It has been a good week in the UEFA Champions League for Liverpool fans, which is strange given that the Reds bowed out of the competition back in March. However, for the pettier amongst us (and deep down we’re surely all a little petty), the sight of Manchester United, Manchester City, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid being knocked out of Europe will have left us high on schadenfreude. However, these giant killings do also bear one particular significance to Liverpool. For now, our very own Jurgen Klopp may have cemented his place as the best coach in world football.
It might seem hypocritical to laud Klopp’s achievements on Merseyside despite Liverpool exiting the Champions League in the first knockout round, while calling out other managers for not going further in Europe. However, context is important – Klopp is established in Europe. He has taken Liverpool to three European finals during his five-year tenure, including that victorious one in Madrid last season. In turn, this season’s cakewalk towards the club’s elusive nineteenth league title (and Klopp’s third) is salient proof that Klopp’s talents aren’t limited to international competition.
On the other hand, this is Pep Guardiola’s third consecutive season falling short at the quarter-final stage of the Champions League, when his star-studded Man City side were arguably favourites to progress on all three counts. It would seem that there lies an inherent issue in Guardiola’s dogmatic managerial style – his assembly of stars can’t seem to hack games where Plan A doesn’t work.
Diego Simeone, meanwhile, has done commendably well with the limited resources at his disposal. However, he never did manage to instil the mentality of serial winners in his team, which may have been why they fell short in the two Champions League finals they reached. And with the core of the team in Diego Godin, Antoine Griezmann and Gabi having departed, Simeone may not regain the opportunity to right those wrongs.
Another coach whose name is often brought up in ‘best manager’ debates is Zinedine Zidane. The Frenchman, whose playing career somehow eclipses his immensely impressive managerial career, drew rapturous praise for clinching three consecutive Champions League titles. He has, however, seen his reputation take a hit with a feeble exit at the hands of Manchester City this season, albeit with a slightly less glittery squad. Whilst he’s surely a more than capable manager, it might seem that Zidane’s past success had as much to do with the likes of prime Ronaldo and Bale as it did with him.
But the point of this piece isn’t to discredit other great coaches. It’s to point out an underrated aspect of Klopp that makes him stand out amongst these other contenders – he bears practically no identifiable weaknesses. Klopp has coached a winning mentality out of a team that just a few years ago bore an infuriating propensity for throwing away leads and capitulating under pressure. He’s done it with a net spend that’s dwarfed by his closest competitors. And his success is ubiquitous – he did it in Germany, he’s done it in England; He’s won domestically and he’s won in Europe.
I may have my red-tinted glasses on, but there really is no contest for me when it comes to who’s the world’s best manager right now. It goes without saying that it’s a debate with no definite, objective answer, but let’s be honest – that doesn’t matter to any Liverpool fan. After all, not one of us would give him up for any other coach in the world.