One of the interesting sidelights of Arsenal’s visit to Anfield this weekend is the managerial meeting of minds of two highly regarded managers, Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger. The story of those two is, in some ways, the story of the progression (or regression, depending on your perspective) of the English game and the English media, and how the fans of the former (and the providers of the latter) have, as in many other spheres, accelerated the cycles of thought and action in the game.
I don’t need to run down Arsene Wenger’s accomplishments here, we all know them. The shorthand for this article is that he revolutionized the game, from back room to the pitch, and the league is a better place for it. Klopp, on the other hand, didn’t exactly revolutionize the game as much as he evolved it. In six years at Dortmund, his stock rose rapidly as he took that team to two consecutive titles in the early 2010’s, a record that caused his stock to rise dramatically; by the end of his time at Dortmund, he had amassed two titles, three second place finishes, one German Cup and three runners-up medals in that competition. He also led the 2012-13 Dortmund team to a Champions League final, which they lost to Bayern Munich.
Does that record and level of accomplishment sound familiar?
There are a lot of similarities between Klopp and Wenger, but Klopp’s story has been written in a much shorter timeframe. Wenger, obviously, is in year 20 and Klopp’s in year two at Liverpool, but that’s the thing - the cycle has compressed so much that the “is he up to the task” articles that started being written about Wenger after 16 years in charge are already being written about Klopp.
As with Arsenal, Liverpool are doing OK from an outsider’s perspective; fifth in the table with a strong chance of finishing in the top three. But, as with Arsenal, more serious observers are starting to ask questions about Klopp’s management and philosophy:
(Questions) such as why Klopp cannot see that Mamadou Sakho would be a better fit at centre-half than Lucas Leiva.
Klopp loaned Sakho, of course, but it’s an indication of Klopp’s thinking that he did so in the first place. Tactically, also, Klopp’s been found wanting a few times recently, and the more one reads about all of this the more it sounds like another team in red (and white), doesn’t it?
Perhaps it’s a symptom of social media, which after all didn’t exist when Wenger started his career at Arsenal, and how it shapes today’s informational landscape. Maybe it’s due to the heightened pressures managers at clubs who expect to contend for titles and finish in Champions League spots face from every interested party within the sport. Jurgen Klopp didn’t forget how to manage and set up a side in a matter of weeks, much like how Arsene Wenger isn’t suddenly aimless in how he views the game and what he feels are the best methods to winning matches. The managers haven’t changed; the expectations, though, definitely have.