Jurgen Klopp only had to stroll a few yards for a chat with his best friend. Perhaps it was a glimpse of the normality he craves. Klopp looked unworried, unencumbered by pressure. Although it was not an entirely conventional situation: not with their meeting place being David Wagner’s technical area, some 50,000 people watching, his Liverpool side beating Norwich 4-2 and, a couple of minutes later, Ryan Gravenberch adding a fifth goal. Klopp gave Wagner an apologetic hug.
Wagner was among those in on the secret, aware Klopp would announce his resignation before Friday’s bombshell, but they had not seen each other since last summer and would not otherwise have been in each other’s company before the next close season. It took an FA Cup draw for them to see each other again and in the context of their latest managerial duel. “He wants to win, I want to win,” said the Norwich manager, before delivering his pay-off line. “I lost, like always.”
Perhaps Klopp’s plans for next season, such as they are, now include a weekend break in Norwich. If he is unlikely to miss the wind that blew around Anfield, and a source of many a gripe over the years, he was left in little doubt that many will miss him. They moved him. “I received all the messages people sent,” he said. “I am not made of wood.”
He was, though, able to laugh that he is already being ignored. Klopp can have a magnetic charisma but has never wanted it to feel all about him. His express instructions, conveyed more than once over the last year, were for the crowd not to chorus about him before the final whistle. They started to do so after a minute. Klopp reflected: “I said not too long ago: ‘Don’t sing the song during the game’. People stopped listening to me. That is good.”
Of course, they haven’t; they will listen to Klopp on other issues. “He doesn’t want the fans singing his song, but I think he’s going to lose that battle,” smiled Andy Robertson.
The returning left-back will surely be proved right: as the end gets nearer, the focus on Klopp and tributes to him could be more pronounced. It will be an uncharacteristic defeat for a manager who has overseen some lengthy unbeaten runs. Klopp has a rare ability to connect with people, to turn anything into something galvanising and rousing. Perhaps in time his departure will be another. For now, the memo from the great persuader is to ignore the clock that is ticking down on his reign.
Klopp has made people believe, in the dressing room and the stands alike. Now he has to make them believe his exit is irrelevant, that he doesn’t matter. “We need the crowd and for them not to think about the manager,” he said. “We need to forget it for a while and go for each opponent like crazy.”
Ignoring a figure of his stature is not easy; not when he looms so large over Liverpool, not when he has remodelled a club in his image. Yet the message is to ignore one of the most seismic days in Liverpool’s recent history. The mentality monsters have to maintain the attitude they already had. That has taken them five points clear at the Premier League summit, into the Carabao Cup final, progressing smoothly in the FA Cup and the Europa League, with a lone defeat against English opponents in almost 10 months, unbeaten at home all season.
Beating Norwich was the start of a crowded, perhaps crucial, week. Yet if Klopp struck a new note on Friday, he played the greatest hits on Sunday. “We have to make sure we are the one team Chelsea does not want to play against and Arsenal doesn’t want to play against,” he said.
That has been Klopp’s version of the Liverpool way. The ethos will not change just yet. The manager will in the summer. An era is ending, even if Klopp would rather pretend it is not. But there an ever greater chance it will finish on a high.
Leave last year and it would have been an anticlimactic conclusion to the Klopp years. The FA Cup fourth round brought a premature end to Liverpool’s defence of the trophy last season. Now it yielded comfortable progress to the last 16. Now there is another quest for the quadruple. Klopp’s curtain call could yet come at Wembley.
“We have been through so much together and I am grateful for everything he has done for me, my family and my career,” said his captain, Virgil van Dijk. “Why not end it on a high and make more memories?”