Whatever else Jurgen Klopp achieves at Liverpool this season, one thing is clear: he’s already cured the club of its Steven Gerrard dependence.
Now, that might sound strange, especially considering that the legendary ex- skipper left the club well over a year ago. Indeed, Gerrard, for all of his powers, had become far less influential in his last two seasons, as the likes of Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling came to the fore.
But there’s no question that at the height of his powers, Gerrard almost single-handedly carried the hopes and aspirations of Liverpool Football Club. Think about it. Liverpool’s biggest achievements of the last 15 years all bear the indelible mark of Gerrard genius: still a young prodigy, he scored one of the goals in the 2001UEFA Cup Final; scored in the 2-0 defeat of Manchester United in the 2003 League Cup final; scored the crucial Olympiakos goal that staved off Champions League elimination in 2004, then scored to start the revival in Istanbul; and made the 2006 FA Cup final his own with two fantastic goals, one a spectacular equalizer in the last minute of extra time.
You get the picture; when the chips were down, Liverpool looked to Gerrard, and he (often) delivered. It’s easy to get used to that, easy to fall into the trap of expecting one special player to come along and transform a team. But players like Gerrard are one in a generation, so as his powers waned, so the fan clamour for another messiah waxed. Suarez? Off to Barcelona. Sturridge? Always injured. Sterling? Gone too soon. This perhaps explains why the choice of Jordan Henderson – who’s having a fine season by the way – as captain, will always underwhelm some fans. How could he ever live up to Gerrard’s long-running skipper-super hero double act? How could anyone?
Enter Klopp and Liverpool class of 2016. The German coach has in the space of one year cobbled together a team no longer dependent on the powers of one great player, but rather thriving on the various attributes of a well drilled collective – and they are playing some exciting, attacking football. Sure, the likes of Coutinho and Firmino will still dominate the headlines, but other unsung players – Milner, Clyne, Lallana and Henderson – have already earned plaudits this season.
It makes Klopp’s team harder to predict, harder to stop. It also makes it less vulnerable, less dependent on the form, fitness or fidelity of one big star.
That should gladden the heart of Liverpool fans everywhere.