that it wasn’t really his position. To me, the experience of a season in the side, in his “wrong” position, would do him good, and that he was a central midfielder. Often key central players start out as youngsters in wider areas, where mistakes are less costly, and then, when more mature, can command the middle of the pitch.
That said, I also held out hope that Carroll could come good, because on his good days he was unplayable; but I now appreciate that bad trainers who don’t look after their bodies are not helpful overall, as they add little to the improvement of others, and they invite injuries. He just wasn’t cut out for the club, and had Dalglish and Damien Comolli chosen to spend that £35m (over £100m with inflation) on someone else they may have both lasted longer at the club.
(Of course, in spending £50m at the time for Fernando Torres, Chelsea were getting a world-class star who also didn’t pay off, so that’s transfers for you. I think Liverpool had the right idea in buying hugely promising 22/23-year-old strikers, but with Suarez they got it right and Carroll they got it wrong. Since then, they have got it right with Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané, Mo Salah and Diogo Jota, just as Benítez had with Torres.)
Taking a call from Boston in March 2012, I was asked about Comolli’s position, and a potential new Director of Football, but I assumed Comolli was going to stay in a rearranged structure and focus on transfers; the main issue, it seemed, was that he didn’t communicate properly with Boston (Comolli says it was because he bought Jordan Henderson). Within days of that phone-call he was sacked. No messing there, then.
Most of my focus is on Liverpool, and beyond that, the Premier League; I’m not an expert in overseas managers or directors of football. I mostly try to be a barometer for how well the Reds are doing, and the context surrounding the performances.
That said, I was told by one future director of football at a big European club, back in late 2010, to advise John Henry to take a look at Ralf Rangnick, whose later work would involve bringing Joël Matip, Roberto Firmino, Naby Keïta and Sadio Mané to the world’s attention. Rangnick was an innovator, a pioneer of the modern German style that, within five more years, would wend its way to Liverpool, just not via Rangnick.
I was never asked to critique Dalglish, perhaps as it was clear he was a hero to me – I had, after all, told them to talk to him in 2010 – but equally, I wasn’t really able to offer any unsolicited defence, given that the season had ended so flatly, and I didn’t have a sense of the team moving forward. I was just confused, as it didn’t feel totally broken, as it had under Hodgson, but didn’t feel totally right either.
This was before I knew about things like expected goals (xG), and maybe some sophisticated underlying numbers could have helped me make a case for Dalglish, but I certainly never suggested replacing him. I was shocked when he was sacked, not least as he felt unsackable! (It’s a great credit to all involved, even if the way he was sacked seemed crude, that he is back as a figurehead, as the club’s biggest living legend.)
Then came Brendan Rodgers, who wasn’t someone I knew a lot about beyond his season in the Premier League with Swansea (who did very well, with lots of possession, but a lot of it in their own half), and who didn’t seem to have much of a CV; but who had clearly impressed John Henry and co. when they came over for the week to watch Liverpool train and to then play Swansea, only for Swansea to out-Liverpool Liverpool.
Rodgers is a great talker, and I think he himself has admitted that, with no playing experience to talk off, he has to talk himself up. But it also leads to the sense of him being a bit of a bullshitter. Most managers are self-promoters, and have to be (and all of them should have the belief that they can win games, as you don’t want them saying they hope they don’t lose 6-0), but Rodgers took it further; not helped by his early mistakes being caught for a fly-on-the-wall documentary, Being:Liverpool. It made him look out of his depth, which was half-true.
At that time I would have taken Benítez back, and suggested that FSG at least speak to him; but they didn’t, and maybe that was the right thing, and after that I stopped messaging Henry (in part as I was getting some abuse online for Dalglish being sacked, despite it having nothing to do with me). I also didn’t want more years of abuse for defending Rafa, but in 2012 it still wasn’t clear that football was changing; by 2013, as Klopp’s Dortmund thrilled the world, it felt that a new style was emerging. Rafa was still to divisive, but the smart fans know he was a great manager in his time at the club.
