Jurgen Klopp's first great Liverpool era is over – now he must build another one
So there was an Anfield takeover after all. Real Madrid might as well have pitched their flag in the centre-circle and declared Merseyside theirs.
This is what the end of an era looks like. With great servants bowing their heads at full-time while apologetically accepting sympathetic applause having been schooled by regal opponents.
A thunderous start to Tuesday night’s 5-2 defeat may have promised a revival, but the party is over for Jurgen Klopp’s first great Liverpool team. Deep down, he probably knew that months ago.
There may have been moments in the last two weeks when he allowed himself to think a summer reconstruction need not be so extensive. An evening in the company of Luka Modric and Karim Benzema speaks truth in a manner Everton and Newcastle United do not.
If Klopp felt reliving last year’s Champions League final against the same opponents was torture, the manner in which Carlo Ancelotti’s side eased through the gears to inflict a heavy defeat will supply a lifetime of nightmares.
The speed of passing, the pace of movement, the killer instinct when pouncing and punishing every Liverpool mistake exposed a gulf in class which was never apparent in the previous four meetings between the sides. In Kyiv and Paris the big moments went Real’s way. The second half on Tuesday night was humbling.
Even a manager of Klopp’s immense power can only do so much. For the remainder of this season, there will be more pressure on Liverpool’s executives to ensure the club is better equipped than has been the case this season.
Liverpool’s master-in-chief John W Henry made his billions in predicting the future of the markets. He never saw this campaign coming, and needs no forecaster to understand the added expectations it has put upon him and his partners to ensure there is no repeat.
Henry reiterating that Liverpool is not for sale will be welcomed by Klopp, and the vast majority of his supporters trust their manager’s assessment of Fenway Sports Group. So long as Klopp is content with the structure and working relationships, and feels assured that transfer funds will be available will enable him to compete, there will be no outpouring of despair that FSG are staying. For now.
But that is conditional on Klopp being given the tools to keep Liverpool more competitive than they were in a humiliating second half against the European champions.
Amid the headline-grabbing revelation that Henry was never pursuing a full takeover, he did share his optimism a share sale would happen. If that is the only way Liverpool can compete for the players needed to execute Klopp’s vision, the principal owner has increased the scrutiny on himself and his partners. The strength of FSG’s appeal to potential investors will determine how soon they can regain lost territory.
Aside from qualification for next year’s Champions League, the only prize left for Klopp to compete for this season is Jude Bellingham’s signature, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder suddenly a symbol of an imagined Liverpool future.
The squad must evolve, and when a world-class player is available, the manager wants him and the target seems keen on the move, there is no hiding place if money turns out to be the chief reason for missing out.
In a rare misstep, Liverpool's strategy of waiting for the right player, rather than any player, has spectacularly backfired as the season has floundered like some of their weary midfielders.
There is a clear and present danger if the owners’ pleas for investment are unsuccessful.
During their 13 years on Merseyside, FSG’s football operations have been generally immune from criticism. The only protests on the Kop since 2010 have been directed at ticket-price hikes and covert meetings about the European Super League.
But the appreciation of what the Americans have achieved anticipates ongoing and significant squad strengthening. FSG know that. That is what prompted Henry to appoint merchant bankers to embark on the "sales process" he insists was never intended to provoke speculation about a full buy-out.
The elephant in every boardroom in which he delivers his sales pitch is that Chelsea have just spent in excess of £600 million, and Manchester United are in the process of determining whether to sign a Faustian pact with the Qataris. Klopp has never wanted to work for a club with all the money in the world. But the least he – and the Kop – expects is they have enough to ensure they are not left behind by the world’s best.
Will Liverpool get back to where they were without reinforcements? No. Are they the same Liverpool as last season? No. Are investors desperately needed? Yes. Will something happen there? It needs to. Otherwise this year’s likely Champions League exit will be extended and Real will not be the last to leave Anfield feeling they owned Liverpool.