Sport

Brendan Crossan: Jurgen Klopp will always outshine Pep Guardiola

Brendan Crossan

Brendan Crossan

Brendan is a sports reporter at The Irish News. He has worked at the media outlet since January 1999 and specialises in GAA, soccer and boxing. He has been the Republic of Ireland soccer correspondent since 2001 and has covered the 2002 and 2006 World Cup finals and the 2012 European Championships

Jurgen Klopp, left, and Pep Guardiola share a joke
Jurgen Klopp, left, and Pep Guardiola Liverpool – Carabao Cup – Fourth Round – Etihad Stadium Jurgen Klopp, left, and Pep Guardiola share a joke (Isaac Parkin/PA)

WE all lost the run of ourselves last Friday when news broke Jurgen Klopp was leaving Liverpool.

When you think of all the things that’s happening in the world, the mainstream media headlined many of their bulletins and dedicated an inordinate amount of time to a football manager quitting his position.

Liverpool fans would tell you that the charismatic German is no ordinary manager. And he isn’t - he’s an absolutely brilliant manager who, I suppose, has raised the esteem of an entire city – or at least the red half.

There was a deep sense of mourning among the club’s supporters that after nine years their leader, their totem, the man who guided them to the Promised Land by delivering a Champions League title and the club’s first Premier League title in 30 years was leaving.

While many news editors got carried away with Klopp-mania last week, there is no doubting the man’s greatness.

Pep Guardiola, his respected adversary dating back to their Bundesliga days with Bayern Munch and Borussia Dortmund, may have won more silverware – but Klopp is the better manager of the two.

Comparisons are always a subjective business, but counting the silverware each man has won is too crude a measure to distinguish the pair and doesn’t help to rank them in any meaningful way, especially when you consider the millions lavished on Guardiola to build a team.

Manchester City are aiming for an historic four English Premier League titles in a row this season, but it’s how you achieve it and all the stuff in between that must count for something.

In a parallel universe, if either man was handed the managerial reins at, say, Stoke City, who would be the more adept at raising standards? For me, Klopp wins every time.

Italy wouldn’t swap the narrative that saw them lift the 1982 World Cup - but football aficionados could rhyme off the brilliant Brazil side of that tournament quicker than they could the Azzurri.

The reason why Klopp is the best manager of his generation is how he achieved Liverpool’s success. There was always a distinct ‘Moneyball’ feel to his Liverpool teams.

If a board handed a manager Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and James Milner and told them that this midfield trio would win Champions League and Premier League titles, they would have been laughed out of the stadium.

But the way in which Klopp managed to calibrate his teams - and continues to do this season that sees Liverpool lead City at the top by five points - is a masterclass in how to squeeze what potential resides in these players out of them.

In other words, he improves players to a greater degree than Pep.

With City, they can source the market for finished products while Liverpool operate in a different market where Klopp finds and polishes rough diamonds.

To illustrate the point, City signed Erling Haaland and Liverpool signed Darwin Nunez.

But it’s the style of both teams too. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder but Liverpool play a high octane game with more vertical passes.

In other words, Klopp’s Liverpool has consistently played the game with more emotion than Pep’s Manchester City ever have.

Watching Man City is like watching a football clinic. Obsessed with cause-and-effect, creating overloads down either side of the pitch and inverted full-backs and the desire to mould central defenders into ball-playing midfielders.

In coaching terms, Man City are off the charts, but their football always looks and feels over-prescribed, like an indulged scientific experiment.

They don’t set the pulses racing. Dare I say, City can often look functional.

Of course, the arrival of Haaland helped untangle some of Pep’s multi-layered philosophy.

And as the Catalan journeys further into trying to win football matches another way, the more some of his innovations smack of narcissism.

Klopp’s vision has always had greater clarity about it. If you have three livewire forwards that can turn defences, it’s simple: use them as often as possible.

Klopp never felt the need to pass the ball around midfield a dozen times to create a chance.

Henderson, Fabinho and Milner played quick and straight passes up to the likes of Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Firmino and it was absolutely explosive.

Why complicate it?

Henderson captained Liverpool to Premier League success in 2020
Jordan Henderson Henderson captained Liverpool to Premier League success in 2020 (Phil Noble/PA)

And the knock-on effect of Guardiola’s intricate style of play is that it trickles all the way down to park pitches on a Saturday and Sunday morning and youth football matches where coaches want their teams to play like Pep’s.

Players are asked to play the ball out from the back and they clearly don’t have the skillset to succeed at it. The whole thing becomes an exercise in dogma and football teams are all too often about the coach and not about the players themselves.

While Chelsea and Manchester United have been capitulating season after season, one man made the race for the English Premier League competitive.

Jurgen Klopp has earned the respect of all football people. Even sworn enemies of Liverpool would nod, albeit grudgingly, in agreement that the larger-than-life German is out on his own when it comes to getting the absolute maximum from what you have – and without complicating the game too much either.

What was clear from last Friday’s news is that Klopp will be missed by more than just Liverpool supporters. A peerless manager and leader of people.