Departing football managers can usually predetermine little aside from the method of their execution. But after nine superb years which have produced a Premier League title and Champions League victory, Jürgen Klopp has earned far more than that.
The news of his surprising departure on Friday 26 January sent shockwaves through a Liverpool faithful fully expecting their leading man to at least see out his contract – they can perhaps be forgiven for forgetting that the indefatigable Klopp is, in fact, human.
But instead, evoking fellow Liverpool stalwart Bill Shankly in 1974, he has decided it is time to go.
Whoever takes on the mantle will find replicating Klopp’s achievements a huge challenge
There are many more similarities with the former manager’s exit than simply reverberating shock and disbelief. “The pressures have built up so much during my 40 years in the game that I felt it was time to have a rest,” a then 58-year-old Shankly explained of his decision. Half a century later, expressed with his trademark poise and dramatic breaths, it was up to Klopp to express similarly exhausted sentiments.
Unlike Shankly, who struggled to adapt to his new life after departure and would die seven years later in 1981 of a heart attack, one suspects that Klopp will indeed be back. Just as he took a break after leaving Borussia Dortmund before moving to Merseyside, another job will surely wait in the wings. With his impressive record, there is no club in Europe who would not take him.
The question for Liverpool now is how to stage manage his departure and usher in a new and suitable replacement. Unlike in 1974, when it was a straight ‘Boot Room’ swap for Bob Paisley, there is no obvious internal candidate. The current favourite, ex-Red and now Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso, may well get the nod. But whoever takes on the mantle will find replicating Klopp’s achievements a huge challenge.
Fans will no doubt hope that there are not echoes to the past of a different kind. When Kenny Dalglish made the surprise decision to depart Liverpool in 1991, it would leave the club without a first division title for nearly three decades. And in the 11 years since Sir Alex Ferguson left rivals Manchester United, the club has continually failed to replicate the huge successes of his tenure.
Given the seismic successes of Manchester City in recent years, Liverpool’s ability to keep pace has been extraordinary. Were it not for their persistent challenge, City may well have ran away as league winners even more regularly and with far more ease. One suspects this will be news relished on the other side of the North West.
Liverpool’s squad has already required at least one if not two major rebuilds during Klopp’s reign, and given the advancing years of several of their leading players, another one may be required soon. It is a task which a manager with some teeth and nous will be required for, and so the timing of Klopp’s decision at least allows for plenty of consideration.
But as what will now be the German’s last season in charge comes hurtling to an end, with Liverpool still in contention for four trophies, Reds fans will be wondering why it all must be over so soon.