Is Jurgen Klopp still Liverpool’s best option to get out of this funk?

Ian King
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

Another bad defeat for Liverpool at Wolves puts the club in a difficult position, but what do you do if results are bad but the manager is unsackable?

It’s been a familiar sight in recent weeks, but at the end of his team’s 3-0 defeat at the hands of Wolves the Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp both looked and sounded a little broken by it all.

A thoroughly unhappy afternoon in the Black Country was rounded off by him snapping at a journalist in the post-match press conference, a reaction which may have been understandable considering the pressure growing around him in recent weeks, but absolutely not a successful ending to a pretty dismal weekend.

When Liverpool first returned after the World Cup break, it seemed some of the problems which had plagued the first half of their season may have receded. Two straight wins against Aston Villa and Leicester City lifted them back up to sixth place in the Premier League table. The charge for a European place was back on, alongside a run at defending the two domestic cups that they won last year and another pop at the Champions League.

It’s taken less than six weeks for much of this optimism to disintegrate again. Beaten by Manchester City in the EFL Cup and Brighton in the FA Cup, Liverpool’s defence of their domestic trophies is over for this season, while the Champions League round of 16 draw has given them a formidable two-legged tie to win against Real Madrid. Meanwhile in the Premier League, they’re without a win in 2023, with just a single point to show for their four league games.

A point from a torpid game against Chelsea was a return of sorts, but their other three league games didn’t just end in defeat; Liverpool conceded three goals against Brighton, Brentford and Wolves, and even more troubling was that the performances in all three of these games was poor, with few signs of things improving. At many – likely most – football clubs, such a state of affairs would lead to pretty swift action being taken. We live in an era of the hire ’em and fire ’em culture with regard to managers; a run of bad results would be enough to ensure that most managers simply get the push.

But Liverpool isn’t just any football club, and Jurgen Klopp isn’t just any Liverpool manager. He has built up an enormous amount of credit for what he has achieved with the club, winning them a Champions League trophy and their first English league title in more than 30 years. In the league of unsackable managers, Klopp’s name is surely near the top of the table. It’s difficult to think of another manager who has quite the same bond with the supporters of his club.

And this creates an obvious point of friction. Hire ’em and fire ’em culture has obvious deficiencies. It causes huge financial wastage and provides cover for incompetent owners and players to deflect their own shortcomings, and to enter into it feels like crossing an event horizon from which there can be no escape.

And once you’re into the habit of sacking your manager every 18 months, year, or six months, it can be almost impossible to break from it unless you chance upon a manager who can just keep on relentlessly winning matches.

Outside the Premier League, that’s essentially not going to happen. Even at the top of the Premier League, it can only realistically happen at a tiny number of clubs. So it is that the football culture of the present day requires all managers to keep winning, indefinitely, and we’re all conditioned to it, no matter how mathematically nonsensical it is.

Perhaps a combination of social media and 24-hour media coverage has made this inevitable, but the truth of the matter is that two or three straight defeats is usually enough to start such chatter, and that chatter can be like a genie escaping from a bottle. Once it’s out, it’s very difficult to put it back in.

This all leaves Liverpool in a tricky spot. Jurgen Klopp built a great Liverpool team. But building more than one truly great team is extremely difficult, and all the more so nowadays, when everybody knows that a tiny number of clubs with infinitely deep pockets may well outbid you. And although Liverpool are a massive club with a huge global pull, their pockets are not infinitely deep. Over the last couple of years it’s felt as though they’ve had to run faster and faster just to stand still. This season increasingly feels like the point at which they’ve started to run out of puff.

And all of this leaves all concerned with a difficult decision to make. It doesn’t feel that likely that this team is going to snap back into form. The issues across the pitch are well-known. The defence has been conceding too many goals – Liverpool have conceded 28 Premier League goals so far this season; in the top half of the table, only Fulham have conceded more – while the midfield has appeared functionally non-existent at times.

This 2023 team is the 2020 team past its peak, and the replenishments brought in don’t seem to have strengthened Klopp’s hand in any way that we might have expected.

So, what to do next? Sticking with him until things improves seems like the obvious choice, but…what if they don’t? Are Liverpool supporters expected to just sit and wait things out until he decides to resign? Their next few matches really demand a more positive outlook from Liverpool. Next up is the Merseyside derby at Anfield, and while Everton have only beaten Liverpool five times this century in all competitions (from 51 meetings), their tails will be up after having beaten Arsenal and will presumably be up for that fight.

And after that, they then have to play Newcastle, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal among their next seven games. On paper their fixtures don’t get much easier for another couple of months.

There remains little to suggest that Liverpool will substantially improve over the second half of this season, but if there is significant rebuilding work to be done over the summer, who better than Jurgen Klopp to oversee those changes? Were any successor to Klopp fall on their face, there would be absolute hell to pay. The price of not keeping their cool, for whoever the owners might be, may well be too high for the club to even attempt to risk it.

If Jurgen Klopp has been photographed looking haggard lately, that’s not surprising. And if he’s snapping at the media, that’s not surprising either. Because the pressure placed upon his shoulders is simply enormous. It’s so great that to even try to compare it to the years of the past, when managers lasted with clubs for decades, seems like comparing not so much two different sports as two different universes.

A substantial proportion of Liverpool supporters seem to want him to stay, but numerous very online fans are an increasingly noisy presence, while our entire culture is now centred around instant gratification and extremes of emotion. Under such circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that it should feel as though pressure is starting to build, but football’s traditional mid-season pressure valve release isn’t the only option at the their disposal.

Jurgen Klopp is 55 years old. To suggest that he should be put out to pasture because Liverpool are having a bad season would be opening cans of worms all over the place for a gamble they might not even win. Some things are worth way too much.