Liverpool oblige Klopp desire for normalcy on farewell tour

LIVERPOOL, England — Jurgen Klopp made one thing crystal clear on Friday when announcing his decision to stand down as Liverpool manager at the end of the season: from now until his final day in the job, it has to be business as usual at Anfield. That Klopp got his wish, on and off the pitch, during the FA Cup win over Norwich on Sunday showed just how much he stills controls everything at the club.

His team cruised to a 5-2 win against the Championship club to secure a fifth-round tie at home to Watford or Southampton — both in the second tier — and further raise hopes of a run to both domestic cup finals, having already booked a Carabao Cup final clash against Chelsea next month.

Liverpool’s noisy supporters (the team in the stands) kept their emotions in check to dial down the Klopp tributes, even when they would have been desperate to honour the manager who has restored the club to greatness but will leave this summer after almost nine years in charge. There was a brief Klopp song two minutes into the game and another short chant after an hour, but it wasn’t until the fourth minute of stoppage time at the end of the game, when the tie was won, that the fans finally gave it a full-throated version of their favourite Klopp song.

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“I get it, it’s very emotional,” Klopp said to the BBC after the match. “I just have to make sure that I don’t get on that side of it. I said [the fans] don’t have to [sing his name] because I know our relationship already.

“In the games, we need to be warriors and not celebrate the old man on the sidelines.”

Make no mistake, Liverpool’s fan base is distraught at the news that Klopp will no longer be manager beyond this season, but the 56-year-old has consistently told the supporters to focus on backing the team rather than serenading him. Of all days, you would have expected them to defy Klopp on Sunday, 48 hours after announcing his eventual departure, but even when they did sing his name, it was like kids whispering at the back of class in the hope that the teacher wouldn’t tell them off.

Business as usual: do what the manager wants.

Liverpool are a club that tap into emotion and passion more than most. Few teams can claim to have anything close to the relationship with their supporters that Liverpool enjoy, and that connection is a major reason the club and Klopp have been such a perfect match since he arrived in October 2015.

With Liverpool still having a chance of winning four trophies this season, though, Klopp wants nothing to distract his team from the task at hand. When he spoke for 30 minutes at a news conference on Friday, four hours after the club’s social media channels broke the news of his decision to leave, Klopp said he would “answer 500,000 questions on my decision, but after today, I will only focus on the team.”

Klopp is an open book. He can be charismatic, funny and engaging, but he can also be grumpy and short-tempered when he receives a question he believes to be trivial or the supporters focus too much on him, so you can bet that he will respond in typical fashion if either of those things happen in the weeks ahead.

Controlling the sentiment of the fans will be difficult, though. They did as they were told against Norwich, keeping the chants and banners to a minimum, but it will hard for them to keep a lid on their emotions for the remainder of this season.

There will come a time when Klopp and his players need the supporters to raise the roof and use the manager’s impending departure as a catalyst for the noise and atmosphere that could carry the team over the line when they face opponents more challenging than Norwich.

Why is Klopp so loved at Liverpool? It is because he has achieved that rare combination of delivering success at the same time as echoing the sentiments of the fans in every sense.

He gets the Liverpool fans’ desire for attacking football, but also their outlook on life. Liverpool is a city where family comes before everything, and politically, it is unashamedly socialist in its outlook. In Klopp, they see a kindred spirit.

Pep Guardiola does not have the same connection with fans at Manchester City — the City manager has criticised the club’s supporters in the past — while even Sir Alex Ferguson did not unify the Manchester United fan base as Klopp has done at Liverpool.

The banner in The Kop Stand, which carried an image of Klopp alongside the words “Long to Reign Over Us,” summed it up. That phrase is usually reserved for the king or queen, but not in Liverpool.

Klopp’s reign is coming to an end, however. He has served notice of his intention to abdicate his throne, and the succession requires a suitable replacement. And with Liverpool still going strong in four competitions, the new manager might face an even more difficult task next season if Klopp vacates the stage having won a quadruple.

It’s not an impossible dream. Klopp said he would turn doubters into believers when he arrived at Anfield and, nine years on, that belief is now so strong that winning four trophies this season is almost expected.

If that happens, they’ll never stop singing Klopp’s name.

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