Something had gone very stale at Liverpool for me recently. Thinking back to the last international break a month ago; we had just been beaten 3-0 at home to West Ham, and had a trip to Old Trafford coming up next. Usually the international breaks are agonising for me, as I’m desperate to get back to club football – the proper stuff. But that time it felt like a respite. And as the Manchester United game approached, I took in a deep breath and thought ‘right, let’s get this over with then.’ The optimism had been sucked out of me, and suddenly I was approaching each game with apprehension, and just crossing my fingers that we didn’t humiliate ourselves. There was precious little light on the horizon, and with each passing fixture it just felt like we were going through the motions of waiting for the result that was the final straw for Brendan Rodgers.
It had been that way for some time. Each week I tried to build myself up, look for some hint that the next game would be the one where we turned things around. But we’re probably coming up to a year now since the last time I looked forward to a game as much as this Saturday’s against Tottenham.
Admittedly the first game of the season always carries a certain sense of anticipation, so playing Stoke in August had me enthused. But with it came a nervousness, as memories of the final game of last season haunted the fixture, and made it more a case of recovering some dignity and praying that those dark days were behind us. Prior to that, a semi-final at Wembley is always a big occasion, but we faced Aston Villa at a time when we were slumping back to mediocrity after a brief run of form, so the expectancy that we should progress to the final almost made the build-up more worrisome than exciting.
Going to White Hart Lane feels like a new dawn. There’s now a reason to believe that change is coming. And win, lose, or draw on Saturday, that is something we can put our faith in. We’re on a better track, and while the transformation won’t be instantaneous, each game is now a learning curve and we get to watch as our new manager adapts and reacts to the challenge ahead of him. Whereas it seemed that Rodgers had hit a dead end and was flogging a dead horse in his attempt to revitalise us, we now have a proven winner at the helm. Even if our results in the next few games are akin to what we would’ve seen under Rodgers, we can now believe that the problems will eventually be fixed, instead of just being told that that is our level and we should accept it.
Jürgen Klopp has unified Liverpool in a way we had been crying out for for years. People said the same of Kenny Dalglish when he returned in 2011, and he did do so after a period of turbulence, but he was never the long-term solution. Brendan Rodgers was meant to be the one who would pull the club together and guide us in the right direction for years to come, but he lacked the experience and authority to justify persisting with him through the tough times. We needed evidence that our man in charge knew how to win things and claim silverware, and Rodgers just did not bring that. Klopp, on the other hand, has several cups and titles to show for his years at Dortmund, so the proof is in the pudding for what his methods achieve.
Jamie Carragher recently said, ‘When I played under Benitez I didn’t agree with everything he said but I believed a lot more of it because it seemed wrong to question him when he had a proven track record, winning titles with Valencia’. Jürgen Klopp will bring this exact same mentality to our players. Under Rodgers, though they likely wouldn’t admit it, if he gave our players instructions that they weren’t quite sure about, in the backs of their minds they would have found themselves thinking ‘does this guy really know what he’s doing?’ If any such thoughts creep into the minds of our players now, they can simply look to the two Bundesliga titles, the German Cup, and the Champions League final that Dortmund got to against all odds, and their doubts will be put to rest.
Mediocrity has been allowed to seep into our club, as Rodgers’ tenure heavily relied on employing mid-table calibre personnel, and hoping the Liverpool would improve them instead of vice-versa. The manager and coaching staff offered no x-factor at all, and our best players consist of injury-prone or inconsistent footballers. Klopp may have arrived just in the nick of time before the damage became irreversible, and now we only have to back him and give him however long he needs to fix things and heave us out of this lull.
And in a strange way, I feel that Klopp needs us just as much as we need him. This isn’t any ordinary manager; this is a man who thrives on being the underdog, defying odds, and achieving the impossible. He takes young players and turns them into stars. He makes a team greater than the sum of its parts. The hope was that Rodgers would develop into this type of manager, but those claims were somewhat force-fed to us and we were told to blindly believe them. Now the pretender has made way for the real deal. LFC still has its fair share of issues, but they’re ones that Klopp relishes overcoming, and he knows exactly how to conquer the demons that have plagued us for so long. If it isn’t a match made in heaven, I don’t know what is.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)