Jurgen Klopp has checked out at Liverpool – he should never have said he was leaving in January

Jurgen Klopp
Jurgen Klopp may have been wiser to leave his departure announcement until the end of the season - REUTERS/Carl Recine

Here in the final stretch of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool love affair, you feel you are witnessing everything for the last time. With 24 days left, all is freeze-framed for posterity: his last Merseyside derby, his last press conference put-down, his last casual haranguing of the fourth official. This was meant to be a chapter supercharged with joy and gratitude at the parting of a managerial visionary, but instead the dominant emotion, after his first Goodison defeat to Everton at the worst possible moment, is regret.

The source of this regret is not just the almost certain loss of a league title to adorn his farewell. It is the bitter memory of how, with four months of the season left, he delivered a quasi-presidential address to supporters and announced he was leaving. The theory was sound enough: that Klopp, a human fountain of inspiration and energy and heavy-metal analogies, could use his exit as an impetus, galvanising his players to perform at their highest level yet. “Let’s now really go for it,” he urged. “Let’s squeeze everything out of this season and have another thing to smile about when we look back in the future.”

But today’s reality forms the chilliest contrast to that idealism. Liverpool do not just look like pale imitations of their usual freewheeling selves. They seem, in an uncanny mirroring of their manager’s original justification for his departure, as if they have run out of energy. This loss to Everton was a case in point, with a petulant Darwin Nunez lacking any ruthlessness as a centre-forward, Virgil van Dijk achieving his only distinction in berating the referee, and a lethargic Mohamed Salah appearing to be asking himself why he did not accept last summer’s £200 million offer from Saudi Arabia.

Jurgen Klopp has checked out at Liverpool – he made the same mistake Sir Alex Ferguson did
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp consoles Darwin Nunez after a difficult night - Shutterstock/Adam Vaughan

It is the change in Klopp’s demeanour, though, that sounds the loudest alarm. Typically, this is a figure hyper-sensitive to every heartbeat, so attuned to Liverpool fans that he joins them in a sweary singalong at a Ukrainian airport. Now he simply appears numb, watching this campaign dissolve in familiar thwarted dreams. It would not be a surprise if, at some level, Klopp has mentally checked out, half-imagining a sun-kissed beach where he does not have to answer endless questions about title-race permutations. What is striking, though, is the openness with which he conveys his feeling of detachment.

“I just tried to figure out how I felt,” he said, in the aftermath of his last European game with Liverpool, against Atalanta. “And it was nothing.” At this point, we must note that Klopp’s reputation as a master motivator is well-earned. But it is hardly a surefire recipe for rousing your players to acknowledge that a dreadful result leaves you cold. It makes about as much sense, in all honesty, as telling them midway through the tightest three-way championship battle in recent memory that you are exhausted and on your way out.

Klopp has been protected from a full inquisition into the timing of his resignation speech by Liverpool’s form. Their triumph a month later in the Carabao Cup final, which he called his “favourite” of his 8½-year reign, suggested a man who could do no wrong. He had created one all-conquering side and here, thanks to a small galaxy of academy stars, he was bequeathing another. And yet the more Liverpool have wobbled during this decisive run-in period, the more the aura of infallibility has slipped.

Extended managerial send-offs are rarely the wisest ideas

Wayne Rooney, having watched a famous night for his beloved Everton, wasted little time in identifying the root of Liverpool’s ills. “The timing of Klopp leaving will definitely have had an effect on these players,” he said. “Players will look at that and see it as their way of getting out as well.” It was an analysis difficult to dispute. As magnificent as Everton were here, sticking to a Sean Dyche masterplan of clinical counter-attack and beefy set-piece defence, Liverpool resembled a team prematurely pressing the brake pedal.

Extended managerial send-offs are rarely the wisest ideas. Sir Alex Ferguson reflected how it was the “biggest mistake” of his career to announce in 2001 that he would retire at the end of that season, explaining that it led to several of his players “putting their tools away”. Liverpool, vanquished in short order by Crystal Palace, Atalanta and Everton, are giving off a distinctly similar vibe. It is as if players such as Salah and Van Dijk, who have reached such extraordinary heights under Klopp, are struggling to comprehend life without him. We thought by now that we would be watching the most lavish swansong since Frank Sinatra. But this is one leaving party that is threatening, in part because of Klopp’s own miscalculation, to fall terribly flat.