Football News

Glen Johnson: ‘Xabi Alonso replacing Jurgen Klopp scares me – Liverpool could repeat Man Utd’s mistakes’

By Matt Banks

Published: 9:00, 31 January 2024

Former Liverpool defender Glen Johnson has spoken about Jurgen Klopp’s announcement that he will leave the Reds in the summer.

Johnson also discussed potential replacements for Klopp, things to be wary of and the perfect ending that could be in store for the German.

There was also room for a quick word on another of Johnson’s former clubs, Chelsea, and their upcoming EFL Cup final against Liverpool — as well as reports of Conor Gallagher being up for sale.

Jump to:

SN: Firstly, your immediate reaction to Jurgen Klopp’s announcement on Friday?

GJ: I’m a bit gutted to be honest, and totally shocked. I’m sure there’s good reasoning behind his decision but I couldn’t believe it when I first heard the news. It’s a big shame for the club and everyone involved with Liverpool but if Klopp does feel mentally and physically drained, we have to respect that. We know he wouldn’t walk away if he didn’t feel he needed to. It’s a sad time for the club. He’s been amazing since he’s been there and he’s certainly going to be hard to replace.

SN: Where does he rank in Liverpool’s all-time great managers?

GJ: You have to rank Klopp alongside [Bill] Shankly and [Bob] Paisley as the greatest Liverpool managers ever. They’ve been one of the top teams in the world for most of the time he’s been at the club and played brilliant football at a time when football is so competitive and there are so many great teams. He’s a Liverpool legend, for sure.

SN: The favourites to replace Klopp are Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard, Roberto de Zerbi – thoughts on those names?

GJ: I’d be a bit scared to appoint Xabi Alonso or Steven Gerrard. The next appointment is going to be really tough and I’d be worried about bringing someone in with so little experience. Also, I think we’ve seen bringing a legend back to manage the club can often not work out. We’ve seen since Fergie left Man United, they still haven’t replaced him and we could see something similar here. These kinds of managers are extremely hard to replace, especially for someone with so little experience. Of course, in football timing is everything and this kind of dream job may not open up for them again so they’ll be tempted to take it, it will just be very hard to have the kind of success Klopp did.

SN: Who do you want to replace him?

GJ: To be honest, the news has been so surprising, I haven’t had much time to think about it. I do think Liverpool need someone with proper experience. But maybe someone who is young and fearless could be perfect for Liverpool, you never know.

SN: What are your favourite moments from Klopp’s tenure as Liverpool manager?

GJ: He’s provided so many big days out and big moments. They’ve been so competitive in the Champions league, won trophies, won big games against rivals. But people will remember him not for what he won but how he did it. He’s a top guy and the players have always loved him. He made Liverpool fun to watch again and the fans will always love him for that.

SN: How big of an impact do you think he has had on the English game?

GJ: Klopp has raised the bar in English football. Him and [Pep] Guardiola have gone toe to toe in recent years and it’s been amazing to watch and brilliant for the English game. Other teams have had to adapt their style to compete with Klopp and there’s no greater compliment than that.

SN: How will this impact Liverpool for the rest of the season – If this was you as a player in this situation how would this affect you?

GJ: You don’t play for Liverpool if you’re not a professional who knows you have to get on with the job. Deep down of course the players will all be gutted but I don’t think they’ll be sulking and they will have that ‘last dance’ mentality where they will want to make their final season with Klopp a special one. I don’t think the players will down tools at all, I think they will do everything they can to do something special this year

SN: The perfect ending to the Klopp era would be winning the Quadruple – can they do it?

GJ: They are still in all four competitions so why can’t they win the Quadruple! Of course it’ll be a big ask just because you need everyone fit and performing throughout the whole season. I’d love them to do it and I do think they’ll be competitive and go far in every competition they’re in. Whether they win all four, I’m not so sure. I think they’ll definitely win something this year for sure, and anything is possible.

SN: What could you see Klopp doing next? He’s said he would never manage another English club but could you see him taking on another job like Germany, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid?

GJ: Any team in the world would want Jurgen Klopp as their manager and as long as you give him the support to allow him to do what he does best then you’ll have success. It sounds like he needs some time out so we may have to wait to see what his next job will be, because he wouldn’t leave Liverpool in this fashion if he had plans on walking straight into another job. You can’t be as passionate about football as him and walk away from the game entirely so it will be interesting to see what he does next.

