Klopp's exit leaves a huge hole at Liverpool. Who will step in to fill it?
EPL

Klopp's exit leaves a huge hole at Liverpool. Who will step in to fill it?

Jan 27, 2024

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As fans and pundits reflect fondly on Jurgen Klopp’s transformative eight-year spell as Liverpool manager, work begins on finding a replacement who can keep the good times rolling at Anfield.

Here are five candidates with the strongest claims to one of the most desirable vacancies in world football:

Xabi Alonso

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This one’s a slam dunk. Alonso is a former Liverpool player and fan favorite who’s establishing himself as one of the game’s most exciting managers at Bayer Leverkusen. He commands a similar brand of heavy-metal football in the Bundesliga, with an emphasis on lightning-quick counterattacks, and as a 42-year-old at the beginning of his managerial career, he has the energy to carry on what Klopp can’t.

Alonso understands what it means to play for Liverpool and handle big nights at Anfield. There’s still an attachment to the club – his biggest regret is not winning the Premier League as a Liverpool player – but a return wouldn’t be a premature or desperate maneuver. It wouldn’t feel like it did when Manchester United hired Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or when Chelsea appointed, and then reappointed, Frank Lampard. Those were purely emotional decisions seemingly preordained by their previous affiliations with their clubs.

Alonso would be a good fit even without his history at Liverpool. He has Leverkusen competing for their first Bundesliga title since 2011 and playing some of the most irresistible football in Europe. “He is an example of a new generation of coaching,” Leverkusen midfielder Granit Xhaka said recently.

Roberto De Zerbi

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Every time there’s an opening at a top European club, De Zerbi invariably ends up on the list of potential candidates. He’s shown in such a short time at Brighton & Hove Albion how quickly he can transform a group of players and get them to execute his vision of attacking football.

But the links to Liverpool are credible. De Zerbi has already coached one of the fulcrums of Liverpool’s midfield, Alexis Mac Allister, and his coaching philosophy is similar to Klopp’s. De Zerbi’s Brighton press as a unit and counter-press when they lose possession, and they have the patience to play from back to front. Despite their abundance of talent, Liverpool operate similarly, moving as an organism rather than individual parts.

The only question about De Zerbi is whether he can provide consistent results. As exciting as his reign on the south coast has been, Brighton can be unpredictable, winning by multiple goals or losing by five. The Seagulls haven’t won more than three consecutive games with De Zerbi in the dugout, and that’s a concern. If he were to get the job on Merseyside, he may have to compromise his risky style of play to establish firmer footing.

Unai Emery

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A short time ago, Emery would’ve been a Hail Mary for any club looking for a manager. He left Arsenal with his reputation in tatters and with nothing but memes as his legacy. But he rebuilt his career at Villarreal, winning the Europa League in 2021 before leading the club on a Cinderella run in the Champions League. He leveraged his success there into a move to Aston Villa.

In just a year and a half, Emery has taken Villa from 14th place to the upper echelons of the Premier League, doing so with many of the players he inherited. Though he focuses more on the defensive aspect of the game, Emery’s teams thrive on energy, just as Liverpool have under Klopp. Villa play with a high line and rely heavily on wide players to do work on and off the ball. Emery would find a similar group of hard workers at Liverpool and could even find a way to use the 4-4-2 formation that has brought him so much success.

But would Liverpool hire him to be a coach or architect? One of the reasons his spell at Arsenal ended badly was because he neglected to do the kind of diplomatic work Arsene Wenger had before his departure in 2018. Emery walked into a club that needed a spokesperson as much as it needed a coach. All he wanted to do was focus on the weekend’s tactical matchup. Liverpool have a hierarchy in place that can delegate that specific task to him, but they’re still a massive club with the same politics at play. Whether he’s ready for that is unclear.

Thomas Tuchel

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Everywhere Klopp goes, Tuchel seems to follow. Tuchel replaced Klopp at Mainz in 2009 before stepping into his forerunner’s shoes at Dortmund in 2015. While he’s forged his own path since then, making stops at Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich, he remains Klopp’s closest body double.

But it may prove difficult to attract him to Liverpool. Though his Bayern side has disappointed at times, he wields a lot of power and has one of the most prolific strikers in the game at his disposal in Harry Kane. Tuchel hasn’t always had the best time dealing with boards and executives – high-level disputes led to his departures from Dortmund and PSG – and he could find himself arguing with the various committees and owners at Liverpool. Bayern have given him a significant say in transfers, and he’d have to give that up.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the 50-year-old won’t ever coach Liverpool. It’s a job that could make sense for him a few years down the line. He’ll continue to get offers from Premier League clubs, and given the way Chelsea unceremoniously axed him, he likely feels he has unfinished business in England.

Antonio Conte

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Though Conte is the most unlikely of the quintet to land the gig, he remains an intriguing option for Fenway Sports Group to consider. The Italian is the only one on this list who’s free of contractual obligations, and he has a plethora of experience at top European clubs. If Liverpool want to establish domestic supremacy, Conte, who’s won league titles with Juventus, Chelsea, and Inter Milan, is perhaps the best positioned to deliver that.

However, like Tuchel, Conte is a difficult manager to please. He wants the players he wants and prefers water carriers and soldiers over up-and-coming talent. Conte’s style of play is also not the prettiest, and it would be easy to envision a revolt in the stands if the ends failed to justify the means. Despite his experience, he’d be a hard sell for supporters who’ve become accustomed to a certain way of playing.

But he’s a winner. That’s what counts. He’s one of just three managers to have snatched a league title ahead of a side managed by Pep Guardiola. With Guardiola’s Manchester City vying for a fourth straight Premier League title and sixth in seven years, that’s important intel to have. He can forge incredible relationships with players and create the kind of togetherness Klopp has established during his eight years in charge. Conte is emotional, and so are Liverpool. He can charge up the crowd like Klopp can, and that’s worth something.

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