Thu. Feb 22nd, 2024

Jürgen Klopp’s shocking announcement Friday that he will be stepping down as Liverpool’s manager at the end of this season after almost nine years at the helm of England’s second most successful club was, in a strange way, sort of fitting.

There was the man who restored the Reds to their former glory by winning six trophies — including a Champions League title and Liverpool’s first domestic crown in 30 years — sitting for an interview, his voice thick with emotion as he almost apologetically explained to the club’s fans why he wants (and needs) to leave the place where he became a legend. The place where, by the way, he currently has Liverpool sitting at the top of the Premier League standings.

Klopp was made for Anfield. Right from his arrival in 2015, the club’s nation of supporters embraced him as one of their own: an approachable, down-to-earth guy who wore his emotions on his sleeve. You never had to wonder what Klopp was thinking on the sideline or in a post-match press conference. This was a manager who bled red like they did. His burning passion matched theirs.

That fire eventually burned itself out. Klopp informed Liverpool’s owners of his plans in November. On Friday, he unburdended himself to the faithful. 

“I love absolutely everything about this club,” he said. “I love everything about the city, I love everything about our supporters. I love the team, I love the staff. I love everything. That I still take this decision shows you that I am convinced it is the one I have to take. 

“I am — how can I say it? — running out of energy.”

Stunning as that heartfelt admission was, it’s now easy in the cold light of day to see that Klopp’s tenure on Merseyside was never going to last as long as his most esteemed predecessors’.

Liverpool has had just 21 permanent managers throughout its 131-year history. The names are iconic: Bob Paisley. Bill Shankly. Kenny Dalglish. Rafa Benitez. Klopp is as revered as any of them, if not more. In less than nine years, the German became part of the fabric of a gritty city made famous by its namesake soccer team as much as by ship building or the Beatles. That was true even before Klopp’s signature triumphs: winning the club’s sixth European title in 2019 and then, finally, the Premier League the following year.

That long-awaited English title instantly cemented Klopp’s legacy. If not for wealthier, Pep Guardiola-led Manchester City, he’d surely have won a couple more.

It’s been a treat to watch Klopp and Guardiola match wits over the last almost-decade, two of the best coaches of their generation going up against each other several times a season. If that was to change, it always seemed like the latter would be the first to move on. Guardiola departed Barcelona when that club was at its peak. He spent just three years in Germany with Bayern Munich. Instead, it was Klopp who said he would stay away from the sideline for at least a year before considering his future. 

Liverpool’s brass now has the unenviable task of replacing someone irreplaceable. The early favorite is Spaniard Xabi Alonso, who helped Liverpool win the Champions League as a player under Benitez in 2005. Alonso has emerged as one of the world’s leading young coaches with Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga. Surely he would relish the opportunity to lead his former team in the sport’s most competitive domestic circuit. 

Of course, the hope among Reds backers was that Klopp would never leave. Why would he? He’s only 56. Sir Alex Ferguson coached Manchester United into his 70s. Former Reds and current Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson is 76.

Friday was the day that Liverpool fans everywhere have long dreaded, and it hurts all the more because it came seemingly out of nowhere: Klopp still has two years remaining on his contract, and he’s still at the pinnacle of the managerial game.

“This news was always going to be a body blow to the club whenever it came — I just thought it would be another few years away,” former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, echoing the thoughts of many, told Sky Sports. “What a manager. What a man.”

What motivation for Klopp’s players to send him off as a champion. It’s one thing to be leading the table today. It would be quite another for Klopp’s final act at the club he has become synonymous with to be winning another Premier League title before walking away. Liverpool are five points clear of second place City, although the Sky Blues have played one fewer game. There’s a lot of season left, but it’s Liverpool’s title to lose.

If it must end for Klopp at Anfield after nine incredible seasons, it might as well be with a win.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports, and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on X at @ByDougMcIntyre.

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