The plights of ex-Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and brief chief of Wearside, Dick Advocaat, bear similar resemblance to each other, if only in parts. Both came into clubs whose positioning was precariously between where they were expected to be, and where fortunes had placed them. Similarly, upon the realisation and arrival of their respected places of satisfaction, the two men were vocally applauded and celebrated as managers who had steadied the ships of success.
Now, tragically, similarly, both are out of the door and in walk an old face, and a new one. Starkly however, it appears to be the old dog, Big Sam Allardyce, who has made the more impressive start on Wearside opposite his Anfield compatriot of Jurgen Klopp. On paper, is this to be expected given their respective CV’s?
Big Sam is a manager hugely respected around English football. Time after time, he has taken clubs in dire need of a saviour, and he has been the man to save them. Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers and West Ham can all testify to this. He has built his teams upon defensively robust tactics (of which Kevin Nolan appears to be a feature!!) and similarly physically intimidating attacks – critics label him as a ‘long ball manager’, looking for the head of a big man like Benni McCarthy or Kevin Davies. Yet Sam’s road of success is not a long one. Having been in the management game for nigh on two decades, he has never achieved a higher finish than sixth, and has only very briefly touched upon the paths of European competition. His job at Sunderland is an ultimately simple objective, with an execution that may be more difficult to implicate: the survival and preservation of Sunderland’s Premier League status.
His start could barely have been better: after a 1-0 defeat at West Brom that some say the Black Cats could have taken a point from, came a resounding 3-0 triumph in the Tyne-Wear derby. Newcastle had looked marginally, if sporadically, better of late, taking a point from Chelsea, before rattling six past Norwich the other week. All the confidence from that game seemed to dissolve as Allardyce’s men put them to the sword, in a game that saw a timely rejuvenation of Steven Fletcher, and a very alert Costel Pantillimon keeping a savoured clean sheet. They looked improved, but it remains to be seen if it will last. Sunderland have teams to play around them – Aston Villa, Watford among some, before the turn of the year, which may be vital already, barely a third of the way through the league calendar.
Moving south a little, and Jurgen Klopp is taking a little more time to get his feet under the table. Three successive draws implies, quite correctly, three unbeaten matches for Liverpool. However, a draw with Rubin Kazan, followed by a last minute goal conceded to Saido Mane and Southampton may leave Liverpool fans feeling that the rejuvenation of their beloved Reds may take ‘The Normal One’ a little more time than initially expected.
Klopp is a man who needs time; he is not a wizard. What he achieved at Borussia Dortmund, a universally acclaimed period of time for both club and boss, took him a few years of ridiculously shrewd purchases, eagle eyed tactics, and minor adjustments before BVB overhauled Bayern Munich in 2010 to win the Bundesliga and establish their prowess at the top of German football.
He can do the same thing at Anfield if he is afforded time to turn the tide in Liverpool’s favour by the Fenway Sports Group. Luckily for Klopp, John W Henry and co. are not monsters. They understand the reality of what it will take to bring Liverpool back amongst the big boys, whilst Klopp is still adjusting to the monumentally high standards and outright competitivity of the Premier League. With the team now in a transitional phase, FSG may very well step back and allow Klopp to do his own thing for a period, trusting his instincts as they rightly should.
The issue of squad overhaul is one that many feel is a priority for Klopp. A concerning portion of the current squad have been labelled as deadwood by observers of Liverpool’s game: Jose Enrique, Dejan Lovren, and the recently loaned out Lazar Markovic have all been named as those precariously close to the trap door. Goals are also an issue to address. The £32.5 million signing of frontman Christian Benteke is taking longer to become fruitful than expected, whilst Klopp must surely realise the continually frustrating state of Daniel Sturridge’s fitness means he cannot be relied upon to bring in the goals.
Not only that, Klopp must focus on the proper replacement of key players down the years long since departed, such as Raheem Sterling, and Luis Suarez. Money has been frittered away at replacements who have failed to come good, but Klopp’s ability to pick up a bargain signing is universally acknowledged and deeply needed by Liverpool. Not only that, but galvanising withering signings such as Benteke, and Roberto Firminio who failed to sprout under Rodger’s reign may be key to the Red’s improvement. Benteke is a force already established with Aston Villa and with Belgium, but is lacking that danger and edge that ensured Villa’s survival last year. Firminio had a golden season with Hoffenheim as their leading scorer but is finding the same principles don’t cut it in England. As £60 million of investment between the duo, it is important they show their worth to the club sooner rather than later.
Comparing the two men’s starts seems prudent when considering their different backgrounds and management style. Whilst they have contrasting objectives, they both represent clubs suffering a fall from grace, and while Sunderland are hoping the old reliability of Allardyce pays dividends, Liverpool believe Klopp’s charismatic, maverick approach to management hauls the Merseysiders back up to the elite of the Premier League and beyond.