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One Final Heavy Metal Encore

Today is a day we all hoped would never come – a day we thought maybe, just maybe could keep getting pushed back until some future point when it wouldn’t sting as much. But as another Liverpool legend once wrote: “All Things Must Pass”. We’ve reached the end of the reign of Jurgen Klopp.

Typing those words right now still seems impossible. How could it have happened out of nowhere on a random Friday in January, in the midst of what has already proven a strong season? The answer is obvious as more news comes out: the decision had already been made but that information was about to be leaked somehow and the Reds wanted to be in control of the narrative first.

Kloppo himself said it plainly, that he was out of energy. It had seemed likely at the end of last year when the team felt at times out of ideas and on its last legs in more than a few matches. The summer came, and with it new faces and a reload for the next phase. Watching Jurgen and the Reds once again felt like a team hungry to take on all challenges and not hanging on. Yet deep down, there was a lingering suspicion on my part that Jurgen might do something like this, that he might step away early rather than late. One of his greatest strengths is his emotional intelligence and, by the end of last year, he just seemed so tired. He knew what the job required and when he honestly looked within himself, he realized that if he wasn’t all in still, he had to bow out.

As fans, we cannot possibly know the physical and mental exertion it takes to work at the highest levels of professional sports. The day in, day out churn, the constant demand, the long hours, all of it takes its toll. Especially when competing for titles and trophies against behemoths such as City and Real Madrid in years past. And make no mistake, that was the level Liverpool have returned to thanks to Klopp. Where once a Top 4 finish was celebrated, now a Top 5 finish was seen as an awful year and there were even whispers in some corners that maybe Klopp should leave because of it.

What he has given us now though is a gift, a gift that we can hope to repay him in the time we have left together. Every match will be a celebration of the club, the team, the people and especially the legacy he has built here. For Jurgen Klopp has restored something in Liverpool that can never be forgotten or taken away: the joy of belief.

I’ve been a Liverpool supporter through some of the more dire times in recent years, when the team was struggling to stay afloat through ownership changes, mediocre signings and disappointing results. We’d have great players like Stevie G or Suarez who could lift the club up above the levels it perhaps possessed but it always felt like a minor miracle. Overall, I would watch most matches with the knot in my stomach that the team might not be good enough. In short, I was a doubter.

I loved the team but was eternally waiting for the other shoe to drop. As the saying goes, “it’s the hope that kills you” and frankly, I was always guarding myself against that failure and loss of hope.

Enter Jurgen, who from the jump made his intentions clear: This team and game should be about joy and fun. We should be thrilled to play and bring the energy and intensity to our opponents. Instead of worrying about what could go wrong, believe in what WILL go right. Create something new and special. Such was the power of his message that even yesterday at a new press conference, an NFL coach, Brian Callahan directly quoted Jurgen when explaining the ethos he hoped to bring to the job.

Even more than that though, Klopp believed in the power of empathy. He opened up a direct vein into Anfield and the results were instant and addictive. Few managers in the world have their fans write songs about them that they chant so often the manager himself asks them to refrain until the games are over. Such was his connection. He understood the longing, the hunger, the need to feel a part of something greater. He cared. About his players, their families, the fans, the city, just people in general. In a world that right now feels so cold and remote, he burnt a fire of warmth that will linger far beyond his time.
He took the lead on social issues and was never shy about giving his opinion when things mattered to him, not worried in the least about his image or about just sticking to football. He is and will remain curious about the world, someone who wants to be a part of it, and not just witness it. Now, after this season, who knows where he might go or what he might do but I can say for myself, that I know his next chapter will be just as extraordinary.

The lasting image though and to me, the thing that best captures Jurgen is simply: The Klopp hug. The embraces he gives his players after every match as he races around, like a proud father, always with a word or joke to every single player. He engulfs them more than he embraces, almost as if he is giving them all the energy he has to restore them and make them whole again. He is letting them know what a joy it has been to watch, that they have given their all for the cause and for 90 minutes at a time, the world has felt that joy themselves.

If allowed, I have no doubt that literally every Liverpool fan would line up to be hugged by Klopp to thank him. He has restored the team to a sense of community, not alone of course, but as the leader that everything is drawn from. As always, he has made hard choices and now, has made the hardest of all. By saying goodbye now, he is allowing the team to find the next leader and sets the team up for a future that looks just as bright.

It’s the difference honestly between leaders who are selfless and those who leave with ego. Others may burn everything to the ground as they walk out, but Klopp has planted the seeds, watered them and is leaving a fresh harvest to be grown. Maybe by a Xabi Alonso or maybe by someone completely unexpected. Time will tell and that story will begin to be written.

For now, all we can do is enjoy the time we have left. Rock every single game, demand an encore of the last decade and send our gaffer out in the glory his work richly deserves.

Football is just a game of course and a welcome distraction from what feels like an increasingly punishing world. We’re still coming to grips with what the last few years have done to all of us collectively, to say nothing of the last few months. It is in those moments, that we reach out for something to connect us again, to remind us what it feels like to laugh or be thrilled again, to forget for a moment pain and find a sense of happiness. To hope in what is possible. I am a believer once again. For that, Jurgen has my eternal gratitude and thanks.

Danke Jurgen.

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