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Klopp might be new Houllier instead of new Shankly - but that'll do nicely

Klopp might be new Houllier instead of new Shankly - but that'll do nicely

27/10/2015 at 13:13Updated 27/10/2015 at 13:14

Scott Murray takes a look at Jurgen Klopp's lukewarm start as Liverpool manager, and draws some extraordinary parallels with a previous incumbent.

Here's an Armageddon scenario: Liverpool are knocked out of the League Cup by Bournemouth, lose at Chelsea, once again fail to deal with Ruben Kazan and Crystal Palace, and put the tin lid on a dismal run with defeat at Manchester City.

Admittedly that's an overly melodramatic and statistically unlikely turn of events, even with the Reds almost totally shorn of confidence as they currently are. But much stranger things have happened in football. So let's run with it, just for one second.

That'd be a painful sequence for Liverpool fans to deal with. Silver linings, though, and there'd be one worthwhile benefit: you see the authors of all those 'Pressure On Overrated Klopp' articles that would undoubtedly start springing up? Strike a line through their names. Mark their cards. You need not read their work again. They'll only waste your time.

Memories would be shorter than ever. Spool back to 1998, and the appointment of Gerard Houllier as sole manager of Liverpool. His first game in charge was a 3-1 home defeat to Leeds United. His next six games brought four more defeats, against Tottenham Hotspur and Wimbledon and twice at the hands of Celta Vigo.

Gerard Houllier (right) and assistant manager Patrice Bergues (left) during their Liverpool days

Gerard Houllier (right) and assistant manager Patrice Bergues (left) during their Liverpool daysPA Sport

It was an inauspicious start - but his reign would become one of the most important in Liverpool's history.

Houllier doesn't receive his fair share of the love these days, respected rather than adored, and yet there's a case to be made that he was Liverpool's most important manager since Bill Shankly. Where would the 21st-century Liverpool be without the efforts of their French professor back at the turn of the millennium?

Houllier took control when the jig looked up, turning a depressed Liverpool back in to a club that believed in itself again, serious contenders for major trophies once more. Without his modernising drive of the late 90s, there would have been no cup treble in 2001, no Champions League debut, no contemporary body of work to attract a grade-A manager like Rafa Benitez, no miracle of Istanbul.

Just as well everyone showed Ged plenty of patience from the get-go, huh?

The comparisons between Houllier's starting point and Klopp's are uncanny. Roy Evans' Liverpool had come heartbreakingly close to winning the title in 1997, capitulating on the run-in, left with nothing to show for some of the most breathtakingly beautiful football of that era.

Their failure was at least partly the fault of the team's defence, which was a comedic shambles. Evans subsequently attempted to stem the bleeding but misplaced the plot big-time, his progressive philosophy sucked into a whirlpool of muddled thinking. He bought badly and succeeded only in turning a once-exciting team into a turgid, directionless mess.

Brendan Rodgers

Brendan RodgersPA Photos

Houllier inherited a team hysterically careering down the slope: Phil Babb, Vegard Heggem, Paul Ince, Oyvind Leonhardsen. A club once famous for hoovering up every prize going had won just one League Cup in six seasons.

Within three years he had that famous cup treble to his name, plus another couple of baubles in the Charity Shield and Super Cup. Within four his team had finished second in the league and reached the quarter-finals of their first-ever Champions League campaign (what Manchester City would have paid for a virgin tilt like that). Within five they'd won another League Cup.

It was an astonishing return to the top table for Liverpool, even if they didn't get the one thing they really wanted above all else: that 19th league title. In many ways, Houllier was desperately unlucky to be doing the right things at the wrong place in time. His peak years at the club coincided with Manchester United in their imperial pomp, as well as peak-era Arsenal. You could picture Houllier's 2000-02 side winning the league in 1997, say, or 2014.

But of course football doesn't work quite like that. Still, damn poor Houllier's unfortunate luck, which queered his legacy in other ways. It's never going to help if your successor wins the European Cup in his first season, then goes on to build a team that reaches number one in the UEFA rankings.

More tragically - though thankfully only in the sense of his career - Houllier never really rediscovered his mojo at Anfield after recovering from the heart condition that nearly killed him in 2001. That later phase twisted perceptions, but his body of work withstands serious scrutiny.

Houllier Owen

Houllier OwenImago

The brilliance with which Houllier revived Liverpool from a similar predicament snaps the size of the job facing Klopp into sharp focus. It took Houllier plenty of time - it's easy to forget, for example, the appalling bottle job at the end of the 1999-2000 season, two draws and three defeats in the last five games blowing Champions League qualification - but he dragged the club back up there in the end. At times he seemed to be doing it through sheer force of will, which was no mean feat, seeing he wasn't blessed with the natural charisma of a Shankly or ... a Klopp.

The new man will need a little more time to transfer the team's fortunes than the modern media circus is likely to permit. One or two transfer windows? Definitely. Two or three seasons? Almost certainly. It's this timeframe in which Klopp's Anfield career must be judged, because it's simply impossible to clean up such a mess straight away - forget Houllier, have we learned nothing from the early Fergie years? - and stunningly unrealistic to expect Klopp to instantly get a bog-average squad playing heavy-metal chords with a tap of a magic baton. Borussia Dortmund didn't happen overnight, either.

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp

Liverpool manager Juergen KloppReuters

But patience is the watchword of the wise, with history their comforting friend. The hype machine trumpeted the crashing arrival of a second Shankly, but if things pan out carefully in the style of a Houllier mkII, nobody will be complaining too much.