Football Sport

Klopp and Pochettino: Football’s next elite level managers Or overrated?

Out of the big six teams in the Premier League, only half of their managers have been in the job for two seasons; only two of which who aren’t called Arsene Wenger (as if that guy needs anymore articles attacking his managerial ability!).

Jürgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino are the two of the most exciting young managers in world football with the former already worshipped by the Anfield faithful and the latter being tipped as a future leader of the Catalan giants Barcelona.

With a total of 4 titles between them amassed already, and huge support from fans and journalists alike it may seem surprising but do they really deserve the hype surrounding them? Are they overrated or upcoming stars?

Both managers follow a similar philosophy of high press, heavy work rate and thrilling attacking football designed both to win games and get the crowd off their feet. They have deployed these tactics at every club they have been at with varying success.

Jürgen Klopp is currently in his second season at Liverpool after leaving Germany following 7 successful seasons at Dortmund and before that varying success at Mainz. All four of his career titles were achieved in Germany with Dortmund whilst also accomplishing promotion with Mainz prior to becoming a cult hero with BVB.

On the flipside; he also got relegated with Mainz (and left following a failure to return them to the top flight) and again left Dortmund following a 7th place finish resulting in a lack of European football for a team who only recently lost in the Champions League final at Wembley.

Unfortunately, this is the form he has seemingly brought to Merseyside where he has finished 8th and currently sits in 5th; a full 14 points off the lead. He also brought with him his abysmal form in cup finals in which he has lost 5 on the bounce (his only wins being the German Super Cup and the DfB Pokal).

Pochettino has made his name predominantly in the UK for his improvements made on down teams, the development of young English players and for his exciting styles; he has yet to win a single title since swapping the boots for brogues that would really put an exclamation point on any application to Barcelona.

When he replaced the popular Nigel Adkins few had heard of his exploits at Espanyol and his interpreted interviews probably did little for the confidence of his team’s fans. However, he quickly won them over by giving Southampton their highest league position since the 1990s (8th) in his first full season culminating in big money moves for the core of the team; his techniques arguably evolving the national team more than any other manager in recent years due to the advancement in the careers of Clyne, Lallana, Shaw and now Kane, Dier, Rose, Walker and Alli.

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Since moving to Tottenham he secured them Champions League football in only his second season at the club finishing third in the league and reached a major cup final. With Tottenham initially looking at a big rebuild due to the breakup of Redknapp/AVB’s teams following Modric and Bale going to Madrid and the subsequent bad spending of their fees, Pochettino deserves huge credit for speeding up the process.

Like Klopp though, he’s also had his failures. As magical as Leicester’s glorious title winning season was it wouldn’t have been possible without the all-time collapse of Spurs which I must place a large portion of the blame on the manager; it is something Ferguson/Mourinho/Conte would never allow to happen regardless of the players being in a new situation. Similarly, he was unable to add the ever-elusive silverware (losing to Chelsea in the ELC final) and had a collapse again this year getting knocked out of both European competitions consecutively without a fight.

In terms of comparison, they joined their current teams in similar circumstances. Liverpool were a couple of years removed from their most serious title challenge in decades under Brendan Rodgers but were faced with further rebuilding after the loss of Suarez to Spain followed by subsequent squandering of transfer funds on utter flops like Balotelli. Similarly, Tottenham had achieved some success under AVB thanks to the heroics of Gareth Bale who like Suarez secured the dream move this time to the white side of El Clasico but again were left wondering what that £85 million had returned for them.

Following their appointments, their win percentage doesn’t differ too dramatically. Pochettino, who in my humble opinion started with the better squad, operating with a 51.4% wins from 140 games and Klopp a humbler 47.4% from 78 games; having taken a massive hit this January/February getting knocked out of all domestic cup competitions and effectively been eliminated from the title race.

In terms of the effects they have had on their teams, it’s been a quick and obvious turnaround in terms of goals going in at both ends for Pochettino particularly since taking the reins at Spurs whereas with Klopp he is still yet to shore up the back line that plagued the Rodgers’ era for so long; you only have to look at the table below for evidence (please note the 16/17 season is only 26 games into the season and all stats are league form only):

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Another area of importance for managers is their ability to impact the players of their team and to find suitable ways to improve it; as great as a scheme or set of tactics are it is the players who make the tactics appear great.

Since arriving in England Pochettino has been instrumental in the vast progression of several footballers.

To list a few of the players he has helped make their England debuts; Rickie Lambert], Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez, Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers, Nathaniel Clyne, Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Ryan Mason. These are just the English players as we can’t forget the abilities of Wanyama who is finally getting the recognition for his talents.

These players spread over both clubs he’s managed in England, some reaching their potential and some looking far better under his guidance than they possibly should having failed to reach those heights since departing (Lambert and Chambers especially). His philosophy of developing the academy players continues to be successful with the emergence of Josh Onomah and Harry Winks this season.

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It is a proven method that is both economical and efficient resulting in Tottenham consistently being one of the best teams with a strong net spend because he rarely needs to dip into his transfer kitty and make a splash to improve his team.

Klopp appears to have a similar impact – though its clearer with him as the reason why – getting his players to lay their life on the line for him.

