Filing under the eminently predictable/bleeding obvious, a sports betting company recently produced some stats showing Manchester City have by far the best end-of-season record of any Premier League club.
Their winning percentage in the last two months of the season over the past decade is a good 10 per cent better than their closest rivals Arsena l, and 15 per cent better than Liverpool. It is not hard to understand why. When your net spend is four or five times higher than your closest rival, it inevitably delivers a squad with a depth beyond the dreams of other clubs. And with depth comes strength at the business end of the season.
Consider City’s bench at Palace. With no Ruben Dias or Benjamin Mendy, they were still able to boast the likes of Sterling, Gundogan, Jesus, Ake, Zinchenko and Fernandinho amongst their subs, non-starting players who totalled a conservative £320m. It is not rocket science, but simple economics.
Which makes Jurgen Klopp’s achievement in somehow not only staying close to City this season, but actually pushing them to the limit in the title race a remarkable achievement. Some have said winning this title would be his greatest achievement.
Yet that under-estimates what he has already done at Liverpool. Simply to be in this position is surely not just perhaps the greatest thing this truly great manager has done, but one of the most remarkable in football history. Liverpool are in unprecedented territory. They are still on course to potentially win four trophies in the middle of March, something that has never happened before in Anfield history.
To do that at any time is historic, regardless of whether they can achieve a quadruple or not. But to do it in the time of Manchester City, the greatest squad world football has ever seen, is, well, mind-blowing.
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It is not that Klopp hasn’t spent money. He has: a net spend of around £200m since he arrived at Anfield. Yet that is dwarfed by the £900m or so net Pep Guardiola has used to build up his incredible squad. A squad which drew 0-0 with Crystal Palace on Monday to let Liverpool back in.
Klopp himself knows the task of matching a club with the wealth of a nation state behind them is impossible. He once acknowledged that in an interview before the 2018 Champions League victory over City. “If you can not spend as much as your rivals, and if all the other teams we compete with are brilliant, absolutely brilliant, then we can be better than some in that way, but not all of them,” he explained.
“So how can you make the difference if each team is perfectly prepared? How do you win? You must find another reason why you win.” For Klopp, the answer has always been to produce a collective identity and philosophy that is unmatched by even the richest of rivals. That famous night against Barcelona was the absolute zenith of that - a cast of superstars humbled by a Liverpool side shorn of their two biggest talents in Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, yet collectively irresistible.
“The answer for me is the closer you are together, the more you do it for each other. Make a sacrifice for each other, suffer for each other, the better you will be,” Klopp said back then.
“You can’t reinvent football but you can create a circumstance where you can compete. “How do you cope with pressure if it is all on your shoulders alone? If you only have one who plays with pressure, and 10 without, it will never work. So everybody needs to feel responsible and important, not just 11, but everybody. That is what we try.” Sounds familiar? Well if you know your Liverpool history, then it really should.
Klopp knows his history, he knows all about Bill Shankly’s socialism, his bond with the people of a city that has almost always stood - sometimes alone - against the tide of greedy individualism which has reached its own zenith in the form of Boris Johnson’s corrupt, shameless government.
It was no accident the German arrived on Merseyside. He was courted by Manchester United, but turned them down as “too corporate”; the same with Real Madrid. Why? Because he knew his methods were more suited to a collective philosophy that harnesses a similar belief in the fans, in the local population.
He did it at Mainz. Then Dortmund, now Liverpool. And you suspect since arriving on Merseyside he has studied Shankly and adopted some of his principles. It is no coincidence there is a picture of the great man on Klopp’s office wall. There was a time during covid lockdown, when he spoke with volunteers who did so much to help during a crisis where families were hungry, and medical staff had a scandalous lack of PPE.
Their job, he said, was so much more important than his own. Their sacrifice far greater. Only with their help, their collective help, could our society have got through.
“It’s about togetherness,” he said, with conviction. “That’s not football, it’s actually life.” That is his football philosophy, and the reason why Liverpool stand only four points behind City at the summit of the Premier League. They may not have the best squad, but by God, they have the best TEAM.
Of course, City’s depth makes them favourite still to win the title. They can ride out the injury to Dias, for instance, where Liverpool struggled without Virgil van Dijk last season. But that shouldn’t detract from Klopp’s achievement. He has made Liverpool a force again, and the fans don’t need a quadruple to prove that to them. They know their manager is the modern-day Shankly, with or without more trophies.
Look closely at the pictures after that history-making defeat of Barcelona, and you can see Klopp with his arms spread wide, in almost religious pose. It is the same image as the one of Shankly on his wall.
He probably knew it. But it wasn’t for effect, a sly comparison. Klopp, like Shankly, believes in his connection with the people, believes it when he says he wants to make the people happy - which he did after their Champions League triumph.
Most of all though, he shares one simple philosophy with the great man. I once asked him in the relaxed atmosphere of a pre-European final training camp, if he had a personal philosophy. He shrugged and replied: “Just do what I think is right.” Those are the words of a decent man. Not a perfect man, but a ‘good guy’, the phrase he uses to describe his players.
With football now, perhaps, heading towards a reckoning, where the scandal - the obscenity - of sportswashing and money-laundering owners could finally be addressed, Klopp’s simple philosophy has him on the right side of history. And that, for a manager of his status, is perhaps his greatest achievement of all, whether or not he can overcome Manchester City for a second time in the title race.
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