TWO years is an awfully long time for a honeymoon but the great Jurgen Klopp love-in is finally wearing thin.
This week marked the second anniversary of the German’s messianic arrival at Anfield – a move which began the influx of A-list managers into the Premier League.
Yet while Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have all presided over clear and present progress, Klopp has been indulged due to the sheer force of personality for some time now.
When Jose Mourinho rolls up at Anfield for Saturday’s ‘English Clasico’ (like the Spanish one only with far fewer Galacticos and far fewer goals), he’ll doubtless wonder why some managers are sent to the stands for venturing inches outside their technical areas, while others are allowed to act like maniacs for 90 minutes because they’re considered loveable goofballs.
Klopp certainly has the capacity to please the radio phone-in loons who, when asked which quality they most value in a manager, invariably reply: “Passion, innit”.
But team-building? Not so much.
Do Klopp’s Liverpool look any more like a side with realistic ambitions of winning the Premier League or Champions League, as their self-styled ‘big-club’ status suggests?
Because during the Rafa Benitez era, Liverpool at least gave that impression – reaching two Champions League finals, winning one, and going down the final straight with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United once.
Klopp’s arrival – a genuine coup and an apparently glove-like fit – was supposed to restore Liverpool to contention for those major prizes; to make them an elite club again.
Yet that is not how they have been regarded by elite players for some while. Their one world-class player, Philippe Coutinho, was desperate to flee to Anfield this summer. Just as the previous one, Luis Suarez, had been.
That Barcelona’s advances for Coutinho were resisted meant that Klopp has remained on-message with the club’s American owners, Fenway Sports Group – but he might soon need to start directing some of his famous energy towards berating the club’s hierarchy.
We hear far less about Liverpool’s transfer committee than we did when Brendan Rodgers was frequently briefing against it, but the four-man panel are not getting any better at their jobs.
How can a club be so desperate for a centre-back that they are willing to spend an astronomical £60million on Virgil Van Dijk, yet have no back-up plan when Southampton decide not to sell to them?
And the Saints are sick to the back teeth of being used as Liverpool’s feeder club, by the way, and will NOT let the Dutchman go to Merseyside in January either.
So having missed out on the commanding defender they needed, Anfield’s wise men instead decided Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is worth £35million plus add-ons.
And yet they remain in their jobs.
Meanwhile, Liverpool’s head physio Andy Renshaw has been sacked, despite a good record in avoiding injury lay-offs – unless he was blamed for the early-season ‘back injury’ Coutinho suffered from when Barcelona were sniffing…
All in all, it’s a dysfunctional club, being carried by its hyperactive front man.
After a promising 2016 – two (lost) Cup Finals and second place in the Premier League on January 1 – this calendar year has seen Liverpool slip back into mediocrity, with 15 wins, 12 draws and nine losses hardly the record of a top club.
Liverpool will welcome United after just one win in seven games, since they stuffed Arsenal 4-0 and promptly bought the Ox from them.
It is only Klopp’s extraordinary record against top-six rivals – two defeats in 20 matches – which has staved off a genuine crisis, but this also shows how desperate the German’s side have been against the Premier League’s lesser lights.
Before the United match kicks off, they will be naming a stand after Kenny Dalglish before the United match kicks off – a friendly old fixture to choose for some pomp and ceremony.
But echoes of the club’s glorious history are probably the last thing Klopp needs just now.
Mourinho will fancy United to soak up pressure and pick off a Liverpool side who defend with legs akimbo.
Serious trouble will be looming if he cannot extend his record in red-letter fixtures in their matches against United, then Tottenham at Wembley.
That was a venue the Kopites used to refer to as ‘Anfield South’. But that was a very long time ago.
SO how can we improve international football?
That’s the question they keep asking during the soul-destroying desolation of each international break.
But Uefa’s radical answer has already been made and it is this: ‘Simple, we’ll confuse the Hell out of everyone’.
So next season, instead of heading straight into Euro 2020 qualification, European countries will contest the Uefa Nations League. In that they will be divided into four divisions, according to the co-efficient ranking system.
Each will then be sub- divided into four groups of three, with sides playing the other two nations home and away, before those group winners in the top flight head into semi-finals and finals in the summer of 2019.
Yet even the overall champions will not be guaranteed a place in the Euro 2020 finals.
For that, 20 of the 24 finalists will be decided by qualifiers being held from March to November 2019.
The final four places will be go to one in each of the Nations League’s four divisions — meaning one of the worst 15 nations in the rankings — from Azerbaijan down — will be guaranteed a finals place.
And where will the finals be held? In 13 different venues from Dublin and Baku.
So international breaks will no longer be boring. Not while you try to work what the hell is going on.
AFTER failing to qualify for the World Cup, Gordon Strachan claimed Scotsmen are too wee to succeed at football.
“Genetically, we are behind. In the last campaign we were the second smallest…,” said boss Strachan sounding all scientific and smart, before he added his own punchline: “ . . . after Spain.”
Yeah, Spain, the winners of two European Championships and one World Cup in the past decade.
It was never like this in the heyday of Roy of the Rovers, when Hot-Shot Hamish (right) was so genetically blessed he couldn’t fit into his own jersey.
GREAT news for Roy Hodgson — Iceland qualifying automatically for the World Cup makes the defining result of his England reign look rather less ridiculous.
He’ll enjoy a similar feeling if, after Crystal Palace’s relegation is confirmed, he leads them clear of having the worst record in Premier League history.
AS sure as he enjoys looking at himself in the mirror, Cristiano Ronaldo will win the Ballon d’Or.
But after the list of 30 nominees was announced, Harry Kane deserves to be the first Englishman to finish in the top three since Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard 12 years ago.
SPURS’ record playing anywhere other than Wembley since February 19 in all competitions is frankly staggering — played 20, won 19, drawn none, lost one, goals scored 64, goals conceded ten.
Had Tottenham delayed the bulldozers at White Hart Lane by a year, they would have won the title this season.
THE RFU have launched their eighth new England kit in three years.
According to the marketing claptrap, the red-and-grey effort is “inspired by distraction principles, the red fade feature designed to make it harder to distinguish aspects of the body during the tackle.”
Which is not the case if you actually pay £95 for a replica shirt.
Then they’ll have definitely seen you coming.
The summer transfer window was one the craziest we have ever seen.
Take a look at the most profitable transfers of ALL time.
And here are the Premier League players whose wages made them the most expensive per minute played.