Jürgen Klopp not only brought victories but also fans' passion for the game | Kenan Malik


'YO“It's not so important what people think when you walk in,” Jürgen Klopp. observed when being introduced as Liverpool manager in October 2015. “It's much more important what people think when you leave.”

Today is the day Klopp leaves. It's the last day of the first division season in England, and Manchester City will probably be crowned champions (again). It is also the last day of Klopp's tenure as Liverpool manager, a moment that will wring out emotions, and not just at Anfield. Football is deeply tribal, but Klopp's resignation is an event that resonates far beyond Liverpool fans, even beyond the world of football.

Football coaches come and go. Since Klopp arrived at Liverpool, Nottingham Forest have gone through nine permanent managers, Everton eight, Chelsea seven, Spurs five and Manchester United four. Managerial instability has become part of the football landscape. So why has Klopp's departure sparked so many emotions?

Part of the answer is that Klopp is a world-class coach, probably one of the five best of his generation. Under his tutelage, Liverpool won the Premier League title by first time in 30 yearstheir first Champions League since 2005, the Club World Cup and a host of national cups.

Klopp's rivalry with Pep GuardiolaThe Spaniard who became Manchester City manager four months after Klopp arrived at Liverpool, and who may be the greatest of modern managers, has not only come to define the contemporary Premier League. but also reshape the character of English football. Guardiola said about Klopp's retirement: “I felt when I heard it that a part of Man City… we will lose something. We cannot define our period here without it. Impossible.”

And yet, despite all this, Klopp's legacy does not lie just in winning trophies, or in restoring a troubled club to the top of world football, or in helping to reshape English football. It is also in his ability to embody the idea of ​​football as a game for the fans and not just for the finances. Most of the coaches are former players, they are all fans of the game. But few have achieved it, as Klopp has to fuse the rational detachment necessary to be a great coach with the emotion and fervor felt by fans.

“There is something about football that people don't always understand,” he once observed. “The results, you forget. You confuse them all. But those little stories… I will never forget them.”

For a fan, sport is more than just a show. Yes, we value skill, speed and beauty. But, beyond all that, what sports fans really experience is passion. Sport, and in particular football, is nothing without an emotional bond. Supporting a team becomes a part of who you are and becomes absorbed into your identity.

What gives football its heart, its soul and its drama is that every match, every fan, is part of a larger story, a thread within a collective memory and imagined community. That's why hundreds of thousands travel to the ends of the country every week to follow teams that have never won a major trophy and may never do so. That is why many lower league clubs, from Barnsley to Swindon, become so important as social institutions in their cities, providing a sense of civic pride and a kind of mutual hope and aspiration.

A sign outside Anfield before Klopp's final game as Liverpool manager, Liverpool, on May 16. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

However, football, and the English Premier League in particular, is also big business. When the Premier League was launched in 1992, Total revenue in its first season was £205 million.. Last year, only Manchester City boasted revenues of £713m – more than three times the aggregate income of all clubs 30 years ago.

Manchester City is owned by Sheikh Mansour, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family and vice president of the United Arab Emirates. The supposed club Expansion of football financial rules. has become a symbol of the new face of football finances. He is currently charged with 115 counts of alleged financial irregularity. While the smaller clubs, like Everton and Nottingham Forest Although points were quickly deducted for breaching financial rules, City have managed to drag out their much more serious case for years, without going to court.

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As money has begun to rule the game, football itself – the skill, the beauty, the passion – has become subordinate to the product and the brand. A club like Liverpool may not possess the riches of Manchester City, but they are still part of football's elite. Three years ago he joined the attempt to create a breakaway European Super League, whose sole objective was to mint money. Only pressure from the fans forced the clubs to back down.

That is why a figure like Klopp – a self-proclaimed “football romantic” – inspires respect. Not only because he is a great coach but also because of his investment in the emotion of football, his ability to feel the game as a fan feels it. Even Klopp's less admirable traits – his touchline antics, his sometimes uncontrolled rage at referees, his attacks on critics – are based on that connection. It may be unseemly for a coach to let his emotions get the best of him, but that's how a fan lives the game.

The romanticism of football can easily give way – and often does – to the maudlin or maudlin. Klopp sometimes goes overboard, but he is also aware of it. He has deep respect for Liverpool, both about the club and the city, its people, its history and its traditions. But, in that first press conference, he insisted that fans should not “put that story, a big story, in a backpack and carry it around all day. We have to work in the present.”

Klopp has described football as “the most important of the least important”. By allowing us to recognize the importance of passion and joy, of solidarity and collective identity, it can also allow us to think more seriously about the most important things. At a time when there are conflicting debates about cosmopolitanism and rootedness, about identity and belonging, Klopp, a German who has put down genuine roots in a city in the north of England, has shown, without consciously intending to, the possibilities of negotiate between both, to find a sense of belonging that is neither suffocating nor precious.

When the curtain falls on Klopp's reign in Liverpool today, many of us will shed more than a tear or two.

Kenan Malik is a columnist for the Observer

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