Jurgen Klopp was never going to have a pre-season like last summer again.
Back then, he had the luxury of taking his Liverpool side to Austria and France for a month-long training camp. No long-haul trips, no sponsors to please, no media scrum. Just enough time to refine the preparations away from prying eyes.
With the easing of travel restrictions following the pandemic and the commercial riches on offer, this pre-season was always going to involve Liverpool’s first overseas tour since 2019.
When the team fly to Thailand on Saturday, it will only be the second time the club have visited Asia under Klopp’s rule. It’s monsoon season and he will be desperate to avoid a repeat of five years ago when heavy rains upended their training schedule in Hong Kong.
With Klopp’s input, Liverpool have tried to strike a delicate balance between spending time in a part of the world where they enjoy fanatical support and where key sponsors have a major presence, without compromising the mission of ensuring that players are suitably prepared for when the serious action begins at Craven Cottage on August 6th.
Liverpool will only be out for a week. Tuesday’s opening friendly against Manchester United in Bangkok is followed by Friday’s game against Crystal Palace in Singapore before returning to Merseyside. Next, Klopp will get his training camp in Austria with games against RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg before returning to the UK for the Community Shield against Manchester City at the King Power Stadium in Leicester on July 30.
United, on the other hand, move from Thailand to Australia to play three more matches in a fortnight. It will certainly be lucrative, but whether it will benefit new boss Erik ten Hag as he seeks to push his ideas ahead of the upcoming season is another matter.
Not only have Liverpool’s pre-season tours been considerably shorter since Brendan Rodgers’ tenure (the trip to the US in 2014 lasted two-and-a-half weeks and included five games in five different cities), but the demands off terrain placed on players have been greatly reduced so they can rest between sessions and focus more on what really matters. Gone are the days when star names were sent to Subway branches across Boston to serve up foot-long sandwiches for afternoon photo ops.
Instead, the club now takes more ex-players on these trips to meet sponsor requests and organizes the various meet and greet events with local supporters’ clubs. Luis Garcia, Jose Enrique, Jason McAteer, Sami Hyypia and Vladimir Smicer will be on duty in Asia next week.
With the success he has achieved, Klopp has earned the right to have a say in the structure of the pre-season. Board decisions are not made solely on the basis of revenue maximization. If they were, Liverpool’s tour would certainly be more extensive given the offers around the world they haven’t accepted.
But what the rival managers will envy more than anything is the fact that Klopp has such a stable squad to work with throughout the pre-season. There are no sagas to solve in Liverpool, no glaring gaps to fill, no scattergun recruitment drive, no costly deadwood to move.
All major issues that arose in the aftermath of the Champions League final loss to Real Madrid have been resolved. There was a show of determination and ambition.
They played tough with Bayern Munich before sanctioning the £35million sale of Sadio Mane, who had made it clear he wanted to pursue a new challenge. By the time the legendary Senegal international said goodbye, Liverpool had already replaced him with the exciting acquisition of Darwin Nunez from Benfica for what could be a club record £85million.
Bringing in high-caliber cover for Trent Alexander-Arnold was the other priority and they did that with the £6.5m signing of Calvin Ramsay from Aberdeen.
Add to that the arrival of gifted young striker Fabio Carvalho from Fulham and Klopp has three new faces on board. Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino followed Mane out the door.
Many fans would love to see another elite midfielder added to the mix, but as things stand Klopp is happy with what he has for the upcoming campaign.
Speculation over Mohamed Salah’s future had the potential to overshadow the pre-season. If this contractual stalemate was not resolved, it would have been an unwanted sideshow in 2022-23, but that prospect was averted by the breakthrough in negotiations that saw the Egyptian become Liverpool’s highest-paid player in the story on a new three-year contract worth £350,000 a week.
And with Joe Gomez signing a new long-term contract until 2027, there is little left to settle for new sporting director Julian Ward this summer.
The transition from Michael Edwards to Ward was seamless. The gradual transfer of responsibilities throughout last season certainly helped. Likewise, the fact that the structure that served Liverpool so well in the Klopp era remains in place with senior recruiting figures such as Dave Fallows, Barry Hunter and Ian Graham.
It’s certainly a far cry from the circumstances surrounding Liverpool’s last trip to Thailand seven years ago. Fans were restless and Rodgers was fighting for his job after narrowly surviving an end-of-season review following a disastrous end to 2014-15 that resulted in a 6-1 humiliation at Stoke City. Coaches Mike Marsh and Colin Pascoe had been sacked with Sean O’Driscoll named assistant manager. Pep Lijnders and Gary McAllister have also been added to the first-team squad.
Steven Gerrard had just lifted the curtain on his career at Anfield, Raheem Sterling was belatedly forced to move to Manchester City, Mario Balotelli and Fabio Borini were left behind as Liverpool tried to offload them, while Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho were absent following their commitments to the Copa America.
Rodgers cut a flustered figure as he tried to convince the owners to trigger Christian Benteke’s £32.5m release clause. On the second leg of the trip to Brisbane, he finally got his wish. Within three months Rodgers was gone and the Belgium striker didn’t last much longer.
Liverpool lined up against the Thai All Stars in Bangkok in July 2015 with Adam Bogdan in goal and Rickie Lambert up front.
They have come a long way since then. Continuity and stability prevail and this bodes well for the challenges ahead.
(Top photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)