Liverpool may have received an enormous fee, but Philippe Coutinho’s exit leaves a huge hole in their squad. Jürgen Klopp’s time at Borussia Dortmund offers a few hints at how he might cope without the Brazilian.Jürgen Klopp has been here before. In the moments following Philippe Coutinho’s protracted €160-million ($192 million) move to Barcelona, he admitted that even a club as storied as Liverpool could not compete with the lure of one of world football’s biggest beasts.
“It is his [Coutinho’s] dream and I am now convinced there is nothing left at our disposal to change his mind,” the German coach said in a statement posted on Liverpool’s website.
Many in England have been startled by such a frank acceptance of the situation. But Klopp’s time in charge of Borussia Dortmund has prepared him well for the realities of running a club who sit on the level just below the very top of the food chain.
A familiar problem
Soon after BVB’s double-winning season of 2011-12, Klopp lost a key man in Nuri Sahin, who moved to Real Madrid. The season after that, it was a Champions League final and the departure of Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United. Then Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski moved to Bayern Munich in his last two seasons with the club.
His track record of coping with the losses is decent. Sahin was replaced by Ilkay Gündogan, Marco Reus came in for Kagawa and Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Götze. This trio – signed in successive seasons – all slotted seamlessly in to Klopp’s Gegenpressing system. Gündogan’s intelligent probing from deep made him a natural fit and Klopp continued to improve the midfielder’s form to such an extent that the €5.5 million signing from Nuremberg became one of Europe’s most highly regarded playmakers, eventually moving on to Manchester City for €27 million in 2016.
Despite his ability, Gündogan consistently struggled with injuries, much like Reus, whose undoubted clinical brilliance must always come with a fitness caveat. Although he found his best form under Thomas Tuchel, Mkhitaryan must be regarded as unqualified replacement-buy success for Klopp. The Armenian racked up 23 goals and 36 assists in his 90 league games for the club and netted BVB €42 million when he moved to Manchester United, also in 2016.
But it’s not all been plain sailing. The €18.5-million purchase of Ciro Immobile to fill Lewandowski’s prolific shoes played a large part in the 2014-15 freefall that eventually spelled the end for Klopp at the Signal Iduna Park.
The Italian – who has 20 goals in 18 Serie A games for Lazio this term – scored just three goals in his 24 Bundesliga appearances that season. That misstep in the transfer market meant even the emergence of Pierrre-Emerick Aubameyang as a goal scorer wasn’t enough to prevent Dortmund from flirting with relegation before eventually finishing seventh in Klopp’s final Bundsliga campaign. That must serve as a warning to Liverpool, who are by no means secure in their position in England’s top four.
Club before player
The 50-year-old boss has a reputation for putting teamwork, cohesion and effort above individuals, no matter how talented, and reiterated his belief that the club is always greater than the player.
“Players will come and players will go, that is football, but as a club we are big enough and strong enough to continue with our aggressive progression on the pitch, even when we lose an important player,” his statement read.
With Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, Liverpool still possess plenty of attacking tools and it remains to be seen whether Klopp will look to replace Coutinho quickly. The club have already signed center back Virgil Van Dijk for €59 million this month and will welcome RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita (€75 million) to Anfield at the end of the season. Neither have Coutinho’s ability to score out of nowhere or find the killer pass no-one else sees, and Klopp may well feels he needs to pluck another rabbit out of the transfer hat.
He may have become used to selling at Dortmund, who have continued to allow pivotal figures like Mats Hummels, Gündogan and Ousmane Dembele to exit since Klopp’s departure. But after he said in August 2016 that he wanted Liverpool to stop acting as a stepping stone for star players, Coutinho’s move must come as a bitter blow.
Still a selling club?
“We want to be a club in the future for sure whose players don’t want to leave,” Klopp said, before expressing his determination to prevent the “talent drain” that included the departures of Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling in the seasons before the German’s arrival.
His new club may have been able to hold on a little longer than his old one but eventually they too caved to one of the handful of clubs above them in the pecking order. This is the way of modern football, as Tottenham coach Mauricio Pochettino noted when discussing the long term future of his star man Harry Kane after a cup win at the weekend.
“Liverpool is one of the best clubs in the world and it shows when Coutinho, or a player like Coutinho, wants to leave, how difficult it is to keep your best player,” the Spurs coach said.
It turns out that resisting Barcelona was too difficult for Liverpool. Klopp must now ensure that recovering from the loss of Coutinho isn’t too difficult for him.