• Charles E.Cheadle

Is Jurgen Klopp the Best Manager in the Premier League?

Although writing for a Liverpool fan base, this article will look to give as fair a judgement as possible in deciding who should be considered the ‘Best Overall Manager’ in the Premier League.

Whilst it is debatable exactly which factors should be applied to determine who is currently the ‘Best’, this article focuses on three main criteria which we feel are generally considered as the most important: Club Success, Individual Awards and Financial Success.

In terms of club success, Pep Guardiola must be considered to be the most successful manager domestically, having won the Premier League three times during his stay, and leading his team to become the first ever to break the hundred points mark. In this regard, Jurgen Klopp trails, winning just one Premier League trophy during his six years at Liverpool so far. It should, however, be noted, that both Klopp’s and Guardiola’s sides have been strides ahead of the pack in recent years, Liverpool being the only real title contenders in the 2018/19 season, with City’s ‘Centurions’ pipping them in the last game.

We can’t suggest that Pep Guardiola is the ‘Best Overall Manager’ simply by his trophy cabinet, as this disregards the impact that spending nearly £1 billion on players has had in his success. When such an obscene sum of money is spent on players, it becomes clear that trophies will almost certainly follow. Surely any manager can win some trophies if they have unlimited finances? The answer to who should be regarded as ‘Best Overall Manager’ therefore must lie deeper than a trophy cabinet.

The likes of Klopp, Ole Gunner Solskjaer and Thomas Tuchel are all yet to register a domestic cup trophy, and thus Guardiola, undeniably, takes the crown when it comes to domestic cup success, with the remaining seven of his trophies being domestic. Rodgers’ two trophies for Leicester are domestic, including one FA Cup and a Community Shield - his FA Cup final win beating Tuchel’s Chelsea, perhaps giving Rodgers some merit over him.

It is, however, also important to recognise that domestic cups arguably do not carry with them as much prestige as international success, and as such, managers at the top level of the League tend to place less emphasis on these competitions, often seeing them as being somewhat of a nuisance; these managers tend to line-up their youth teams in order to save their first team from injury. To win these competitions whilst achieving league success, like Guardiola has, is an impressive achievement and a nod to Manchester City’s great squad depth as he has done so without spreading the squad too thinly, which ultimately ends up being unsustainable. However, the trade-off to City’s domestic success has been a lack of European success.

Winning the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Cup World Cup along with the Premier league is an accolade only Klopp can boast of achieving and is not beaten by any other manager from this list. Whilst Tuchel has made a very impressive start to his Chelsea career, winning the Champions League by tactically outwitting Guardiola’s men in the final and also winning the UEFA Super Cup, it is yet to be seen whether he can replicate his European success domestically. Similarly, whilst Guardiola has won many trophies, he has not won a European competition whilst at Manchester City.

To sum up, Guardiola’s great Premier League record sees him rated highly as a manager in terms of club success. However, although winning fewer trophies, it is also fair to say that Klopp’s prestigious European wins can be fairly traded off against Guardiola’s domestic cup achievements, particularly when considering that in reality there isn’t much between the two clubs when looking at the points difference between Liverpool and Manchester City.

To be considered the ‘Best Overall Manager’ in the Premier League, it is almost a prerequisite that you have won it, and thus the likes of Rodgers, Tuchel and Solskjaer can be ruled out of the running at this point. Whilst Tuchel has won the Champions League with Chelsea, he hasn’t managed in a top League long enough to become established as the ‘Best Overall Manager’; coming from PSG and Ligue 1, his previous success in winning League 1 is not readily comparable to winning the Premier League like that of Klopp or Guardiola. Moreover, his failure to take a side consisting of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavanni and Angel Di Maria – all world class players – to victory in the Champions League, damages his claim to becoming regarded as ‘Best Overall Manager’.

The second criteria, ‘Financial Success’ needs to be applied in order to distinguish between the achievements of Klopp and Guardiola. The meaning of ‘financial success’ for us is defined as: the least net spend whilst increasing the net market value of the managers inherited squad compared to the current squad.

In this regard, Pep Guardiola has pretty much had free reign of the transfer market, not having to really worry about the cost of signing world class players, spending £859.4m whilst making a net loss of £557.9m.

On the other hand, Klopp has spent £512.1m with a net loss of £155.7m. This £402.2m difference in spending loses Guardiola even more acclaim when viewed in the context of the value of their original squads.

City’s squad in 2016 cost £536.7m compared to Liverpool’s £313.2m. After this investment, City’s squad is now worth £969.5m, whereas Klopp’s squad is worth £779.8m.

