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Transfer Rater: Nkunku to Liverpool

Football Whispers
 By Steven Kelly

Coincidences between Houllier's and Klopp's reigns as Liverpool rebuild

Jurgen Klopp has taken his Liverpool squad to a training camp in La Manga. Since he sometimes complains about England's lack of a winter break, being knocked out of the FA Cup early gives his team a chance to belatedly regroup and revitalise.

It means a 16-day gap between league fixtures. Unusual, but it's not the record for Liverpool this century as they went 20 days without a game in February 2000.

It's just one of a number of coincidences between Klopp's reign and that of Liverpool's first coach from the continent, Gerard Houllier. The Frenchman also took the reins at Anfield in midseason, both he and Klopp finishing outside the European qualifying places.

Subsequently there was little fixture congestion to complicate the initial rebuild of the Reds. In 1999 the club needed to sell 10 percent of itself in order to raise transfer funds for Houllier, while Klopp ended up making a bizarre profit on his own transfer business.

In both eras it was decided Liverpool didn't need much investment at first because there were so few games that season, while fans felt their owners had let the club slide and fall behind bigger spending clubs.

Both managers revised those supporters' hopes by establishing themselves in the top four by spring of their first full season, although just recently Liverpool have slipped marginally back into fifth.

Just as in Houllier's time, small signs of progress were eagerly seized upon. There may have been a league cup exit to Southampton and a FA Cup defeat at home to lower league opposition -- the same as season 2016-2017 -- but the Premier League position was healthy.

This time in 2000, the Reds had defeated North London opposition (Arsenal) thanks to their African star forward Titi Camara. In 2017, Sadio Mane scored the goals that dispatched Tottenham.

There then followed an expanded rest thanks to FA Cup failure before Liverpool faced the reigning champions away; Manchester United in 2000, Leicester City in 2017.

There are some notable differences between Houllier and Klopp, obviously. The styles of play and intent to entertain could not be more disparate. Houllier once famously said "if you can't score, get a draw," a comment for which he was often derided -- yet some fans wouldn't be averse to a little of that pragmatism in the modern era.

True, the modern side easily saw out their 2-0 win against Tottenham but there was some discussion over how big a part the visitors' own ineptitude played in that.

Jurgen Klopp
Jurgen Klopp has won 42 out of 86 matches as Liverpool boss.

Houllier instigated a huge change in personnel, sparked by widespread disenchantment with the "Spice Boys" era of the mid-1990s. It was as if the Frenchman was preparing for the squad game, spreading his transfer money to draft in a lot of players and shipped out even more. He was fortunate to inherit a group of youngsters who went on to serve the club so well. Robbie Fowler was already a star but that was augmented by Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen and best of all, Steven Gerrard. Klopp, in contrast, has no such inheritance to rely upon. There are promising glimpses from the likes of Ben Woodburn, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Sheyi Ojo but it's unlikely they'll develop into anything like the talent of their 2000 predecessors.

Houllier's team finished fourth in May 2000, not enough for Champions League at the time. Despite a late collapse, the club and fans felt he was on the right lines. The treble of cup wins the following year, though derided by some -- usually Mancunians -- as "fake" was another indication of Liverpool's further progress.

Fourth place would be welcomed by fans this season. There is intense competition for those places, but Klopp does have the advantage of his rivals having extra cup football to deal with in the coming months. Whether Liverpool, under their current ownership, will ever feel the desire to really go for the cups as opposed to nailing down a lucrative Champions League spot instead remains to be seen.

Cup football only seemed desirable last season since the league position was already weak before Klopp arrived. Only defeat in the League Cup and Europa League finals prevented it from being a successful year.

There is still some debate over where the club is headed. In a week when Arsenal are being derided for simply reaching the Champions League every year, only flattering to deceive in what are considered the major trophies, is that a future Liverpool really want for themselves?

As in Houllier's time, it is worth remembering the Reds are currently in rebuild mode and cannot be expected to re-join the ranks of the super clubs overnight.

There is certainly plenty of faith in Klopp and his first steps on the road back to greatness have been positive ones -- just like his French predecessor.

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.


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