Klopp era ends with victory as Liverpool waits for Arne Slot

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LIVERPOOL — Doubters. Believers. Conquerors. These three words on a banner at Anfield’s Kop End, with each separated by an array of trophies, succinctly summed up Jurgen Klopp’s 8½-year reign as Liverpool manager. As the curtain fell on his time at the helm, Klopp did his best to convince every supporter inside the stadium following the 2-0 win over Wolves that nothing will change once he walks out the door. However, once the euphoria of his emotional farewell subsides, reality might bite hard.

Arne Slot, the Feyenoord coach, has been chosen to fill the void left by Klopp, but the 45-year-old should probably avoid sitting down to watch how his predecessor’s final day at Anfield played out unless he fancies waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, wondering what on earth he is about to walk into when he starts his new job.

Make no mistake: managing Liverpool is an incredible honour. They are one of the biggest clubs in the world, a team with a huge fanbase and a history that only Real Madrid can truly put in the shade. They have a team of stars, led by the likes of Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alisson Becker, and emerging talent in the form of Jarell Quansah, Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott.

But here is the catch. The fans are utterly in love with Klopp because he restored Liverpool to greatness, made them a club that the best players wanted to play for again and delivered the biggest trophies. Slot has plenty of advantages to look forward to when he walks into Klopp’s office and sits behind his desk, but if he saw and heard the adulation directed at Klopp before, during and after Sunday’s victory, he might just think he has accepted an impossible job.

Few managers enjoy the privilege of leaving on their own terms. Football is such a ruthless business that even the most successful are fired when results take a nosedive. Both Jose Mourinho (Chelsea) and Claudio Ranieri (Leicester) were dismissed within months of winning the Premier League title and Klopp hasn’t delivered that trophy to Anfield since 2020. But because he has rebuilt Liverpool and restored the club’s pride and belief since arriving in Oct. 2015, Klopp has become perhaps the most popular manager of any club during the Premier League era.

For weeks now, since he announced his decision to step down from his role in January, the Liverpool fans have sung Klopp’s name and also dreaded this day. As the fans’ song goes, “I’m in love with him and I feel fine,” though this was the day when it all came to an end. The banners — “Danke Jurgen,” “Jurgener Believers,” “Boss” — illustrated the affection for the former Borussia Dortmund coach, and so did the singing.

“Thanks for ignoring my request not to sing my song completely for the last six weeks,” Klopp said after the game, when he addressed the crowd from the centre-circle. “If you sing it next year, that would be funny.”

Klopp’s farewell was filled with emotion and joy, as you’d expect, and he did his best to prime the raucous Reds faithful for their new coach, Arne Slot. John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

If Liverpool fans are singing Klopp’s name next season, it probably won’t be funny for Slot. The new man needs everyone to fall in line behind him — from players and club staff to the supporters — just as they have done for Klopp, but the danger for Slot is that he is judged alongside Klopp and that seems an unfair measuring stick for any future Liverpool manager, as a coach and as a personality.

But Klopp did his best for his successor. When Sir Alex Ferguson retired after 27 glorious years as Manchester United manager in 2013, he delivered a message to the club’s fans saying, “The most important thing now is to get behind our new manager.” That was David Moyes, who was fired within 10 months; United have been chewing up and spitting out managers ever since.

Will it be different at Anfield? Time will tell, but Slot can at least rest assured that he has the backing, and blessing, of the outgoing coach. “The new manager, I want you to sing his name,” Klopp said. “Arne Slot, na na na na na!

Premier League table GP GD PTS 1 – Man City 38 +62 91 2 – Arsenal 38 +62 89 3 – Liverpool 38 +45 82 4 – Aston Villa 38 +15 68 5 – Tottenham 38 +13 66 6 – Chelsea 38 +14 63 7 – Newcastle 38 +23 60 8 – Man United 38 -1 60 1-4: UCL; 5: UEL; 6: UECL

“When the next season starts, go full throttle into it with the new manager. When you start, you keep believing. Don’t stop believing. I saw a lot of people crying, same to me too, but change is good. If you go with the right attitude, everything will be fine.”

The fans did sing Slot’s name, just as Klopp said, but they quickly reverted to sing Klopp’s. They wanted one last fist pump to the crowd, which he delivered, and he lingered on the pitch to make sure he soaked up every final bit of love and affection.

By that stage of the proceedings after full-time, he had changed into a red hoodie with “I’ll never walk alone again” on the back. He said he was now “one of you” when talking to the fans and insisted that the future can be bright.

“It doesn’t feel like an end, just feels like a start,” Klopp said. “People told me I turned you from doubters to believers. That’s not true. Believing is what you do yourself, you did it. Nobody tells you to stop believing.

“This club is in a better moment than for a long time. We decide if you believe or don’t believe, trust or don’t trust. Since today, I am one of you and I believe in you.”

Fans were crying in the stands as Klopp gave his address and then walked around the pitch before heading up the tunnel for the final time, after soaking in the atmosphere and emotions on display for nearly two full hours after the game had ended.

It has been an unforgettable 8½ years, perhaps unsurpassable, but that is the task he has handed down to Arne Slot.

Good luck, Arne. You will really need it.

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