Behind the heavy metal football, high pressing and bear hugs, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool transformation has been rather understated. The German is probably the most unique coach in the world, someone a certain type of fan can really identify with, but he is, at heart, quite contrasted in a very good way.
Everything about Klopp seems loud, brash and in your face; his goal celebrations, his post-match interviews and most definitely his touchline antics. But he has been quiet, reserved and thoughtful when it comes to how he plans to move Liverpool forward.
The Reds are a club steeped in tradition, everyone has read the books and seen the documentaries; Klopp respects that, but instead of appearing as a caricature of that history, he has rebuilt the team in his own image without a complete overhaul.
Still not Klopp’s Liverpool
It has been nearly two years since the former Borussia Dortmund boss replaced Brendan Rodgers in the Anfield dugout and it can be argued the team is yet to look like completely his. Two cup finals and Champions League qualification suggest progress, but there is still some work to do for him this summer.
Mohamed Salah’s arrival from Roma should help usher in phase two, but the most important step would be to finally let go of Daniel Sturridge. There was a time, particularly three years ago when Rodgers nearly led Liverpool to the Premier League title, that Sturridge would have been indispensible for the Reds and England.
Twenty-one league goals, and a superb partnership with former teammate Luis Suarez, made him the prime candidate to lead the line at the World Cup in Brazil.
Fitness, though, has been his biggest problem. Constant injuries have hampered his career since, and his absence may well have had a negative impact towards the end of Rodgers’ reign, as he failed to live up to going so close to a league title. Klopp has never shown much faith in him, whether he has been given the chance or not, and the constant evolution of the team has taken the focus away from Sturridge.
The team is not built around Sturridge
He is no longer supported in a way that will get the best out of him. Jamie Carragher, Sturridge’s former club mate turned Sky Sports pundit, said last season that playing the striker is like having ten men on the pitch. Whilst sounding incredibly harsh, there is a degree of truth in his comment.
Through injury, Sturridge is unable to move as effectively as he once could; the timing of his runs are still impeccable, but he cannot drop into different positions as effectively. That, plus the fact he doesn’t work as hard as Klopp would like, has seen the system move on, often leaving him behind. Under Rodgers, in many ways, the team was built to give both he and Suarez the best opportunity to cause havoc.
Over the course of last season, Klopp became fond of playing without a recognised striker. Whilst there is no focal point with this tactic, it promotes movement between the three highest placed players, usually Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane, and the midfield.
It is very tough for a natural striker to break into a set up such as that, and even if one could, it looks more like being Divock Origi than Sturridge himself. Nothing can be done about injuries, and Sturridge cannot be blamed for succumbing to them.
He still has some value
But serious questions have been raised, reportedly from Klopp, over his ability to play through pain and by extension his commitment to the cause at Liverpool. Along with sympathy in some quarters, his reputation has naturally begun to erode; perhaps it would have been sensible to sell him much earlier, when it would have seemed a much bigger risk.
With risk, comes value, and there would have been many more clubs, in the Premier League and elsewhere, willing to pay good money for him. Offers will still come in. Sturridge is only 27, supposedly the peak of his powers, but the injuries have taken such a toll that it is unlikely he’ll avoid a swift decline.
There is no doubting his success in a red shirt since arriving from Chelsea in January four years ago, but injuries have robbed him of what could have been. Whether he’ll accept it or not, there is still a role for him in the Premier League.
Goal scorers are like gold dust, and anyone, particularly those teams outside the top eight, would love to have him lead their line. West Ham are making no secrets of their intention to sign a striker this summer, and Sturridge’s name is on the list, albeit alongside a host of others.
It will be a step forward for Klopp
Jurgen Klopp is the best thing that could have happened to Liverpool Football Club at his time of arrival. Widely regarded as a world class coach for many reasons, it says a lot about them that they were able to attract him even when on a low ebb, with very little promise compared to previous years.
Momentum is with them, a title challenge and successful European campaign within their grasp. But moving forward leaves people behind, and now is the right time to admit, from both points of view, that Daniel Sturridge and Liverpool should part ways.