That said, managers like Jose Mourinho and Diego Simeone are having good seasons with “2010” tactics; as did Leicester in 2016. It doesn’t feel like the prevailing trend, but every now and then it might strike gold (maybe more so in weird seasons).
That said, it’s hard to say even now if appointing Rodgers was the right thing; it so often felt like it wasn’t, yet for a brief while it looked like it could have been a masterstroke. And even then, it didn’t unfold as planned.
As I understood it – although I hadn’t spoken to Henry for a few months by the time Rodgers was appointed – FSG were looking for a new director of football to work with a younger manager, with names like Louis van Gaal and Johan Cruyff being suggested to them back in the spring, but where they felt both would be too difficult to work with. I didn’t really have any viable ideas. Rangnick would have been ideal, looking back, but it was only that summer he started his role as a DoF with the two Red Bull clubs; I only knew him as a manager, and he had quit management the previous season due to an illness similar to mine (but which he had seemed to recover from years later).
Rodgers then announced upon his unveiling that he wouldn’t be working under anyone, which came as a surprise to me, and maybe to the owners. That led to a summer of transfer chaos, as Rodgers made a mess of things, and then the creation of the creation of the transfer committee for January 2013 (Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho), and at no point did I feel like I had a good reading on Rodgers. The passing was nice, but for five months it didn’t really go anywhere, although there was a nice upturn after the two new additions (both as cheap as chips) hit the ground running.
Many fans felt Rodgers was shifty; my worry was more that he was ever-shifting, from idea to idea, with no sense of who he was. Unproven people often try too hard to prove themselves, and he seemed guilty of that, with a bit of a Napoleon Complex thrown in. With Klopp and Benítez, it seemed they were comfortable in their own skin, and even more so in the club’s most important tracksuit.
Rodgers felt in some way phoney, but he was probably just given the job too soon, and trying too hard. He later admitted to being better suited to being a head coach, after his transfer record at the club (and his war with the transfer committee) left too many mistakes. It was the transfer shenanigans that most put me off him, especially after a friend of his in the media put the boot in on Michael Edwards (whatever happened to him?!) as soon as Rodgers was sacked.
Rodgers’ greatest time with the club could almost be distilled into four months, from the start of 2014, when the side won virtually every league game until just before the end of the season. Before that, and after that, it was patchy-to-good at best, and abject at worst.
But what a four months! Wow! It was some of the most exciting football seen in years, and the team was winning games, and possibly winning the league. Anfield was absolutely buzzing, even hours before games.
I still didn’t have a firm sense of how good Rodgers was, in part as the team just could not defend, but almost landing the title won me over, as the results were too good to argue with. My job is to assess the evidence, and if the weight of evidence shifts, alter my opinions accordingly.
Of course, there were virtually no cup games that season, and no Europe, and that could have been a big factor. It certainly didn’t hurt, especially for the ageing Steven Gerrard, having an Indian summer in a new deep playmaking role.
And so I backed Rodgers for almost all of the next year. People said he should have changed his approach in the games that Liverpool did not win in the run-in, but had he changed his approach and Liverpool not won, people would have said he was an absolute headcase for changing after winning week after week after week. As such, I cannot blame him for keeping the same approach, because that was his approach, and for four months is was sensational. At last it seemed like both he and his team had an identity, so why not be true to it?
But that success – nearly landing the title – gave him more leeway with transfers. And that led to his downfall. He bought terribly at Liverpool, on the whole. The committee were more mixed, but they had brought in Sturridge and Coutinho, as well as the unwanted (by Rodgers) Roberto Firmino. Even several of the committee’s “flops” have gone on to be successful internationals, and still light up Italy and Spain with hatfuls of goals and assists. (Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto, where are they now?!)