SN: Do you think this is in part due to lack of support from FSG like some Liverpool fans have suggested?

GJ: No one will ever know all the reasons why Klopp has decided to leave, but I don’t think FSG are the main reason. Liverpool have signed a lot of players and they’ve signed very, very well. Of course, a top manager will always want players like [Jude] Bellingham or Declan Rice and to miss out on those players can be frustrating for a manager, but Liverpool operate differently and by doing that they’ve brought in players like [Dominik] Szoboszlai who is having an incredible season and we never thought he’d be running games for Liverpool so soon into his time at the club. I think this may be a case of Liverpool fans looking for a reason because they love Klopp so much.

SN: Could this be the reason players like Mo Salah who was linked with a move away or Virgil Van Dijk who has 18 months left on his deal leave the club now? Klopp has had such a good relationship with the players in the time he’s been at the club.

GJ: I definitely think Salah and Van Dijk won’t rush into a decision as to whether they’ll stay on now because they will want to know what the plan is going forward and who the next manager will be and what Liverpool want to do in the transfer market. Liverpool have to make sure they bring someone in who will make Van Dijk and Salah want to stay.

SN: How will we look back on the Klopp v Guardiola rivalry of the past 5 years in the future?

GJ: Fans will really miss watching Klopp and Guardiola going against each other. These kinds of managers don’t come around often – they’re geniuses of the game and have made the Premier League a better league by being in it.

SN: Do you think this news will affect the January transfer window and Liverpool’s plans?

GJ: I do question the timing of the announcement a bit. If you’re a top player that wants to come to Liverpool you have to ask ‘who’s signing me, is it Klopp or is it Liverpool?’ Because you don’t know if you’ll fit into the next manager’s system. I know things leak out and it’s hard to keep these things quiet, but I’d have thought you’d want to get through January and then worry about it later on. It’ll definitely be in the players’ minds.

SN: Do Liverpool still need to sign a world-class No.6 to anchor midfield? Or has Alexis Mac Allister convinced you he can do the job permanently?

GJ: Mac Allister has done great in that role, but I think he’s still fulfilling a role and would prefer to be playing further forward. It’s not like he can’t do that No.6 role, but I think they could do with a more defensive-minded player to anchor the midfield for sure.

SN: They’ve been linked with Joshua Kimmich – would you like to see that happen?

GJ: Joshua Kimmich would be perfect for Liverpool. With his contract situation he’s not going to be a mind blowing deal in terms of price and he’s world class. He would be brilliant in that deep midfield role for Liverpool, helping the team and players around him to play the attacking football they want to by holding down that midfield. He’d be a great addition to the Liverpool side.

SN: Jamie Carragher says Diogo Jota might be a better natural finisher than Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez. Do you agree?

GJ: I understood where Jamie Carragher was coming from when he called Jota a better natural finisher than Suarez and Torres because he’s so calm and calculated in tight spaces around the goal. He’s so good at finding delicate finishes and putting it just out of reach of the keeper, but don’t get me wrong Torres and Suarez were unbelievable and had the ability to create goals out of nowhere, so I’d still prefer to have them in my team over Jota. They are all fantastic players, they all just excel at different things.

SN: Jota is that classic example of Klopp’s development and Liverpool’s recruitment in action isn’t it?

GJ: Jota’s a perfect example of how good the recruitment and Klopp’s development has been since he’s been manager. I think they signed him for around £40m, and people thought that was too much money, but now that looks cheap. Their recruitment has been great. Nobody thought Jota was going to be as good as he is, I wouldn’t even have said he was the best player at Wolves at the time, so the fact that they’ve got someone that was on the fringe at Wolves and turned him into a player that’s good enough to be a top player, it’s a perfect example of their recruitment.

SN: Are you surprised by how good Joe Gomez has been standing in at left-back? How does he compare to other English left-backs on current form? Can he make the Euros squad?

GJ: He’s been playing very well and it’s good to see. He’s a great option to bring. Maybe he won’t go to the Euros as a starting left-back but he can go anywhere across the back four. The fact that he’s proving he can do it at this level out on the left, which is probably his worst position, it’s a fantastic option for a squad where you can only bring a certain amount of players to a tournament. It’s fantastic for him as well, I’ve always thought he was good enough, he’s just been unlucky with a few injuries that have hindered his performances.

