It’s the news that Liverpool and their supporters never wanted to hear, but Jurgen Klopp is stepping down as manager at the end of this season after 8½ years in charge at Anfield.

The 56-year-old, who succeeded Brendan Rodgers in October 2015, has restored Liverpool to greatness during his time at the club by winning the Premier League and the Champions League. His departure will leave a huge void, no matter who lands the job as his successor. But while Klopp’s exit is the biggest issue that Liverpool’s American owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), have faced since buying the club in October 2010, it is not the only problem that they will have to deal with in the months ahead.

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The ripple effect of Klopp’s decision to step down will be felt on and off the pitch at Anfield and there are no easy solutions for FSG. So while replacing the club’s most successful manager of the modern era is a major challenge in itself, the reality is that Klopp’s departure will create a long list of questions that must be answered if the new coach is to have a chance of being successful.

The next manager

This is the key decision, and Liverpool’s ability to bounce back from Klopp’s departure rests on picking the right candidate to replace a man who has become synonymous with the club’s style of play and their success in recent years.

Bayer Leverkusen‘s Xabi Alonso has already emerged as the favourite with the bookmakers, and it’s easy to see why. The 42-year-old is a Liverpool great, having played in the team that won the Champions League in 2005, and he has repeatedly spoken of his bond with the club and its supporters. However, the same applies to Steven Gerrard, though nobody is tipping him for the job right now because his promising start to his managerial career at Rangers took a nosedive at Aston Villa, and he’s now in Saudi Arabia with Al Ettifaq.

Alonso is the man of the moment due to Bayer Leverkusen being four points clear at the top of the Bundesliga and still unbeaten in the league this season. Leverkusen play bold, attacking football too, his style seemingly fitting the Liverpool ethos. But football is rarely as simple as the obvious choice getting the big job, and after less than two full seasons in first-team management, perhaps Alonso is deemed as not being ready for Liverpool, either by himself or the club.

No matter who the candidates prove to be, all have evident strengths and weaknesses. If it’s not Alonso, would the likes of Graham Potter (who made a name for himself at Brighton), Julian Nagelsmann (once considered the next big thing) or Roberto De Zerbi (who is distinguishing himself in the Premier League) really be able to replace Klopp? And as for stalwarts like Jose Mourinho, Julen Lopetegui and Antonio Conte, they all have as many negatives as positives.

While Alonso might seem a straightforward choice, that’s not the case. Liverpool have to consider all angles and get it right.

Liverpool firmly rejected Al Ittihad‘s £150 million offer for Mohamed Salah last summer, but if the Saudi Pro League side return this year, it will be a much more difficult decision for the club.

Salah turns 32 in June and will enter the final 12 months of his contract at Anfield. His performances this season show he remains Liverpool’s star player, but the club have always been smart when deciding when a player’s age becomes a risk in terms of investing in his future.

From a business perspective, offloading Salah for a huge fee this summer would be a good decision. It would give the club funds to strengthen the squad, while also avoiding the risk of Salah leaving as a free agent in 2025. The alternative would be to hand Salah a new contract and hope he remains as potent a force at 34 or 35 as he is right now.

Yet while the financial reasons for parting with Salah appear sound, it would leave a massive hole in the club if both Klopp and Salah were to head through the exit door in the same summer. The new manager would also have to be a part of the decision-making process: would he want to start the rebuild now, or keep Salah and then deal with the prospect of him being a free agent next year?

There is no easy answer to this one. Salah has been absolutely central to the success under Klopp, but this summer is when a huge decision must be made about his future.

Who comes first: the manager or the sporting director?

It has been such a momentous day at Liverpool that the club’s announcement, an hour after the Klopp news, about sporting director Jorg Schmadtke leaving his post at the end of this month might have been missed by many. But while Klopp’s exit is the big one, the departure of Schmadtke means that Liverpool begin the search for a new manager without a sporting director or director of football at Anfield.

Schmadtke, who only arrived at the club last summer, is the third person to fulfil that role in the past two years with Michael Edwards and his successor, Julian Ward, leaving in quick succession. Edwards was pivotal in the move to recruit Klopp in 2015 and ordinarily, a sporting director/director of football would lead the search for a new manager and report back to the owners and CEO.



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Billy Hogan, Liverpool’s CEO, said Friday that the club would embark on their search for a new manager away from the spotlight, but he was light on detail when it came to who would be in charge of identifying the next manager.

Maybe Liverpool will wait until the summer, with Hogan and FSG taking charge of the hiring process, but with the manager leaving and the sporting director going next week, Liverpool must now plan for a crucial summer without the two most important figures when it comes to identifying players.

It’s been 11 years since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down as Manchester United manager after almost 27 years in charge at Old Trafford, and they are still struggling to overcome the upheaval of his departure. Klopp has been at Liverpool for a fraction of Ferguson’s time at United, but he has been an equally transformative figure and handling his exit better than United dealt with Ferguson’s is a responsibility that will weigh heavy on FSG.

When Ferguson left, his key staff departed with him, and it meant there was simply too much dramatic change at the same time. Successor David Moyes brought his own staff, and the new-look United headed into a tailspin. Meanwhile, Klopp and his trusted colleagues — assistant managers Pep Lijnders and Peter Krawietz, plus elite development coach Vitor Matos, are all leaving this summer, so the Liverpool squad will return not only to a new manager, but new coaches too.

Some clubs deal with change better than others — Chelsea and Real Madrid enjoyed repeated success in recent years despite a regular churn of managers and coaching staff — but Klopp has been at Liverpool for so long that it will be a big challenge for his players to adjust to a completely new setup.

United made a mess of the Ferguson succession and are still paying the price more than a decade later; Liverpool must ensure they understand the mistakes of their great rival and do all they can to avoid a repeat at Anfield.



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Time for FSG to sell?

FSG sold a minority stake in the club to U.S. private equity firm Dynasty Equity in September and at the same time ended speculation that they were looking to sell the club. But having bought the club for just £300 million in 2010, FSG stand to make a significant profit on their initial investment, with Liverpool’s valuation having grown tenfold in the years since.

Klopp’s departure inevitably signals the end of an era, and an incredibly successful one, at Liverpool and the future has yet to be mapped out. But with a new coach set to arrive and star players such as Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker all in their 30s and likely to need replacing in the short-to-medium term, that future won’t come cheap.

It will require major investment in the squad to ensure Liverpool remain competitive; will FSG stay the course?

FSG president Mike Gordon said in September that their commitment to the club “remains as strong as ever,” but Klopp’s departure is a big moment that will require plenty of reflection. For FSG, they will have to weigh up whether the cost of staying is one that they can afford to meet.

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