Although I felt Rodgers had earned the right to be cut some slack, I still found 2014/15 baffling. And it got worse as the season went on. Liverpool were the 5th most expensive team in the Premier League at the time (using the Transfer Price Index model of football inflation I developed with Graeme Riley), and I made an argument about Liverpool being 5th, going into the final weeks of the season, as being “on par”. Rodgers picked up on this, and via one of his assistants I was invited to meet him at Melwood.
But then came the 6-1 defeat at Stoke, after the 3-1 home defeat by Crystal Palace, which itself came after some bad results. From being par, Liverpool finished the season below par, and it was a horrible way to do so. I felt shellshocked.
As such, I did not follow up on meeting Rodgers. As with anyone at Liverpool who has talked to me, before and since, I have told them that I’m interested to learn from them, and they might get something (smaller) of value from talking to me, but that I don’t want to enter into situations where I cannot criticise them if I think it necessary because of any personal loyalties. My integrity is more important than getting to know people at the club, and they have all understood that; some even said they valued it. I’m not someone who is always looking to put the boot in anyway, as that’s not my style (unless the manager is a walking disaster) but I provide what I see as honest appraisals, even if I will have my own flaws and biases.
The revamping of his backroom staff that summer could have reversed Rodgers’ fortunes. As it was, while the coaches may have been talented, it didn’t seem that they were coming in with any great or fresh ideas. There was no visionary to help guide him.
I wrote in the summer of 2015, before the start of that season, that if Jürgen Klopp or Carlo Ancelotti could be procured, which seemed unlikely (Pep Guardiola even less so), then the club should do so; otherwise, stick with Rodgers rather than changing for the sake of it.
The final straw for me was the 3-0 home defeat to West Ham early in the season. It just felt broken by that point. Thankfully the club were sounding out Klopp, and the change would soon come.
At no stage did I feel that I “got” Rodgers, but I feel a lot of that was his efforts to impress in a job that was probably too big for him; and which he handled badly once things started to go wrong after the glorious madness of 2013/14. That said, I may also be wrong in my hunches about “getting” a manager or not; I just think that, as shown in this recollection of my takes, I mostly have a decent sense about these things.
By contrast, I felt I got Houllier (before I lost faith) and Benítez, and I got Dalglish, obviously, even if it wasn’t clear what he would be 20 years on. I simply got that he would be better, at the time, than Hodgson.
I probably “got” Hodgson, in that I quickly smelled his unsuitability. But I never got Rodgers. Even now, I don’t know if he’s great or not. He’s no fraud, for sure, but beyond that I’m still baffled. (If Leicester don’t fall away so badly again this season, then he will be worth taking seriously as a manager, maybe for a club like Arsenal if they are looking – although I think his previous issues working with transfer teams put them off in the past. He is also still relatively young, and like anyone else, can still learn and improve.)
Then came Klopp. From day one I lauded the German. Even when results were bad, I felt that if you didn’t get Klopp you didn’t get football. Maybe you didn’t get life.
He got Liverpool, too. He nailed it, first press conference, in a way that the far less successful, fine-literature-loving Roy Hodgson couldn’t fathom, despite being English, well read, and also well-travelled. Rule one of any club is to try and “get” that club.
Klopp did not try to belittle the club like Hodgson did, to make finishing 12th seem like it was worth an open-top bus. He tried to unite the fans, and people couldn’t even grasp the basic concept of going to the Kop after snatching a late 2-2 draw with West Brom, to try and engender spirit and not to say “I’m happy with this result”. It meant “thank you for backing the team and not leaving early”.
On his unveiling he said he could bring titles to Liverpool within four or five years. Even that seemed brave, after 25 years without a league title and ten years without a European crown, and with financially-doped rivals. Liverpool were ranked the 33rd best team in Europe when he arrived. There wasn’t a ton of money, and big buys would require big sales first.
