For Alex Ferguson, the wait was three years and five months. For Brian Clough, it was three years and two months. Matt Busby and Bill Shankly endured over two years each, while it took Arsene Wenger and Bob Paisley over a year. Jose Mourinho’s best effort over his two spells at Chelsea was an eight-month wait.
On Sunday, Jurgen Klopp has the chance to eclipse many of the managerial greats that came before him. Just four months and 20 days after his appointment at Liverpool, the German is presented with the opportunity to win his first trophy. The Capital One Cup has lost whatever allure it once had, but it represents much more than a mere trophy for both the individual and the club.
Jose Mourinho. Manuel Pellegrini. Michael Laudrup. Kenny Dalglish. Alex McLeish. The last five managers to inspire their sides to League Cup glory hardly evoke confidence that this is an important trophy to pursue. Only one of the five bosses remain at their respective clubs, and even he is in the final throes of his spell. England’s tertiary competition is no foundation upon which to build a dynasty. To construct a legacy. To establish an empire.
But the importance of victory at Wembley will not be lost on Klopp. The German continues to be undermined by unfavourable comparisons with his predecessor. Brendan Rodgers accrued 1.5 points per league game at Liverpool this season; Klopp’s ratio is 1.4 per game. The Reds lost just twice in eight games under Rodgers until his October sacking; they have lost six in 18 after Klopp’s subsequent appointment. The gap to the Champions League spots was a mere three points when Rodgers was removed; it has since been increased by a further six.
Wilful ignorance is easily dismissed. Klopp has won a larger percentage of his Premier League games this campaign than Rodgers. Liverpool are both scoring more and conceding fewer goals under the current manager. A berth in the Capital One Cup final, along with progress to the last 16 of the Europa League, points to signficant improvement. Yet some still harbour doubts. Is Klopp the Messiah that was promised? Would Rodgers really have done no better given more patience? Can the manager’s style, established in Germany, fully translate to the English game?
There will never be a better opportunity to respond to such critics. The first psychological hurdle of Klopp’s reign awaits. If he can lead Liverpool to victory on Sunday, he will have succeeded where the previous incumbent failed: winning a trophy. Accomplishing that feat with the squad Rodgers assembled would provide the exclamation mark.
“It is football and you should not waste opportunities of winning something,” said Klopp in January. The highlights of Liverpool’s recent history includes an almost-Premier League title and a couple of cup semi-finals; none will rank among a list of achievements. The club have won two trophies in the last decade. Two of their last three managers have failed to claim silverware during their reigns. No matter the tournament, a winner’s medal is a winner’s medal. Liverpool are hardly in a position to turn their collective nose up at one.
Klopp has injected belief into Liverpool during his relatively short time at Anfield, a belief which Rodgers once fostered, but failed to build upon. The Reds remain flawed, but there is a growing body of evidence that Klopp can amend such weaknesses and eventually build a successful side in his own image. The German was appointed on a three-year contract; he could win his first title within four months. And with none of his own players, no less.
Despite the Capital One Cup being treated as a sideshow in the English football calendar, Sunday’s final has potentially more at stake than any other before. In the blue corner, this provides one more chance at a trophy for Manuel Pellegrini before his summer departure in Manchester City’s only Wembley game of the season. In the red corner, Klopp can surpass the man he replaced by delivering something tangible. Let battle commence.