THE prize might be the same but for Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, winning this season’s Premier League would be a very different achievement. For the Liverpool manager, it would represent a huge breakthrough. For his old rival at Manchester City, it’s about creating a dynasty.
No one suspects City aren’t desperate to defend their crown but maybe there is a difference between wanting something and refusing to give it up. Talented teams fall into the former category, serial winners are in the latter.
Liverpool — with seven league titles in 11 years between 1979 and 1990 — were undoubtedly the team of the 80s but that does not mean they were always obviously the best team.
Similarly, Manchester United in the 1990s and 2000s. Ferguson’s men were the dominant force in the English game for 20 years, with 13 Premier League titles in 21 years between 1992 and 2013, but like the team they usurped their success was as much about accumulated experience — and the sheer bloody-mindedness instilled in them by their manager — as it was footballing superiority.
When Ferguson reflected on his final title in 2013, 12 months after City had won their first crown in 44 years, he mused on what he saw as the shortcomings of United’s local rivals.
‘Evidently it was enough for some of them to have beaten United in a title race,’ he claimed in his autobiography. ‘They settled down into a sense of relief. Retaining a title is the next step and City were not in the right state of mind to defend what they had won. When I won the league for the first time in 1993, I didn’t want my team to slacken off. The thought appalled me.’
In City’s defence they have hardly been slack since 2012, winning two more titles. But they are yet to do what Ferguson demanded, and claim back-to-back championships.
Ferguson revelled in ending Liverpool’s era of dominance and the league championship has not been to Anfield since. So the task facing Klopp is not to build a dynasty but convince his team they can win that first title.
The season is entering what Fergie famously dubbed squeaky-bum time and, while the wheels are far from coming off at Anfield, Klopp is starting to sound a little strained. Two points dropped at home to Leicester brought complaints about the pitch, another draw at West Ham led to comments about the referee which caught the Football Association’s eye.
Klopp brings an intensity and frenetic energy to everything he does, largely to great effect. Yet if the German does win the Premier League, it will be his first major trophy as a manager since 2012 — a period which has seen him collect a whole drawer of runners-up medals.
In his own best years, Jose Mourinho’s grandstanding antics were a useful way of taking the spotlight off his players, but is Klopp’s nervous energy — not to mention the anxious support pouring down from the Kop — having a detrimental impact on the players? Is there a danger everyone involved simply wants it too much?
For Liverpool, winning needs to become something they believe they can do. For Manchester City, it just needs to become a habit.