Liverpool supporters have welcomed the news that Fenway Sports Group have extended Jurgen Klopp’s contract. The American owners have been so impressed by the German’s impact that, a mere 10 months into his tenure, they have locked him into the job until 2022. “Not to do so would be irresponsible,” an FSG statement said.
It is an act of madness; far from being a positive development, it reflects the haphazard way Liverpool are being run.
Klopp was under contract until 2018, with the option to stay at Anfield another year. The 49-year-old certainly transformed the mood around the club since he replaced Brendan Rodgers in October. He has a bouncy, upbeat personality and created a surge of optimism on the Kop. Perhaps his biggest impact, though, was across the Atlantic.
Little more than a year ago, FSG were talking about selling the club. The phrase “monetize the asset” had replaced “win the league,” but Klopp reignited the owners’ enthusiasm. The Boston-based group have dismissed a number of recent approaches from potential investors with contempt. They have simply ignored any advances. The problem is that FSG have no clear plan as to how to take the club forward apart from placing their trust in the manager.
The lack of strong leadership on Merseyside has been a feature of FSG’s six years of ownership, a time in which the club have won just one trophy and qualified for the Champions League just once. Wild mood swings have become a feature of life at Anfield: boundless optimism one week, angry negativity the next. Both of FSG’s previous managerial appointments, Kenny Dalglish and Rodgers, were hailed as saviours and then sacked ignominiously amid rancour and derision from a hysterical support base.
In short, the problems run far deeper than the dugout. There is no infrastructure in place to support a manager. The managing director, Ian Ayre, will depart the club next summer having never had the trust of FSG or the ability to steer a club like Liverpool along the path to glory.
The academy is a mess. It has been hit badly by two years’ worth of cost-cutting. There has been no coherent policy on signing players. Power has swung between the manager and the statistics-led recruitment represented by a risible transfer committee. This summer, the final say on buying and selling rests with Klopp; at least that puts his fate in his own hands. The former Borussia Dortmund coach was the best manager available to Liverpool when they parted company with Rodgers. Klopp exudes a feel-good factor but so far, he’s had less of an impact on results.
There are mitigating factors. Klopp was working with a squad compiled by other people and lacking in many areas. They looked barely more organized or inspired than they did under Rodgers. When a club upgrades their manager, it might be expected that the infusion of new ideas, different tactics and inspirational approaches would have an immediate impact. It did in certain matches but such momentum wasn’t sustained. Certainly Klopp was either overly optimistic (or not familiar with the playing staff) when he told FSG last October that he could have a tilt at all four competitions the club were involved in with this squad.
The manager and the team’s performance in the Europa League final against Sevilla in Basel should have brought searching questions from FSG. The team were ragged enough during the 3-1 defeat, but Klopp’s reaction to the La Liga side’s goals — namely, turning to the Liverpool end in an attempt to rouse the crowd — was embarrassing. It should have provoked a reprimand, not a pay rise, but that will never happen.
It is not going too far to say the owners are infatuated with the manager. Being in love with the German is fine on the Kop; in the boardroom, it’s more dangerous. Liverpool’s era of success was built on hard-eyed — sometimes brutal — footballing Darwinism. The new contract offer suggests accountability is no longer in vogue at Anfield.
It is also a boneheaded business move. Klopp was already paid in the region of £7 million per year, and the earliest negotiations for an extension would have taken place at most clubs would be next summer, when the German had a year left on his contract plus the option of another 12 months. That would have given the owners — and the manager — a chance to see whether there were real signs of progression and whether the honeymoon mood will continue.
Granted, the extended contract for Klopp might turn out to be FSG’s masterstroke. Equally, it may come to be seen as a grandstanding move in a summer where it will be difficult to compete in the transfer market and attract the sort of players Liverpool need to catapult them towards the top four in the Premier League.
This is a dangerous time for the club. Jose Mourinho has been installed at Old Trafford and has embarked on a spending spree that should see them start the new campaign immeasurably stronger than last season. Pep Guardiola is beginning his tenure at Manchester City, a club whose infrastructure is impressive.
The biggest threat is across Stanley Park at Goodison. Ronald Koeman is a very capable manager and, for the first time in 15 years, Everton have money to spend. Their academy has taken advantage of the stasis at Liverpool. FSG have had six years where they had a huge advantage over their neighbours. The comparative differences in wealth gave Anfield a significant cushion. That time has been wasted.
No manager can achieve success without the proper support. FSG would do better to invest in creating an environment where the manager can thrive rather than hiking up his salary before there is any real evidence Klopp has turned things around.