Thu. Feb 22nd, 2024

There has perhaps never been a better time to be unemployed in Europe—at least if you’re a top-tier soccer manager.

There has perhaps never been a better time to be unemployed in Europe—at least if you’re a top-tier soccer manager.

The industry known for its low job security, erratic bosses, and suffocating public scrutiny has suddenly found itself with a glut of plum gigs ready to hit the job market. Last week, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp announced that he would be leaving his post at Anfield in June after nine grueling years in charge. Days later, Xavi Hernandez said that he also planned to quit the dugout at FC Barcelona at the end of the season.

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The industry known for its low job security, erratic bosses, and suffocating public scrutiny has suddenly found itself with a glut of plum gigs ready to hit the job market. Last week, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp announced that he would be leaving his post at Anfield in June after nine grueling years in charge. Days later, Xavi Hernandez said that he also planned to quit the dugout at FC Barcelona at the end of the season.

For any candidate with the right resume—ample experience, a few trophies at home, and preferably an accent that makes “gegenpressing” or “tiki taka” sound good—these are the opportunities of a lifetime. They’re also the product of an increasingly thankless task that leaves coaches barely clinging to their sanity.

“I am a positive guy, but the battery levels keep running out,” said Xavi, whose fourth-place Barça side is considered in Spain to be in full crisis. “All at some point, you realize there’s no point in staying.”

Xavi’s misfortune and Klopp’s utter exhaustion will be someone else’s chance to take on one of the most coveted jobs in sports. The hours are bad, but the pay is good, and the benefits come in the form of unlimited tracksuits and the occasional piece of gaudy silverware. But Liverpool and Barcelona aren’t the only gigs available at the biggest soccer management careers fair in recent memory.

Any coach ready to throw himself to the lions in Italy’s Serie A will find that AS Roma is looking for a new boss after firing José Mourinho in mid-January. And that’s before getting into the gigs that aren’t officially open yet, but look highly likely to become vacant in the near future.

Manchester United, now under new leadership from the Ineos group, will probably choose to dismiss manager Erik ten Hag and start over (again) if he fails to lift the club from eighth place in the Premier League standings. The same holds true for Mauricio Pochettino at Chelsea if he can’t guide the club back into European competition next season. His team, assembled for around $1 billion, currently sits in 12th.

Then comes a summer of high-profile international soccer, with the European Championship taking place in Germany and the Copa America across the U.S. Beyond being monthlong soccer parties, both events are also traditionally coaching bloodbaths.

Top of the list in Europe is the England national team, where Gareth Southgate is heading into his fourth major tournament and only has a contract through 2024. He has already cast doubt on his own future, raising the possibility that someone can take over a generation of young English talent just in time for the 2026 World Cup.

As for South American jobs, Lionel Scaloni has said publicly that he isn’t sure how long he can stay in charge of Argentina, despite winning the World Cup last winter in Qatar. The problem isn’t desire or lack of playing talent—Lionel Messi is still on the team, after all—but rather the endless strain of operating with tens of millions of fans second-guessing your every decision.

In a surprisingly candid news conference last week, Klopp addressed the job’s crushing pressure and the toll it has taken on him. In a league where the average managerial tenure lasts under two years, Klopp’s 8.5 years on Merseyside have made him the Premier League’s elder statesman. Only two other managers, Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola and Brentford’s Thomas Frank, have been in their current roles longer than five years.

“I’ve realized my resources are not endless,” said Klopp, with Liverpool in first place. “We are not young rabbits anymore. This club needs a manager on top of his game, and at the top level. I still think it is the right thing to do. I’m convinced it is right.”

That said, if Klopp is in the market for something more humanely paced, he would be an ideal candidate to coach a national team. He’s proven his merits as a tournament manager, winning domestic cups in Germany and England as well as the 2019 Champions League. Klopp’s pedigree also makes him a highly convincing candidate for many more countries than just his native Germany.

“It’s surprising, but I understand him,” said Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti, who was linked with his own move to Brazil’s national team until finally signing an extension in Spain. “Sometimes, after a long period in the same club, with the same players, you can lose a bit of motivation. That’s what happened to Klopp at Liverpool, where he’s done a fantastic job…You have to congratulate him for his self-awareness.”

What Klopp leaves behind—before feeling himself turn stale—is a nearly perennial title contender that hasn’t conducted a coaching search in almost a decade. There is no question that the club is better off currently than when he first took over. The only trouble now, as Liverpool searches for a replacement, is that it has to compete with so many of European soccer’s other elite teams to find one.

Write to Joshua Robinson at Joshua.Robinson@wsj.com

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