Too often managers get big jobs on the back of one good season, but Klopp, like Benítez at Valencia (and indeed, Ferguson with Aberdeen), had done things that were, to me, transferable and scalable: won multiple league titles with teams who didn’t normally win league titles (due to monopolies and duopolies), and transferred it to the European stage (Ferguson won the Cup Winners’ Cup, Benítez won the UEFA Cup, and Klopp took Dortmund to a Champions League final, losing narrowly to the richest German club who had just taken their best player).
Even if I didn’t watch every Aberdeen, Valencia or Dortmund game, or know all their methods, the achievements stood out as special.
Now, to get the Aberdeen, Valencia and Dortmund jobs, this trio had done something notable at smaller clubs. But they weren’t clearly all on the trajectory to becoming European and English/Spanish champions. They built great teams at those bigger – but not elite – clubs that were dominant for at least three years.
They earned the right to the biggest jobs based on a serious body of work that too many British managers these days don’t establish before their mates in the media call for them to be installed at the super-clubs. (And on the occasions when these Brits have got those big jobs, they haven’t done well enough to cement their case.)
I didn’t know everything about Klopp’s philosophy, but it was clear that having taken over a near-bankrupt Dortmund and turned them into a stunning team, breaking the German points record on a shoestring budget, he had something special. What he did was no fluke. Now, that doesn’t mean it can automatically be transferred – that the same results will just automatically follow – but just like Ferguson and Benítez, the body of work was impossible to ignore.
Managers lose their edge, but it doesn’t fade overnight. And Klopp has a world-class technical team, under the guidance of Michael Edwards, and some world-class assistants. Klopp, ever since losing his trusty lieutenant, Željko Buvač, back in 2018, has reinvented himself, as Liverpool moved from heavy metal football to a more varied approach, that ranges from Mozart to the Metallica of old. Pep Lijnders, from the Dutch school, is a breath of fresh air; the next generation of genius coach.
And even with an insane schedule this season, and an injury list longer (and more serious) than any I can recall, Klopp has kept Liverpool super-competitive in the Premier League (joint top) and the Champions League (won the group early). This is miles ahead of what he inherited, and it is a sign of the unbelievable progress that people can be pissed off at only being joint top of the league and coasting in Europe with more world-class players out with major knee injuries than most clubs can field if everyone is fit.
I am stereotyped by some as a hopeless, even stupid optimist, but Klopp exceeded my high expectations, and for a while, Rodgers exceeded my more modest expectations. I think the five years between 2004 and 2009 were exceptional from Benítez (but I didn’t foresee two Champions League finals when he arrived, having not even had one since the European Cup days of 1985), and I didn’t see Houllier’s 2001 treble coming.
But overall I think I provide a fairly reliable idea of the team’s prospects, which I don’t revise with every setback, but will do so if the data grows to suggest as much. Wild swings from one extreme to another is unhinged; gradually changing your views with a changing picture is normal.
I’m perhaps more consistently optimistic about the players the club signs, because lots of players come and go, sometimes six or more a season; but managers might arrive twice in a decade.
Players can often more easily change their own fortunes for the better, as they can take control on the pitch, if they are allowed the scope to do so; equally, apart from situations like the shocking collapse of Houllier on the day of that Leeds game, managers are rarely out of action, whilst players can often, through no fault of their own, miss entire seasons.
Every player arrives because of valid reasons through extensive, multi-disciplinary scouting (even if we might not see all their attributes), and some will succeed and some won’t; some will take time, and some won’t. Some could succeed, but then someone amazing emerges from the youth ranks or as a new purchase, and they lose their chance. With 25-30 players, not all can succeed. Some will end up as mere handy squad players, and that is … handy.
The only signing I can remember being extremely opposed to is Mario Balotelli, as I felt he was a bad-news player; causing more trouble than he was worth, to club after club. But once he signed I got behind him, and tried to focus on his clear talents. Yet he failed miserably, and it was no great surprise.
