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Ken Early: Liverpool may find inspiration for their new manager from beyond the stars

Various metrics say that Arne Slot will be a good successor to Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool - but all that matters is when he speaks, do the players listen?

In Jürgen Klopp’s second-last game at Anfield, Liverpool remembered that football can be fun, scoring freely again now that the title pressure is off, and heaping misery on Ange Postecoglou’s demoralised Tottenham.

Spurs have lost four league matches in a row for the first time in 20 years, a disastrous run that has snuffed their hope of Champions League qualification and may have fatally damaged Postecoglou’s credibility. From being celebrated at the start of the season for speaking like a normal guy, Postecoglou now finds himself suspected of being, well ... just a normal guy ... who has somehow found himself managing a major Premier League club, and has no idea how to pull them out of this tailspin.

Postecoglou is the same person today as he was back in the autumn when he was winning three consecutive Manager of the Month awards, but that’s the mystery of football management. The fate of managers is determined by the intangible thing called belief, which can survive any setback when it is strong, but is almost impossible to recreate once it is gone.

After the game, Postecoglou was invited to say whether the example of Liverpool, who haven’t sacked a manager since 2015, should be followed by the decision-makers at Tottenham. “You’ve gotta find the right man, and the jury’s out as to whether that’s me, mate.”


The joke was a little close to the bone – it was certainly not one you’d have heard Antonio Conte or José Mourinho making – Postecoglou, for better or worse, is more of a normal guy.

That Klopp joined Liverpool in 2015 and did not win a trophy until 2019 is sometimes cited as an example of Liverpool’s enlightened “patience” – but the truth is Liverpool never needed to show any patience with Klopp. They have always believed – not just hoped, but really believed – that he was the right man.

Quite why that is, is not so easy to explain. Postecoglou, a Liverpool fan in his youth, had spoken during the week of how he had taken his son to Anfield in 2016, in the early days of the Klopp era.

More than the football, what stayed with him was the feeling. “There was a real energy in the stadium around Jurgen,” he said, “the whole club, supporters, everyone had bought into Jurgen, even though they hadn’t quite got to where they wanted to yet ... I felt that in the stadium, and that’s kind of why I always got drawn to managers like that. He could see things that others didn’t in that time.”

That was Postecoglou’s view from the stands. Daniel Sturridge, who spent more than three seasons in Klopp’s squad, observed on Sky that what had immediately impressed him about the coach was not what he said so much as the way he said it. “Just hearing his voice on the training pitch, weirdly enough. Like, the way in which he used to give the messaging, it resonated with everyone. And that’s one thing that’s difficult to do, where the players literally buy into everything you’re selling.”

Sturridge had hit on the same thing Frank Herbert wrote about in Dune, in which the Bene Gesserit order have learned how “to control others merely by selected tone shadings of the voice”. Herbert said that his readers often resisted the notion of the Voice. In one interview, he described a class of college students demanding to know, “‘What’s all this nonsense about controlling people with Voice?’ There seemed to be a lot of agreement with this point of view, that it’s impossible to do this. I said we do it all the time, and it’s amazing to me that anyone could even begin to question this as a fact of our existence.”

Herbert gave the example of how you could say to an acquaintance: “We must get together for lunch sometime.” Now, under one example of this, the fellow will call you the next week or you’ll call him and you will get together for lunch, and he knows he’s supposed to call you and make this lunch date. Under the other example of this same phrase, he know that this is “Goodbye, I don’t care to talk to you any more.” But it’s the same phrase. And this is the metamessage.”

We all instinctively understand that the “metamessage” is the real message. It’s why people shouldn’t waste their time reading how-to guides about leadership, which record the message but not the metamessage. The subjects of such books drew on qualities of personality and charisma that can’t be learned through mere study and imitation. None of Alex Ferguson’s ex-players, no matter how carefully they watched him and no matter how many books about management he wrote, were ever able to replicate the style that made him effective.

“I called it Liverpool 2.0, Liverpool 2.0 doesn’t stop after I leave,” Klopp said last week. But Klopp is the central figure in this Liverpool 2.0 and without him it will necessarily be different. Successful clubs tend to be dominated by a powerful individual: at Real Madrid it’s the president, Florentino Pérez; at Barcelona for many years it was the genius Lionel Messi; at Manchester United it was the manager, Ferguson. Barcelona and United can both attest to the extreme difficulty of replacing the person around whom the club has come to revolve.

The most important person at Liverpool post-Klopp is Michael Edwards, who left his role as sporting director in 2022, with Klopp having become so powerful that Edwards felt effectively redundant. Now Edwards has returned to Fenway Sports Group in the newly-created capacity of chief executive of football. It is unusual for a big club to revolve around a reclusive official who doesn’t score goals or give interviews.

Edwards’ first big task was to find Klopp’s successor and he seems to have chosen Arne Slot, the Feyenoord coach whose team plays a similar profile of football to Klopp’s Liverpool across a range of measurable categories: high tempo, great chance creation, lots of final third regains, etc. In that sense, Slot looks a good fit. And yet you suspect that none of these technical considerations matter very much next to the question: when he speaks, are they going to listen? If Edwards has figured out a way to predict that, then he really is on to something.