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How Jurgen Klopp unshackled the burden of history to guide Liverpool to the title

Like all football institutions, the gravitational pull of Liverpool’s epic past is inescapable. With a sense of weighted respect and wary inevitability a procession of managers, seven since 1990 to be exact, have trooped into the bowls of Anfield to face the press on their first day in the job and paid homage to the club’s heritage whilst promising to deliver that most coveted prize of all.

When the eighth man to follow in this process back in October 2015, faced the media and showcased his gargantuan personality and guffawing laugh to English football for the first time, something felt altogether different.

Jurgen Norbert Klopp was not a guy to be cowed by anything, let alone a title drought for which he’d held no previous stake in. What the new manager was more interested in was the players he had inherited and the fans who were quickly swooning over their new man in the dugout.

Five years later and Klopp’s current outstanding crop of players have finally ended a three decade wait for a league title. The emotional fallout from this historic success will take weeks to ebb away for an army of Liverpool supporters. It may never truly subside for generations of supporters who have seen their club go so close far too often for their liking.

On five previous occasions the Reds had finished runners up with highly commendable, yet painfully inadequate points tallies. With each of these disappointments and every other failing that has tainted the club’s recent league history, the task of finally securing a 19th title seemed to grow more daunting and more difficult.

Indeed the club became bogged down and over-saddled by the cumbersome weight of it’s history. It is impossible to quantify how much of an effect this had on previous title charges, but with each passing year the drought was extended, the past seemed to loom over the football club and everybody attached to it.

Some tried to harness that history, with Rafa Benitez’s coaching team installing inspirational quotes from icons of yesteryear around Melwood as they wrestled Man United for the title in 2008/09. The club’s supporters even tried to reverse the gentrification of the Kop end with campaigns to improve the atmosphere for tense league games, but ultimately the songs were mostly about the past and not what was enfolding in the uncomfortable present. Even the installation of red goal nets at Anfield in 2013 was supposedly a nod to the clubs halcyon days of the 1980’s. In truth it all felt more than a little contrived.

 

Klopp though has been impervious to the expectations and burdens of antiquity. While the German manager has always been respectful of the club’s achievements he has also been overly conscious to focus on what his current players are able to do. Speaking before the epic clash with Manchester City in the Champions League back in 2018 Klopp summed up his attitude to the situation quite well:

“I like these things. These are cool. But this club is already so full of history. I meet people every day who can tell me about goals Liverpool have scored 36 years ago in the 57th minute. I like that. We need to be proud of our history but we need to create our own…”

Unshackled by such heavy chains, he was free to build a team of fighters in his own image. The football gradually evolved until the players had become his archetypal agents of chaos on the pitch, hunting in packs and sweeping all aside.

On the sideline, the manager conveyed a full spectrum of genuine emotions that endeared him even to some hardened rivals, who watched on warily as Liverpool gathered momentum.

An English Premier League title has never previously been delivered with so many games left on the calendar, but in truth, Liverpool’s march to the title under Klopp has been in motion since the beginning of 2108/19.

Again, whereas previous managers and their teams have wilted and fallen back after a second place finish, Klopp’s Reds marched on, determined to write their own pages in the Anfield logbook. A 97 point haul last term would have won any league title in pretty much any other era, but Manchester City’s excellence under Pep Guardiola cruelly denied Liverpool and put their wait into a 30th year.

Regardless of such a dramatic near miss, Klopp has kept on carrying on and not allowed his players for one single second, to feel self-pity and allow the gravity of the situation to interfere with his progress.

For such an obviously emotional guy to have so successfully circumnavigated one of the most daunting aspects of the Liverpool job is remarkable. More pragmatic men than he have previously been in the hot seat and failed to take the next step. Notably, Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez both got their respective sides on a significant upward trajectory only to miss out by a narrow margin and then wilt under the pressure of history and expectation.

Klopp has not only managed to avoid the fate of predecessors, he has also shielded his players from such pressure and allowed them to enjoy their football and revel in their status as domestic and European top dogs.

In the end, as the news sank in that the longest of title interludes was finally over, Klopp was overwhelmed with emotion and could barely speak to the media. He will forever be the man who brought the title back to Anfield and conquered the previously insurmountable peak of Liverpool’s glorious past. His own pages in history have now been written as his team joins the bulging ranks of immortals at Anfield.

Read – Five of the key moments in Liverpool’s run to the 2019/20 Premier League title

Read Also – Ranking all of Liverpool’s managers in the Premier League era

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