Klopp has increased his squads value by £466.6m, £30m more than what Guardiola has increased his by, despite spending 30% less on players.

The disparity between these squad values is a valuable feather in Klopp’s cap, and surely must tip the claim to be ‘Best Overall Manager’ in his favour.

Unlike Guardiola, who often buys proven players such as Jack Grealish, Klopp is more adept at spotting and nurturing talent into greatness. For instance, in 2016, Klopp signed Sadio Mane for £30m and his market value is now estimated to be £76.5m, more than doubling his investment. Similar can be said for players such as Mohamed Salah and Andy Robertson. Whilst Guardiola has helped to increase the value of some players such as Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, having regard to the rate and quantities of players entering and leaving City compared to Liverpool, it would be expected that a selective few players would have increased in value.

Further, having the luxury of making expensive mistakes in the transfer market is something Klopp has not really had. Guardiola’s mistakes include: Benjamin Mendy – signed for £50m, Danilo – signed for £30m, Angelino – signed for £11m, Nathan Ake – signed for £40m and Nolito – signed for £16m. It is hard to find players that have been as bigger flops for Klopp worth over £5m. The only arguable Liverpool player is perhaps Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, signed for £35m, who has only had a moderate impact at Liverpool, being regularly burdened with injuries. In addition, Klopp has made more use of his youth academy, spotting the immense talent in players such as Trent Alexander-Arnold, and not being scared to promote young players such as Curtis Jones and Neko Williams to the first team. In contrast, the only noticeable player to be promoted to the first team by Guardiola is Phil Foden.

Presiding over a large transfer budget, Guardiola’s opulent spending has certainly rendered City with a very deep squad depth. As manager Jose Mourinho famously pointed out when asked ‘how many teams could win the Premier League in 2019?’ he said: “four: Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City B team”, making further reference to the quality of players on the City bench.

Without a similar budget it is difficult for Klopp to replicate this. However, the fact that his team has managed to consistently challenge for a title against a team with much more quality in depth is a phenomenal accolade.

On the other hand, one could argue that as a manager, Guardiola is not directly responsible for his club’s finances, rather, he simply requests a player and leaves it down to those above him to bring them in without getting involved in the price.

In this respect, nuances lie between the two clubs. Whilst this might be the case at Man City, at Liverpool, Klopp has made it explicitly clear that he has “a different way of doing it”. He explained in an interview with Sky Sports Football that Liverpool could buy with the money they bring in from transfers.

This does not accommodate a great squad depth as numerous players often need to leave to make way for one big signing. It is all the more impressive that Klopp has built what some may consider to be the best team in the world around Liverpool’s transfer ethos. This is a feat that cannot be attributed to Guardiola. However, in his defence, City have a different process and ethos; so, if he can buy who he pleases, why shouldn’t he?

It is probably fair to say that Klopp and Guardiola have equal claims to being declared as ‘Best Overall Manager’ in the league. Guardiola narrowly beats Klopp in terms of Club Success, whilst Klopp has proved himself a more prudent and skilled talent spotter with regard to Financial Success. Thus, in order to see who avails we will turn to individual awards.

Overall, Klopp has won twenty-one managerial awards since joining Liverpool. Guardiola has won sixteen. Nevertheless, they are fairly similar in this regard. Guardiola, of course, has more Premier League ‘Manager of the Season’ and ‘LMA Manager of the Year’ awards because he has won the League more times. However, in terms of ‘Manager of the Month’ awards both have nine to their name. They are both in the LMA Hall of Fame and both have won Globe Soccer Awards. There is little to separate them, and to choose a better manager based on these awards alone would be superficial.

It is proving very difficult to separate the two managers in terms of statistics. There are two options here. The first is that we accept both are managerial equals; both with a unique style of football; both with extraordinary achievements; both legends of football. Or we turn to club journeys. Who has advanced their club the furthest since taking over?

When Klopp took over Liverpool, they were not title contenders as by the end of his first season they were 8th in the league. City, however, when Guardiola took over, were. The objectives required from each manager were very different. Klopp’s objectives were to “turn doubters in believers”, win the League and turn Liverpool back into European heavyweights. Guardiola, on the other hand, was tasked with gaining European success by winning the Champions League.

Guardiola has failed where Klopp has succeeded, completing his primary objectives, winning the Premier League and Guardiola’s coveted Champions League. Guardiola is yet to do this. Therefore, in terms of impact on their respective teams, Klopp must take the award for ‘Best Overall Manager’.

* All transfer valuations and figures taken from TransferMarkt