There’s no good way to do something like this. No way that will leave the fans and players the way Jurgen Klopp wants them: happy, hopeful and energized. And so the Liverpool manager chose the “least bad” way, placing honesty, transparency and, yes, vulnerability at the heart of his message.
The news of Jurgen Klopp’s decision to leave Liverpool at the end of the 2023-24 season was delivered to the players before training Friday morning; the fans and the rest of the world found out shortly thereafter via video message. He had informed Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s owners, back in November, so that they could start thinking about succession. Both must have known that the hunt for a successor — not a replacement, but a successor, because it would be unfair to set the bar that high — necessarily meant his imminent departure could only be kept under wraps for so long before you had to tell the world and kill any rumours in the embryonic stage.
It turned out the time to announce it was Friday.
“I am, how can I say it, running out of energy,” Klopp said. “I have no problem now obviously. … I am absolutely fine now. I know that I cannot do the job again and again and again. After the years … we spent together and after all the things we went through together … the least I owe you is the truth — and that is the truth.”
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Ego fuels leaders, even the understated ones. The self-confidence and inner strength they transmit is critical to getting buy-in from everyone, whether billionaire owners, 20-something millionaire players or the fan base who pay for it all. For someone to face up to the fact that he’s not superhuman, and that the battery is beginning to drain, shows vulnerability and humanity. And in a macho world where mental health has long been neglected, Klopp’s words speak to other themes, such as work-life balance and self-care. In that sense, he is as modern and cutting-edge as any football man.
The TL;DR on Klopp is that he ended a 30-year wait for a league title, winning the Premier League in 2019-20. A three-decade drought during which Manchester United, the archrivals less than an hour away, had won 13 Premier League titles and, in the words of their legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, “knocked Liverpool off their f—ing perch.” It was an exploit that came against the backdrop of a dominant and better-resourced Manchester City side, who had won the league twice immediately before and would go on to win three in a row after. Liverpool’s first league title came during the COVID-19 pandemic, but in no way did it dampen the joy of a fan base who had, until that point, been playing catch-up with the ghosts of a glorious past as England‘s most successful club.
Klopp’s outsized personality made him a folk hero, but behind that was a ton of serious hard work that gave the club a sporting stability and consistency that they’d been lacking for so long. He guided Liverpool to three Champions League finals, winning it all in 2018-19, and finished in the top four for six consecutive seasons, which hadn’t happened since the glory days of Ian Rush, Graeme Souness and “The King,” Kenny Dalglish, 30 years before.
But on Friday, Klopp compared himself to a sports car that can still hit 180 miles per hour but has a gas tank that is close to empty. Only he can see this, and out of respect to the game, his loved ones, his employers, his players and his supporters, he needs to pull over at the highway rest stop for as long as it takes and get himself some high-octane gas.
Klopp will continue until the end of the season, and went out of his way to reassure supporters he won’t be flagging in any way. There’s plenty left to play for — Liverpool are top of the table in the Premier League, they will face Chelsea at Wembley in the League Cup final, they are still alive in both the FA Cup and the Europa League — and he says he has everything he needs to put the hammer down between now and the end of the campaign.
Nobody will begrudge his decision to walk away — both from the club and from the final two years of his princely contract — but it’s inevitable that Liverpool fans will plunge deeper into the angst that comes with the end of an era.
On the seismometer of managerial departures, this is the biggest since Ferguson left Manchester United in 2013, albeit with some key differences. Sir Alex was 72 at the time (Klopp is 56); his retirement had been telegraphed for some time; it was officially announced in May, after United had been crowned league champions; and his hand-picked successor, David Moyes, was confirmed the following day.
Comparatively, this is a bolt out of the blue deep into Liverpool red though to be fair, the end of this era is a process which, to be fair, had already begun.
The group that made history under Klopp had already begun to break up. The front office architects credited with assembling the side — sporting director Michael Edwards and his successor, Julian Ward — are gone. So too are stalwart players Georginio Wijnaldum, Sadio Mané, Fabinho, Roberto Firmino, James Milner and Jordan Henderson.
There are some decisions to make regarding two other stalwarts whose contracts expire at the end of next season: 32-year-old Virgil van Dijk (who has been one of the best defenders in the game since arriving at Anfield in 2018) and 31-year-old all-world forward Mohamed Salah. And all of this against the backdrop of an ownership situation that looks less than rock-solid.
John W. Henry and Tom Werner, the men who founded Fenway Sports Group, are 74 and 73 respectively. Just over a year ago, they hired Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to find outside investors. They’ve since said they are fully committed to the club and have no plans to sell, but in the cynical world of sports business, once you say you’d consider selling even a part, you can’t really put the toothpaste back in the tube.
Change is inevitable in sport. Players age, executives leave and soon, the manager who built the latest iteration of a great Liverpool side, too.
Change is scary, too. Given Klopp’s personality and his relationship with the players and fans, there’s little risk of him becoming a lame duck. But they will need to find a new manager and figure out a way to do so without destabilizing the remainder of a campaign in which everything is still in play.
Is it possible they have already secured their new boss and it is being kept under wraps out of respect for his current club? And perhaps the reason Klopp made his announcement now is that they’re about to announce his successor? And could it be former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso, who is ripping it up in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen and who, as everyone knows, will not be moving to Real Madrid this summer since Carlo Ancelotti signed a new contract?
Maybe. (For what it’s worth, Xabi Alonso, speaking a few hours after Klopp’s announcement, said that right now he was happy where he was and wasn’t thinking about the future.) But in the modern game, it would be nearly unprecedented for a club of Liverpool’s magnitude to move this quietly.
Jurgen Klopp reveals why he’s leaving Liverpool
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp say he will leave the club at the end of the season after nine years at Anfield.
In any case, these are the sort of rumours and rumblings that will accompany the club over the next few months, and that sets up the next wave of angst. Forward-thinking clubs like to plan — Liverpool have always done so under Klopp — but you can’t effectively plan what you’ll do in the summer when it comes to things such as which players to sign, and which contract extensions to grant, when you don’t know who’ll be managing the side.
While the club have reloaded with talent in the past few transfer windows — Darwin Núñez, Dominik Szoboszlai, Alexis Mac Allister, Luis Díaz, Cody Gakpo — and gifted youngsters (Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott, Jarell Quansah) are establishing themselves, there are big decisions ahead, starting with Van Dijk and Salah and continuing through potential new signings and departures.
The last member of the group who made Liverpool great again is on his way out. Here’s hoping he and Liverpool supporters can put the fear of the future to one side and focus on making his final months at Anfield as successful and thrilling a ride as possible. Because, as Eckhart Tolle writes in “The Power of Now,” you can’t control the past and you can’t control the future. You can only control the present.
The present is Klopp, and that’s a good thing. Enjoy it.