The Sunday Mail
For 20 years, Manchester United’s success put Liverpool’s failings under the microscope.
Now, as the clubs meet this evening, those same roles have been reversed.
Jürgen Klopp has moved Liverpool so far ahead, because rather than buying a team of superstars, he has made a team of superstars.
Klopp did not rebuild by signing players beyond his rivals’ means, or because he had financial backing his predecessors or title-challenging managers at other clubs were denied.
There is not a single Liverpool signing who will feature today who Manchester United could not have afforded.
While United went through a period banking on world-renowned players like Paul Pogba from Juventus, Ángel Di María from Real Madrid, Juan Mata from Chelsea, Bastian Schweinsteiger from Bayern Munich, Alexis Sánchez from Arsenal, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic for Paris St-Germain; Liverpool assembled a first-choice XI from Hull, Southampton, Newcastle, Sunderland, Hoffenheim, Roma, Charlton, Monaco and the club’s under-18s.
There are those who point towards the club’s biggest deals under Klopp — Alisson Becker and Virgil van Dijk — and argue they were already established, hence their massive transfer fee.
Van Dijk cost £75 million because of the extra £25 million premium Liverpool paid due to the tapping up scandal six months earlier; otherwise he would have cost the same as John Stones.
He was at Southampton just over two years and no one else took the gamble.
If Van Dijk was already a star, why didn’t Manchester City, Real Madrid or Barcelona sign him?
Only since moving to Anfield has he developed into the best centre-back in the world and Ballon d’Or contender.
If Harry Maguire achieves the same at United, the same will be said about him, regardless of the £80m fee.
As Brazil’s No. 1, Alisson is the one Klopp signing who can be argued was ready-made.
His specialist role makes him the exception, Liverpool again paying more to Roma than the market value after getting Mo Salah for a bargain a year earlier and in the aftermath of Loris Karius’ catastrophic 2018 Champions League final performance.
But the Van Dijk and Alisson fees followed the £142 million sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona, so when Tottenham fans lamented the different direction of their club last weekend, here is what happened.
Liverpool sold their best player two months after losing 4-1 to Spurs in 2017, reinvesting to make their side better.
Had Barcelona bid £140 million for Harry Kane in January 2018, would Spurs have accepted to sign Van Dijk and Alisson?
That’s the maths behind Liverpool’s so-called big spending on their goalkeeper and centre-back.
It cannot be compared to Chelsea between 2003-04 and Manchester City prior to 2012 because those clubs did not sell big before buying big.
It is often suggested that Manchester United in 2020 resemble Liverpool in the 1990s — expensive and under-performing, where the only signs of hope come from the emerging youngsters.
The Liverpool of 2020 has more in common with United in the early 1990s, just before Sir Alex Ferguson lifted his first title.
A well-drilled, disciplined and brilliantly managed team who bought well, improved those signings and introduced academy gems at the right time.
It was not overnight success.
How often do you still hear managers begging for patience by pointing out it took Ferguson seven years to win the league?
If Klopp does it this year, he will have achieved it in five.
Klopp has mirrored how Ferguson assembled his first championship team in the late 80s.
With retrospective wisdom, football historians list legendary United players and make it sound like they were blowing away their rivals with big signings guaranteed to succeed.
They did spend a lot.
Records were broken for Gary Pallister (from Middlesbrough) and to bring back Mark Hughes from Barcelona, and relatively big fees paid at the time on Paul Ince and Paul Parker.
But while United were investing in those players, Liverpool were breaking UK and club records for Mark Wright, Dean Saunders and Paul Stewart
This trend continued throughout the decade.
Liverpool spent twice as much on David James as United did on Peter Schmeichel.
Nigel Clough cost more than Eric Cantona.
Julian Dicks was more expensive than Denis Irwin, and Stan Collymore more expensive than Andy Cole.
The list goes on through the 90s.
United were not the only big spenders, they used resources better than anyone else and then — most importantly of all — had the right conditions at their club to ensure that once the best players arrived, it was only the start for them, rather than pinnacle.
Only at the start of the 2000s was the financial gulf between United and Liverpool more apparent.
By then — given the choice — the top players wanted to go to Old Trafford ahead of Anfield anyway.
Ferguson’s later genius was keeping United at the top when Chelsea and Manchester City came along and blew everyone away with their transfer policy.
Fenway Sports Group are not sugar-daddies like the Chelsea and City owners.
When they bought the club they started with fewer resources than those who occupied the top four and transformed the financial situation step-by-step, setting achievable targets such as top four qualification.
They know the debt they owe to Klopp for making sure the signed players delivered, in many cases far beyond expectations.
Ferguson got everything from his most successful players.
This has been United’s biggest problem since Ferguson retired, not a single signing has improved.
On the other side, the form of Coutinho, or even Emre Can, since they stopped working under Klopp, underlines the manager’s influence.
Coutinho looked like one of the world’s best at Anfield, less so since he left.
What Klopp is achieving at Anfield is more a triumph of coaching and management, aided by skilled recruitment, than the flexing of financial muscle.
Of course having enough resources to do it is necessary, but Klopp and Liverpool’s biggest advantage over the rest of the “big six” is the size of their manager’s talent, not his transfer kitty. — Telegraph.