Forget philosophies and tactics; who has the personality to replace Jurgen Klopp?

Ryan Baldi
Liverpool manager
Ruben Amorim and Roberto De Zerbi.

Xabi Alonso’s decision to stay at Bayer Leverkusen beyond the end of the current season struck a blow to Liverpool’s search for their next manager.

The former Reds midfielder had been the clear frontrunner to replace Jurgen Klopp when the German steps down at the end of the season. But with Leverkusen 13 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga and almost certain to become the first champions of Germany not named Bayern Munich since before 4G mobile networks, the London Olympics and Gangnam Style, Alonso has understandably decided to stay for at least one Champions League campaign and a title defence.

Sporting CP’s Ruben Amorim and Brighton’s Roberto De Zerbi are now the names most commonly linked with the soon-to-be-vacant Liverpool job, two young coaches over-achieving against budgetary constraints and mammoth opposition while playing attractive, front-foot football.

But in their rush to find the next-best boss to assume Klopp’s well-worn seat in the Anfield dug-out, Liverpool must learn from how a couple of their Premier League rivals botched it when anointing a successor to their own iconic, long-tenured figureheads.

READ: Liverpool, Arsenal and Man Utd among 10 warnings from history for Jurgen Klopp successor

While Klopp is the longest-serving current Premier League manager, his eight years in charge of Liverpool measures only a third of the Sir Alex Ferguson era at Manchester United and less than half of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal reign. But it’s difficult to dispute that Klopp’s impact since arriving on these shores deserves mention alongside those greats of the Premier League’s past.

Guiding Liverpool to a sixth European Cup and a first top-flight title in 20 years took more than a tactics board to accomplish. The story of Klopp’s time at Liverpool will be one of holistic development – of players, of the club and its infrastructure, of a redoubled connection with the fans. Like Ferguson and Wenger before him, he has been a team-builder, an innovator, a willing adaptor, a motivator, a psychologist.

Arriving from Dortmund in 2015, he introduced principles of counter-pressing and ‘heavy metal football’ that had brought him success in his homeland, but also an understanding of how to build a culture within and around a club and inspire everyone under his charge – pillars on which Ferguson’s great United sides were built, principles Wenger used to revolutionise Arsenal.

David Moyes rocked up to Old Trafford in 2013 as Ferguson’s hand-picked heir. There were more exciting alternatives, for sure, but his record at Everton over the previous decade suggested a man who knew what it took to build and to lead. He tried to shape United in his image – stripping out the backroom staff, instructing Rio Ferdinand to watch tapes of Phil Jagielka and installing a style of play seemingly based around infinitely hitting crosses. But Moyes lacked the charisma to earn buy-in from the players and remaining staff, and United plummeted.

Unai Emery came to Arsenal with a stellar track record, having taken Sevilla to three successive Europa League triumphs as well as a Ligue 1 title with Paris Saint-Germain. He was considered one of the Europe’s finest tacticians, too, a reputation to which subsequent spells with Villarreal and Aston Villa attests. But he also lacked the force of personality to thrive in the void Wenger left behind at the Emirates and lasted less than a season and a half.

Although Klopp’s announcement in January that he had decided to leave Liverpool this summer gave the Reds’ brass amble time to line up their next manager, Alonso’s withdrawal from the running at this relatively late stage leaves them little time to identify their best remaining candidate.

It’s shaping up to be a summer of serious significance for Liverpool. This is due not only to Klopp’s departure but also to the fact that they have a new executive structure in the returning Michael Edwards and new sporting director Richard Hughes, who has arrived from Bournemouth.

What’s more, three key players – Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold – will be entering the final year of their contracts. Aside from any big-money incomings, some managerial stability would go a long way towards assuring the club’s current stars that their futures belong at Liverpool.

Any haste on Liverpool’s part in selecting Klopp’s successor is understandable, given the fact this summer is likely to see a demand for top managers across Europe that the supply cannot meet. We know already that Bayern Munich and Barcelona will both be in the hunt for a new coach, with Thomas Tuchel and Xavi leaving their respective posts. Beyond those two continental giants, Manchester United, Chelsea and Juventus could all conceivably join the hunt. Wait too long to make an appointment and Liverpool might be forced to look further down their wish-list than Alonso’s decision has already necessitated.

It’s almost redundant to say it, but Liverpool’s choice of manager is one they cannot afford to get wrong if they hope to keep pace with City and Arsenal in the short term. Avoiding a fall-off like United endured under Moyes – from which they have still not recovered – or the kind of post-Wenger woes the Gunners experienced will require a lot more of Liverpool’s future boss than tactical wizardry or a flavour-of-the-month rise to prominence.

Faced with replacing their own totemic leader, Liverpool have to consider the strength of personality required of their next manager. Klopp traversed the Anfield touchline in big shoes. It’ll take a strong character to fill them.