The Klopp Era ends. What now?

klopp scarf
Daniel Woods

Following Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s decision to leave the club at the end of the 2023/24 campaign, Impact’s Daniel Woods delves into a list of possible replacements to fill the gaping hole that the German will undoubtedly leave. 

It’s official. Jurgen Klopp is leaving Liverpool FC at the end of the season. The German manager has left an indelible mark on a generation of Kopites: he’s one of the few men who stands alongside legends such as Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish in the club’s storied history.

While Klopp has stated that he has no intention of managing another club for the foreseeable future, his departure comes with a cruel and unexpected twist – his entire backroom staff is leaving with him. Pepijn Linders, the Dutch assistant manager that many credit for shaping the distinctive “heavy metal” style of football that’s brought Liverpool such success, is also departing.

Klopp has built a dynasty

In July 2020, Klopp and his team secured the club’s first Premier League title since its inception, their first in the top-flight since the 1989-1990 season. He has led Liverpool to Champions League glory in June 2019 for the first time in 14 years, following their defeat to Real Madrid in the 2018 final. He’s also secured a litany of domestic and minor international titles for the side. Klopp has built a dynasty. Who could possibly replace him?

The familiar face – Xabi Alonso

The favourite for the role is Xabi Alonso, who currently manages Bayer Leverkusen. Many fans are on board with this choice despite the relative nascence of his career. The Spaniard is only five years into management and is already challenging German titans Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title, in a manner all too reminiscent of Klopp’s stint at Borussia Dortmund.

Alonso’s tactical approach differs from Klopp’s; he favours a 3-4-2-1 over Liverpool’s 4-3-3, but it’s not hard to see his style adapting. His use of Jeremie Frimpong as an attacking right wing-back could prove to be the solution to Trent Alexander-Arnold’s defensive problems, and Andy Robertson would be well-suited to match the role on the left-hand side. Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah (provided he remains at the club) could also invert into more central positions, akin to Florian Wirtz and Jonas Hoffmann to support Darwin Nunez as the 9. The only question, is who would play alongside Alexis Mac Allister in the double-pivot that Alonso plays?

Defensively, Alonso favours a high press and prefers his squad to quickly regain possession rather than reset into formation upon losing the ball. This seems like a necessity for any manager who takes over from Klopp, as his entire side is built around the gegenpressing philosophy that has been imprinted at the club.

The Spaniard is celebrated as a club legend in Liverpool, where he played from 2004 to 2009. Notably for his exploits during the “Miracle in Istanbul”, in which the side clinched the Champions League title from AC Milan by coming back from a 3-0 deficit. Alonso himself was on the scoresheet, providing the equalizing goal which took the game to penalties.

Some fans may take issue with Alonso’s career still being in its infancy

However, some fans may take issue with Alonso’s career still being in its infancy. His managerial experience is confined to Leverkusen, and he has no silverware to his name. While many are willing to dismiss this as inconsequential, some fans may express reservations about appointing a relatively unproven manager to as prestigious a position as Liverpool Football Club.

Despite seeming to be untested – and acknowledging that may change come the end of the season – Alonso’s appointment would be met with significant enthusiasm from fans who could see the returning club legend as a revitalizing force for a club grappling with a task as daunting as replacing Klopp.

The damaged goods – Julian Nagelsmann

When it comes to faces of the new generation, few are more well-known or more divisive than young German Julian Nagelsmann. The thirty-six-year-old was infamously the subject of the most expensive managerial transfer of all time – with Bayern Munich spending 25 million euros to poach him from rivals RB Leipzig.

His career has been turbulent of late. His shock mid-season dismissal from Germany’s most successful side due to being one point behind Borussia Dortmund in last season’s title race, led to a short-term contract as head coach of the German national team until the end of Euro 2024. After that Nagelsmann would most likely be subject to a bidding war, which Liverpool will surely have their eyes on.

He also favours a gegenpressing style, being raised in the Red Bull football group, with a more possession-based style. The German is recognized for his tactical flexibility around this central principle, with his teams at Hoffenheim, Leipzig, and Bayern looking vastly different while all applying a similar philosophy.

His use of Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry as inverted wingers and Alphonso Davies as an attacking fullback to provide width echoes Klopp’s use of Sadio Mane, Salah, and Alexander-Arnold. His double pivot of Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka provide natural roles for Mac Allister and another midfielder, while his use of Thomas Muller as a 10 behind Robert Lewandowski, could be recreated with any of Liverpool’s extremely skilled attacking midfielders and Darwin Nunez.

It is hard to imagine replacing Klopp with a colder, hands-off manager would ever work

His man-management is also an area in which he matches Klopp. He believes “thirty percent of coaching is tactics, seventy percent social competence.” Liverpool’s squad is built on trust and strong bonds – it is hard to imagine replacing Klopp with a colder, hands-off manager would ever work.

While some fans may deride the end of Naglesmann’s tenure at Bayern and much of his reputation rides on Germany’s performance in the Euros, Naglesmann’s youth and innovative coaching style make him a key candidate for replacing Klopp and building a dynasty of his own.

Something completely new

It is also completely possible that this tactical continuance isn’t a requirement or a desire of Fenway Sports Group. The manager market is weak now, but Klopp intends to stay on until the end of the season. It is possible that completely new managers will be available by then. It’s also possible that a currently free manager could be snapped up. Antonio Conte, Graham Potter, Jose Mourinho, and several other managers who have been down on their luck lately are available.

Another, less-likely and less-touted, possibility is that we see a situation similar to Mikel Arteta’s role at Arsenal where Liverpool snap up a promising young assistant manager to transform into a club-specific leader.

Replacing a manager of this stature is nigh on impossible to get right the first time

We’ve seen in the past that replacing a manager of this stature is nigh on impossible to get right the first time. Barcelona have never seen the success they had under Pep Guardiola since. Manchester United have been floundering since Sir Alex Ferguson left, while Arsene Wenger departing Arsenal threw them into a disarray that they have only just clawed out of.

Whatever move Fenway Sports Group makes next, it needs to be the right one. Jurgen Klopp has built an elite, title-challenging squad that he’s leaving in the hands of his successor.

The question is, who can turn that into a title-winning one?

Daniel Woods

Featured image courtesy of Lloyd Kearney via Unsplash. Image use license found here. No changes were made to this image.

In article image 1 courtesy of @bayer04fussball via Instagram. No changes were made to this image. 

In article image 2 courtesy of @germanfootball_dfb via Instagram. No changes were made to this image. 

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