I try to give each player leeway at least into their second season, and sometimes even then, a player will only click in their third season. Jordan Henderson started to really buzz in his third season, but it was only in his eighth and ninth that he became a superstar, lifting the biggest trophies and the national Player of the Year award. I think I defended him stoutly the entire time, although again, his recent seasons exceeded my expectations.
Players are never fixed entities, and if you cannot provide a new player with a framework for him to succeed in the way he did for another club, then he may struggle; conversely, give him a better framework and superior colleagues, and he may do a Diogo Jota, Mo Salah, Virgil van Dijk, Alisson, Sadio Mané, Andy Robertson and Gini Wijnaldum, and take his game, and the team, to the next level.
But on those types of call, you can’t always foretell the flops, when big names disappoint, and you can’t always predict the rough diamond ending up a superstar.
But the better calls I make tend to be those that back the managers I genuinely believe in, and my insight is often right. (My idea at making Torben Piechnik manager with Sean Dundee as his assistant was perhaps, admittedly, a little left field. But I haven’t given up on it yet, as my Piechnik-Dundee 2023 back tattoo proves.)
And so, as we near the end (hurray!), let me take you back to this stage of the season in 2017. Liverpool had just lost 4-1 at Spurs, and I was mired in arguments about why Klopp was the man for Liverpool; fighting battle after battle with people who couldn’t tell how special he was.
Indeed, after two years, “Klopp’s record was no better than Brendan Rodgers’”. I heard it constantly.
My argument at the time was that Klopp was building something, while the win rate of the final 46 league games of Rodgers was well below the 52% he had overall. Indeed, it was Hodgsonesque, low 40s.
Despite a slowish start, Klopp’s overall win record is now over 60%, the best of any Liverpool manager ever, and that includes several Champions League campaigns, unlike Rodgers’, where wins are naturally more scarce (Rodgers won just one of his six). Klopp doesn’t bolster his figures with domestic cup runs or the Europa League. It’s almost all Champions League and Premier League.
Since then I have written a few more books, but the most recent two solo efforts, “Mentality Monsters” and “Perched”, have looked into the methodology of Klopp, and others at the club. They study the social sciences of team bonding, the research into what makes teams in all walks of life successful, the proven methods to improve players, and many other things.
The more you dig, the more you find a club that is doing everything right. It has been thrown a curveball with Covid, but all business models have taken a hit in 2020 (including mine! – if you still have a job, buy my books or become a subscriber to help out). Lots of people are scrabbling to make sense of the financial chaos, as well as the physical threat. We can all only hope that 2021 brings things closer to the old normality.
But Liverpool have implemented, and stuck to, processes that give the team the best chance of success. The way they train, the way they recruit, and various other systems are about as good as they can get. They are cutting edge, although others are naturally starting to copy them. (Retaining titles is also made harder by everyone seeing you as more of a scalp.)
However, although they can try to reduce them, the coaches and physios at Liverpool cannot eradicate injuries, and the more games, with less recovery time, the greater the risk. No proper preseason complicates matters, as Trent Alexander-Arnold pointing out a month or two ago (when lamenting how it wasn’t possible to get as fit as normal) and with a game every few days, some players have to play games as there won’t be proper training on the eve of a game, the day of a game and the day after a game. Often it’s just matches and rest-days, matches and rest-days. The games become the training.
They cannot force the ref or the VAR to look at the foul on Virgil van Dijk that leaves him out for the rest of the season, and indirectly leads to Thiago being out for half the season (at least), as Everton lost control.
They can’t control the international managers starting key Liverpool players six times in just five weeks, nor the injuries sustained on those trips. They cannot control the litany of tight and even insanely incorrect decisions that have gone against the club in less than one third of a campaign, that are at a record high. (Three of the five goals disallowed for offside for all Premier League clubs this season that were later deemed by a neutral to be too tight to call, due to the margin of error, were Liverpool’s. The closest a ball has ever got to being over the line but not over the line was Liverpool this season. These are minuscule margins. Winning goals have been dubiously chalked off in the final seconds, red-card fouls missed, and all kinds of madness.)
