FOR Liverpool, the numbers are straightforward. There are no morally-sound billionaires willing to drop free money on a football club, no strings attached. If you believe otherwise, then I have a social media platform to sell you.
And there is not another Jurgen Klopp.
So one out of two isn’t bad. Actually, it’s priceless. Klopp is the gift that keeps on giving, overachieving and underspending, season after season, in the most euphoric example of punching above one’s weight since Donald Trump married Melania.
The prospect of new Liverpool owners gives us something to talk about before the unsightly spectacle turns up in a week or so, like a genital wart, promising to be benign, but fooling no one. If anything, the World Cup should offer a timely reminder to Reds supporters who put cash before common sense.
Be careful what you wish for, especially when you already have it. Klopp means more than any billionaire. To suggest otherwise is a load of bowls.
On YouTube, a clip of retirees playing lawn bowls has generated more than 1.4 million views, surely the most watched clip in history of white-haired folks bending down on a bowling green. Slowly.
But Klopp is involved. In October 2016, he asked to play a game with elderly Reds fans, sincerely, and the short film still offers an intriguing glimpse into the German’s psyche. It’s all there. He’s a charismatic leech, sucking everything he can from those around him, absorbing every morsel of information on technique, positioning and environment. He’s fully committed.
It’s a bowls match with old people.
But his charm offensive is unrelenting and yet utterly authentic. By the end of the game, his pensionable female partner would probably run through a brick wall to catch James Milner on the overlap.
Then and now, Klopp remains addicted to that elusive “edge”, the indefinable something that gives him an advantage over every opponent, real or imagined. He admits in the clip that he has no life outside of football. He exists for the game. He exists to win.
This is the man that potential owners need to buy, at least in the short-term. Of course the slick PowerPoint presentation currently being put together by men in suits and no socks will emphasise the club’s spiritual connection to its global community, the success in Europe, the expanded stadium and the untapped financial potential in the US – all of which are huge – but it always comes back to Klopp.
During the recent wobble, there were actual human beings calling for his sacking. For a while, #Kloppout trended on Twitter, a useful reminder that there’s still a minority who should not be trusted with soft toilet paper, let alone the most successful manager of his generation.
Before the vein popping begins on the blue side of the English Premier League, such a lofty accolade comes from an unlikely source: the owners of Manchester City, who hired Pep Guardiola with a clear mandate, to go where no oil-fuelled manager had gone before in Europe. It was supposed to be one small step for Guardiola and one giant leap for men currently jostling for advertising space in the global shop window of geopolitics, which isn’t as pithy as Man on the Moon, but City’s mission costs more.
It costs a lot more. The bill for the Guardiola era is tipping towards £1.1 billion. His current squad comes in at around £882 million (or more than £900 million, depending on your preferred source), which is the highest in the English Premier League.
Guardiola has reached one Champions League final. And lost.
Liverpool’s current squad cost around £582.6 million to assemble – some £300 million less than City’s lot, or three Jack Grealishes – and the Reds have spent £621.9 million since the start of Klopp’s first summer transfer window in 2016. It’s the lowest figure in the big six.
Winning everything with less
Last week, Klopp was awarded the Freedom of the City of Liverpool, presumably for his services to the net spend table. The Reds are a lowly 11th, below Newcastle United, obviously, West Ham United, Wolves, Newcastle United, Aston Villa and - wait for it - Everton. When he’s done with this football lark, Klopp should take a stab at managing the finances at Liverpool’s town council.
He has won everything with less. He has reached three Champions League finals, winning one and earning the Wrath of Can’t, also known as Guardiola’s petty jealousies. The money men may be negotiating Liverpool’s price tag, but Klopp knows his true value.
The goofy grin was in evidence during his relaxed discussion concerning Fenway Sports Group’s decision to seek new investment. The German sees not a threat, but an opportunity. Klopp plus cash is the really attractive proposition here.
He knows that the Spirit of Shankly supporters group would not entertain investors with dubious political motives and dodgy human rights records, as the club’s unique brand is worth more than a cash injection with too many unpalatable caveats.
Just as he knows that FSG believes the EPL product remains under-monetised. Other obscenely wealthy Americans feel the same way. How can Liverpool be valued at £4 billion, when the Dallas Cowboys are worth around £7.5 billion and the NFL has just a fraction of the EPL’s broadcasting reach and revenue potential?
Such Americans do not need to buy out FSG. A healthy chunk of change will do, allowing Klopp to buy the £50 million-plus midfielder that would’ve made the difference between challenging for the title and where they are now. And then, perhaps, he might pursue Jude Bellingham, the rare target that Klopp has publicly praised and courted.
Liverpool represent the nearest thing to the closed shop that American buyers take for granted with their NFL cash machines. European football is almost a way of life at Anfield and the Reds will never be relegated. But Klopp is the deal breaker.
Whether it’s a title chase or a sedate bowls match, his reach will always exceed his grasp, but improved finances should allow him to get close again. He can turn the traditional relationship between boardroom and dugout upside down and play the greedy one, demanding a return on his extraordinary investment in the club.
In the end, all managers are shown the door, but Klopp is different. Show him the money.
Whether it’s a title chase or a sedate bowls match, (Klopp's) reach will always exceed his grasp, but improved finances should allow him to get close again
Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.
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