SN: Liverpool didn’t win a trophy or finish in the top three of the Premier League under Klopp in his first three seasons, does this speak to the importance of giving managers time to build their squads?

GJ: Yes definitely, especially if you look at where the squad was when he first took over. New owners came in and with a new manager, the club had no foundation. The owners and the manager both got it right at the same time, and that will take time to come back. Especially when you’re a big club and everyone expects you to be winning straight away. They were showing gradual improvements and then after a few years they were challenging for the title. Sometimes you have to wait for good things to happen.

SN: Trent Alexander-Arnold was handed his debut by Klopp and has overseen his development into a world-class talent. What does the future hold for him, particularly if he has to play in a different system?

GJ: As long as another very intelligent manager comes in, I think Trent will have a similar role. For Trent to be allowed to do what he does, the manager will have to understand football so well and trust him. If someone comes in that is a bit more rigid I don’t think we will see him in midfield as often or see him there at all. I think a young manager would love what they’re seeing but a more traditional manager might keep him at right back. For Liverpool fans I think they feel he’ll be more restricted at right back. He’s proved he’s good enough to play multiple roles so hopefully someone doesn’t take that away from him.

SN: Thoughts on Liverpool’s FA Cup tie against Norwich – a good win given the circumstances?

GJ: A win is a win. No one remembers the cup performances, you just have to keep winning and stay in the competition. If no one heard the news and watched that performance, you’d never know the manager was leaving. It’s a credit to the players, they’re not going down tools, they want to win everything. It was probably too easy for them in the first 20 minutes and any other day they could have won that 5-0. Job done, a professional performance and they’re in the next round, you can’t ask for much more than that.

SN: The Carabao cup final will be between two of your former clubs in Chelsea in Liverpool – how important would a win be for Mauricio Pochettino after a tough first season in charge?

GJ: It’d be a huge win and they’ve got a massive chance. It’s going to be tough against Liverpool but in a final everyone has a chance. You can get a little bit of luck, not be the best team and win in the final but no one cares. I think for Poch it’d be a huge win, there’s still an awful lot of work that needs to be done for Chelsea. If they finish eighth or ninth but win a trophy, I think that buys him a lot more time and patience from the fans.

SN: And of course those two teams play each other on Wednesday – how do you expect that game to go?

GJ: Being at Anfield it’ll certainly favour Liverpool. Chelsea have proved that against the big teams on their day, they can perform. I would probably steer towards Chelsea doing well in the cup final as it’s a one off game, I think they’ll be more confident in playing them in a final than playing them at Anfield in the league. In the Premier League Chelsea have either been really good or really poor, so their confidence isn’t great, but in a one off game, form goes out the window.

SN: What did you make of Chelsea-Villa on Friday?

GJ: There was a time in this fixture where the only talking point would be Chelsea. You’d think if they didn’t win they didn’t play well, but to be honest, I don’t think that’s the case at the moment. Villa have proved they can play football, they’re in that position in the league not by accident, they’ve been playing really well, so it’s no longer a fixture where Chelsea will blow them away. They’d have loved to not go into a replay, but it’s not an easy fixture now. Villa deserve some credit rather than saying Chelsea were poor, look where they are in the league and some of the performances they’ve been putting in against some of the top teams, they’re clearly no push over.

SN: Despite being arguably Chelsea’s best player this season and vice captain, Conor Gallagher continues to be linked with a move to Spurs – what do you make of this?

GJ: It’s absolutely bonkers. It depends who’s creating the rumours as it’s probably come from Tottenham rather than Chelsea. I’d be mind blown if they let this happen, it can’t happen. There’s no smoke without fire so maybe there have been talks in the past. They were talking at the start of the season if he was going to get any game time, if he was going to go out on loan, so maybe it’s just continued from that. But in terms of how the season has worked out and he’s played a lot more than people would have thought and he’s played well, I think they’d be crazy to get rid of him.

SN: Armando Broja also continues to be linked with a move away, which would leave Chelsea very thin up front – do you think this would be a good move?

GJ: Is he going to be a player that’s going to be good enough to be Chelsea’s number nine for a few seasons? I’m not sure at the moment. But you can’t let him go without having someone in already. Also the funds that he will raise will not cover the expense of the player that they need to sign. Of course it all contributes but you still need good players on the ground. I think he’s too good to sell because of his price tag, but I also think they still need another big player.