You don’t turn Manchester United down. That was always an unwritten rule, certainly when I was playing. If you heard within the game there was interest from Old Trafford in someone, it was odds-on that is where they would go.
The only way you didn’t end up at Old Trafford was if you were at Liverpool or Manchester City. I heard there were strong rumours about Sir Alex Ferguson wanting to sign me and had I played for anyone else other than City, I would have swum to join him.
United was the pinnacle. The fans, the history of the club; the funds they had and the investment they were able to make – it was the place to be. When Ferguson retired in 2013 and approached David Moyes to succeed him, there was no way he could have said no.
Jurgen Klopp was approached by Sir Alex Ferguson about taking over at Manchester United
Instead, Klopp ended up winning trophies at Liverpool – how different things could have been
Jurgen Klopp, however, was an exception to the rule. Ferguson spoke to him about the possibility of taking over as manager when he was working for Borussia Dortmund but the German turned him down, as he did not want to break his contract and didn’t believe the time was right.
It was the right decision. The landscape of English football would have looked completely different had he been swayed by Ferguson. I’m pretty sure United would have had another Premier League title had he been their manager for the six years he’s been at Liverpool.
There are so many little things you have to consider from the impact of this decision. Sadio Mane, for instance, turned down the chance to join United from Southampton in 2016, preferring to go and work with Klopp at Anfield instead.
Klopp wanted to sign Mane when he was at Dortmund but hesitated and missed his chance. He didn’t make the same mistake at Liverpool. Look how instrumental the Senegal flyer has been in the last five years – imagine what might have happened had he gone to United.
So, yes, Klopp’s gut feeling that he needed to wait before coming to the Premier League, rather than being lured by Ferguson, was huge. It is often said that those who turn down United live to regret their decision but, if anything, saying ‘no’ has propelled Klopp into another realm.
He was always a manager I admired. His work for Dortmund was exceptional and none of us who played against them in the Champions League in 2012 will forget how they ran all over City at the Etihad – only one of Joe Hart’s greatest ever performances enabled us to get a 1-1 draw.
His teams played outstanding football and he has gone on to show that consistently in the Premier League, shaping a Liverpool team that is a threat to all. If I’m honest, though, I don’t actually feel it has been really appreciated just what a job he has done to put his club back among the elite.
You have to remember that when he came to England, Liverpool were losing belief and they knew that every year spent out of the Champions League would impact on their reputation. Back then, Liverpool couldn’t dream of competing for the signatures of the best players.
James Milner has been at Liverpool from the very beginning of Klopp’s tenure back in 2015
In 2015, they signed James Milner on a free transfer from City. It was assumed Milly, who had won two titles with us, was going there to wind down his career – never, should I stress, was that the case on his behalf – as a 30-year-old.
Milner has gone on to be a pivotal figure for Klopp. He’s told me that Klopp is the nicest, most humble coach he has worked with – there is never any uncertainty. He tells his team what he wants from them and how he expects them to play. Everyone is made to feel important.
Look at how he dealt with Naby Keita in Madrid on Tuesday. Nobody would say that Keita had a good game, despite scoring a superb goal, but Klopp didn’t criticise him – he never does criticise his players in public – he took the blame himself for any shortcomings. That is brilliant management.
Then again, much of what he has done for Liverpool has been brilliant. He would have had different options open to him in the transfer market had he gone to United at first but having money on tap doesn’t guarantee anything.
The German’s use of the £145m gained from selling Philippe Coutinho was a masterstroke
He has lived within his means at Anfield and the decision to cash in on Philippe Coutinho in January 2018, who was Liverpool’s undisputed golden boy at that time, and use the £145million they got from Barcelona to buy Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker was a masterstroke.
Last weekend marked the sixth anniversary of Klopp’s first Liverpool game and the story since has been of constant improvement, never resting on the laurels. Things have gone well for him at the right moments, too, but he has shown himself to be one of the best managers in the world.
More than anything, he showed the big decision of saying “no” to United was absolutely correct. How different things could have been. Liverpool and Klopp are the perfect match.
REDS MUST SIGN UP SALAH
I spoke at length about Mohamed Salah last month and how he always wanted to play for Liverpool. In the main read, you will have seen my admiration for how Liverpool sold Philippe Coutinho to accelerate their rebuild under Jurgen Klopp.
There is nothing wrong with selling your best player. There is, however, an issue if you consider letting the best player in the world leave.
If Salah were to go on the market tomorrow, everyone would try to buy him. And I mean everyone. This is one new contract Liverpool simply have to do.
There is an issue if Liverpool allow Mohamed Salah to leave – they must give him a new deal
PALMER CAN FOLLOW IN PHIL’S FOOTSTEPS
What a week for Cole Palmer! Off the bench for Manchester City’s first team last Saturday afternoon against Burnley, straight over to play for the Under 23s on Saturday night and he gets a hat-trick then a Champions League goal on Tuesday.
Cole has shown that no matter what club you are at, a special talent will always get an opportunity. I love the way he strikes the ball so effortlessly and his individual brilliance shines.
I hope now that he follows Phil Foden’s example and sees that a relentless work rate will help him take the next step.
Cole Palmer now has the opportunity to follow Phil Foden’s example and take the next step
MICAH’S MAN OF THE WEEK
Jamie Vardy is one of the hardest opponents I ever played against. He was single-minded and ferocious; he would run in behind you consistently when attacking and then run at you consistently when he was pressing. He never stopped to the point that you felt he was battery powered.
I watched him last week against Manchester United and he was breathless once more, an absolute superstar. What a career he has had, winning the FA Cup and Premier League.
He is 34 and he isn’t slowing down.
Jamie Vardy was breathless once again against Man United – he is an absolute superstar