Liverpool manager and sporting director hunt: Amorim and Nagelsmann data appeals, FSG still wants Edwards – The Athletic

By David Ornstein and James PearceFeb 28, 2024

It is just over a month since Jurgen Klopp announced he will leave Liverpool at the end of the season.

On the field, the club has barely missed a beat, retaining their place at the top of the Premier League, winning the Carabao Cup and making progress in the FA Cup as they pursue an unprecedented quadruple.

Off it, however, the questions over who will succeed Klopp and who will become the new sporting director continue to hang over the club.

This is the latest on both searches as we understand it.

The manager

Xabi Alonso remains the frontrunner to succeed Klopp, with his record at Bayer Leverkusen — eight points clear of Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga — and his connection to Liverpool making him a standout candidate.

Liverpool are also determined to focus their search on young managers who have overachieved with the resources at their disposal and have a record of developing young talent, which clearly applies in Alonso’s case.

Advertisement

But Bayern Munich’s decision to part ways with Thomas Tuchel this coming summer has complicated that pursuit: they are also keen on Alonso, who played for Bayern for three seasons, and hold an obvious appeal in being able to challenge for major trophies immediately and provide resources to improve.

Alonso, 42, also has the option of staying at Bayer and biding his time given another of his former clubs, Real Madrid, are also likely to be interested in him when Carlo Ancelotti eventually leaves the Bernabeu.

GO DEEPER

Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen tactics and Liverpool’s squad are not a natural fit

Alonso is not the only name to feature on Liverpool’s list of possible candidates to take over this summer and the possibility of missing out on him means there is added focus on who might be an alternative option.

Liverpool’s search to replace Klopp is being headed by Fenway Sports Group president Mike Gordon, who has asked the club’s data analysts to draw up a longlist of possible candidates.

This team, led by Will Spearman, Liverpool’s director of research, will look at how the candidates might use the current Liverpool squad, analyse their style of play and check character references.

One contender who scores highly on data is Sporting Lisbon’s Ruben Amorim. The 39-year-old won the Portuguese title in 2021 and Sporting are just two points off the top of the table this season. His use of sports science to inform training and his record at keeping players fit — one of his fitness staff at Sporting, Paulo Barreira, used to work at Liverpool — has also not gone unnoticed at Anfield.

Ruben Amorim is admired at Liverpool (Miguel Riopa/AFP via Getty Images)

One possible complication is Amorim’s buyout clause which stands at €10million (£8.6m; $10.8m) — lower than it was last year, when it was close to double that, but still relatively high — while he also has no coaching experience outside Portugal.

Amorim, for his part, has not indicated anything publicly about his interest in Liverpool, saying last week when asked about the Liverpool job: “I’m not going to dwell on my future. Every time I talk about it the topic comes up again.”

Advertisement

Julian Nagelsmann, 36, also performs well according to the data but there are other issues to consider with him, too. Nagelsmann will lead the German national team into their home European Championship this summer, meaning he could not take charge until mid-July.

While in charge of Hoffenheim, he lost both games of the two-legged Champions League play-off against Klopp’s Liverpool (6-3 on aggregate) in the 2017-18 season. He also lost both games against Liverpool while in charge of RB Leipzig in the 2020-21 Champions League, when he stuck with his tactical system despite being overwhelmed by Klopp’s side.

Julian Nagelsmann chats to Jurgen Klopp before Hoffenheim’s game at Anfield in 2017 (Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

Other managers — such as Brighton’s Roberto De Zerbi, Newcastle United’s Eddie Howe and Lens’ Franck Haise — also score high on data but are considered less likely to make Liverpool’s final shortlist.

Sporting director

The other unanswered question around Liverpool pertains to the sporting director role, which has not been permanently filled since Julian Ward left last summer.

Jorg Schmadtke was hired on a temporary basis but the German left as planned at the end of January.

FSG want the process of appointing a new manager to be led by the incoming sporting director and are keen to make that appointment sooner rather than later. The club are also open to the possibility of scrapping that job title entirely and appointing a football chief executive officer, depending on the candidate’s skillset.

In terms of contenders, The Athletic reported earlier this month that Frederic Massara, the former director of football at AC Milan, and Nice’s Florent Ghisolfi were both admired by FSG.

The candidate that Liverpool’s owners would most like to hire, however, is Michael Edwards — the man who previously served as sporting director until his departure in May 2022.

Edwards is still hugely admired within FSG, which sees him as integral to the club’s recent successes. He was instrumental in negotiating deals for Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Andy Robertson, Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Alisson, and also managed to secure significant transfer fees for players Klopp had deemed surplus to requirements such as Christian Benteke, Mamadou Sakho and Jordon Ibe.

Advertisement

Speaking to The Athletic in May 2022 shortly before Edwards’ departure, chairman Tom Werner said: “I want to acknowledge Michael’s reign as sporting director. He’s been instrumental. You could point to player after player who was identified before they became superstars. Going back to Mohamed Salah, Michael identified him.

“He’s very quiet about the way he goes about his business but he’s really been critical to our success. We’re competing against clubs who spend massive amounts of money on transfers. One of Michael’s correct strategies once we’ve identified players is making sure there’s an extension of those contracts.”

Jurgen Klopp, Mike Gordon (centre) and Michael Edwards worked closely together before at Liverpool (John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

FSG’s admiration for Edwards was underlined by the fact that Gordon rang him shortly after Klopp announced his impending departure, offering him the chance to either come back to Anfield or take up a senior position with FSG.

Edwards turned down that offer: when he left Liverpool he had told colleagues that he wanted to spend more time with his family, away from the football pressure-cooker. His time is also taken up with helping to run Ludonautics, the sports consultancy he launched alongside Liverpool’s ex-director of research Ian Graham last September.

There has not been a fresh formal approach for Edwards since that phone call, but FSG wants to be absolutely sure that Edwards cannot be persuaded to return before moving onto other targets.

One potential other issue for Edwards is the amount of control he would enjoy at Anfield, given that when he left in 2022, Klopp’s powerbase was expanding. But Liverpool’s structure is certain to change in the post-Klopp era, with the new incoming manager not being granted the same level of authority.

There have been suggestions that the job would be more appealing to Edwards if he was offered a stake in FSG, but the company has only made that allowance for LeBron James and it is unclear whether that kind of offer would be on the table for Edwards.

FSG is conscious that it needs to identify a preferred sporting director quickly — ideally by early March. It will therefore need to move on from Edwards quickly if it does not achieve a breakthrough.

FSG is mindful that it is imperative for Liverpool’s football leadership structure to be robust before any new manager begins work. The example of Unai Emery at Arsenal is often cited as what can happen if a head coach with no experience of the Premier League — widely considered the hardest league in the world to adapt to quickly — arrives without that infrastructure. Emery lasted just 18 months in north London but has proved since leaving what he can achieve with the necessary support around him.

Advertisement

Klopp would also acknowledge the debt he owes to Gordon, Edwards, Ward (who succeeded Edwards as sporting director), and other key backroom staff such as head of recruitment Dave Fallows and chief scout Barry Hunter. All played key roles in Liverpool’s development and allowed Klopp to focus his energies on the team.

The prevailing view at Liverpool is that it is better to get that structure right rather than appoint Alonso, or another coach, without it. Hence the need to first hire a sporting director who can lead the process of approaching, interviewing and appointing the manager.

(Top photos: Michael Edwards, Ruben Amorim, Julian Nagelsmann; Getty Images)

Get all-access to exclusive stories.

Subscribe to The Athletic for in-depth coverage of your favorite players, teams, leagues and clubs. Try a week on us.

Start Free Trial

Source

×