He casts an animated and passionate figure on the touchline, a polar opposite of Pochettino, and so it is not difficult to see why his team works so hard for him! The resurgence of Lallana who had been a shell of himself since leaving the south coast – incidentally where he’d been under the management of Pochettino – now looks like the star Liverpool had hoped to be signing. Klopp also appears to be getting the best out of Milner and elevated the game of Firmino and Coutinho to the next level.

He has a similar impact on his players to Pochettino but I believe it is more down to his passion that their complete faith in the system that I think is the main cause behind the dramatic improvements players make under Mauricio. Similarly, he’s yet to bring through any of Liverpool’s young stars that he was credited for at Dortmund instead choosing the calamity Alberto Moreno and the experiment with Milner at left back as opposed to the highly-touted Joe Gomez.

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Whilst not necessarily the preferred method of these two managers, the transfer market is another option in finding ways to improve and elevate your team but so far, I’d have to say their ventures have been wholly unsuccessful.

Most of Liverpool’s best signings making up the current squad such as Coutinho/Firmino/Lallana were left over from the reign of Brendan Rodgers. In fact, after three transfer windows, the only significant signing is Sadio Mane who I think was an excellent bit of business. I say this not only because of his clear ability and the threat he gives going forward but because of how well he fits Klopp’s system with pace and high work rate.

As good a signing as Mane was however, he doesn’t get Klopp off the hook for Klavan (who in my opinion is worse than Skrtel); Karius who was brought in to replace Mignolet but is just a poor man’s version of the Belgian (based on the sample size we’ve seen); and Matip, who whilst a decent free signing, has been put in as their best centre back yet has done nothing to sure up the team at the back. In summary, Klopp has had way more misses than hits which is alarmingly similar to the issues of Brendan Rodgers time at the club.

Mauricio Pochettino has not fared much better. His signing of Alderweireld [£11.5m] and Wanyama [£11m] were bargains in today’s day and age of football madness, especially with the reputation they had already gained. Similarly, Alli and Dier were also additions made under Pochettino for small sums who after a few years of development look like the future of England’s national team. These four were fantastic pieces of business conducted by the Argentinian maestro but he again has had his failures spending well over £40m on flops like Fazio, Stambouli, Yedlin, N’Jie and Son; that latter though having a much better second season at the club having hit strong form in 2017.

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On top of this, there wasn’t a fan or journalist in the country who didn’t know Spurs required a complementary striker to support Kane for goals and the result; Vincent Janssen. It may be being harsh but I think this must be up there as one of the worst signings of the summer. He hasn’t come close to filling the need they had; he only looks capable of scoring 20 goals a season if Mike Dean continues to award Spurs a wealth of penalties. He may only be 22, but he looks like an even less clinical version of Soldado and Tottenham fans won’t thank me for reminding them of him. It is this failure to find a good secondary striker in my eyes that has resulted in Tottenham struggling to make any noteworthy improvements upon last year, again finding themselves comfortably in the top four currently but not remotely close to being in contention for any major honours other than the FA cup.

In summary, both these managers are both still very young for the job they are in and they are no doubt having an impact on the clubs they oversee. Both have altered the philosophies and implemented their own unique trademark football in a short space of time.

Certainly, Liverpool look stronger than in previous years – except for the Rodgers anomalous title charge – as they begin yet another rebuild with a new manager however it looks like a lot longer road than they may have initially anticipated when hiring Klopp. He has failed to attract the top players without European football the way Mourinho has managed to at United and has continued to make horrible signings like Rodgers and Daglish before him. On top of this he has failed to develop any of Liverpool’s supposed young talent or sure up their nightmarish back line which combined with their continuous failed attempt to add to their trophy cabinet does start to create question marks around Klopp.

Pochettino does, in my mind, demonstrate similar concerning failures as Klopp has done. He has failed to build upon anything from last year moving sideways rather than continuing to improve Tottenham with them plummeting out of Europe and starting so abysmally in the league that Chelsea are a blip in the sunset. Similarly, he also has a number of questionable signings to his name even with the additions of gems like Alli (although Ferguson had a Veron or Kleberson for every Cristiano Ronaldo he uncovered).

To wrap up with a form of conclusion, I think Pochettino has demonstrated at both Southampton and Tottenham that his methods are hugely successful in this country and I think he’s probably one strong summer transfer window from finally pushing Tottenham into that next level which has eluded them for so long; not even during the Bale years did they truly reach it. He has turned White Hart Lane to a fortress, they are no longer a trivial fixture and I think Arsenal fans finally do genuinely fear them. As a result, I think Pochettino, considering what he has had to work with, has built something special everywhere he has been and is a couple of trophies from really being in that elite group of managers in world football; he’s certainly the best out of the names being thrown around for the Barcelona job. Jürgen Klopp on the other hand I believe to be a tad overrated with his trophies inflating his reputation. He’s won things but is not a true winner like a Mourinho or a Conte, you only need to look at the record in finals I have previously mentioned. Also, with every team he’s seen success with, he has arguably left them in a worse position than he found them in both down to a lack of ability in the transfer market and possibly because his exertion of passion potentially wearing his teams down – especially when they stop winning. He has yet to show me a Liverpool that has improved in any significant way, certainly in their areas of weakness and so I have to, until I see anything to the contrary, label him as overrated.

 

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