They cannot make the various teenagers and other rookies who do not have the wily nous (and sometimes the physical heft) to play like they are seasoned pros; they can just prepare them to do their best, which they have done. But having two or three rookies in the XI will lower its overall understanding, and its ability to manage games.
Klopp and co. can improve these players, but it takes time, and for them to gain vital experience that only comes from playing. Some of them have yet to even play in front of proper crowds. They are doing great, but they are not seasoned campaigners, unlike the team of the past two seasons. Even Trent Alexander-Arnold was only half the player at 18 that was at 21. Curtis Jones has been great, and is the physically strongest, but he’s not yet able to read the game like a 25-year-old, as he’s just 19. Thiago is not on hand to run the midfield, as his knee was nearly ruined by Richarlison’s studs.
All the club can do is set everything up in order to compete to be the best, and that has been done. Beyond that, you are often in the lap of the gods.
For a couple of years the club has been the best around (the previous two seasons saw Man City win one league title and have a below-par follow-up, with no European glory – but Liverpool won a league title after winning the Champions League), and even now, with all that’s gone against them, the Reds are joint top of the table and through to face Red Bull Leipzig in the knockout stage of Europe’s premier competition. Even with half a dozen major injuries and a further half a dozen other problems. Even after having three goalkeepers sharing the gloves, and 13 (THIRTEEN!) different centre-back partnerships already, in 21 games; with half a dozen right-backs, including emergency stand-ins.
You can nitpick and find fault, based on the ever-increasing standards, but even last season, when winning an all-time European record of 26 of the first 27 league games, the Reds were not faultless; just as, when losing three times to Arsenal in quick succession this summer, Liverpool were by far the better side each time – and yet people got overexcited about Mikel Arteta on the back of it, which I said I found odd at the time, and fixated on the results, not the flow of the game or the balance of chances.
(Personally, I’ve never been sure about him, as he was merely a good coach when appointed, and sometimes they transfer to managerial stardom and sometimes they don’t. I felt he got lucky against Manchester City and Liverpool in the summer, but maybe has had bad luck in other games.)
It may have helped had Arteta, like Klopp, Benítez and Ferguson, gone and gained experience in that specific role at a lower level, and worked his way up, to have both the first-hand knowledge but also the CV to fall back on when times get tough, that says “I’ve done this before”. How do you quantify what Arteta did at City when Guardiola was the man in charge? Equally, it should have been a good learning curve, but not necessarily a finishing school. Klopp had his at Mainz, with seven years, and improved further with seven years at Dortmund.
And so, to conclude, when Klopp arrived I was madly optimistic, but thought that Liverpool would perhaps never get 90 points again in my lifetime. It had been 27 years, after all, and another 27 years would have taken me into my seventies. To get 90 points seemed like Shangri-La. I thought Klopp might just about manage that, as an upper level for a club that was 4th or 5th in terms of squad and £XI value. And at the time, it had no Champions League income, don’t forget; with just one qualification (an abject failure once there) in the previous five years.
Now, people are disappointed that Liverpool might not get into the 90s for points, and get disappointed when they don’t reach Champions League finals. Some get more than disappointed, and go all postal. The Wexiters pop up again, ready to say “I told you so”.
There may be further great times ahead – the club and the team remain healthy (in terms of age profile), vibrant and full of further potential – but don’t be a miserable git and miss these, arguably the greatest of all times.
Pinch yourself, and get back to enjoying the ride. The rules are different this season, the challenge of retaining the title is harder, but with an unprecedented injury list, less time to prepare for games, and VAR on drugs, we have to take the pleasure where we can. We have Jürgen Klopp, and where there’s Klopp there’s hope.