FSG must replace unsung figure to preserve Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool legacy – Liverpool FC

Fenway Sports Group face a pivotal summer as Liverpool lose their manager and sporting director, but a third major appointment must be made to stay on top.

The news of Jurgen Klopp‘s resignation will dominate these closing months of the season, with the legendary manager presiding over one last run at four trophies.

Off the pitch, Fenway Sports Group are tasked with arguably their most important task since purchasing the club in 2010, as not only will Klopp need replacing, but a new sporting director is required too.

Hours after Klopp’s decision was made public, Liverpool confirmed that Jorg Schmadtke would be moving on.

Three others are heading out, too, including assistant managers Pepijn Lijnders and Peter Krawietz, who are going their separate ways.

Meanwhile, the departure of elite development coach Vitor Matos has gone under the radar – but it is imperative that the club adequately replace the Portuguese.

The role of elite development coach is not one in place at every club, and it is a difficult one to define, though it has been crucial to Klopp’s legacy at Anfield.

First held by Lijnders between 2015 and 2018, and then inherited by Matos in 2019, Liverpool’s elite development coach is essentially a link between the academy and the first team.

Central to this is the formation of a ‘Talent Group’, which was the brainchild of Lijnders in his first months in the role, having stepped up from a position as U16s coach.

Before Liverpool’s relocation to the state-of-the-art AXA Training Centre, young players considered part of the ‘Talent Group’ would make regular trips from Kirkby to Melwood to train under the watch of first-team staff.

Trent Alexander-Arnold was among the first to be included in this group by Lijnders, which helped convince Klopp to bring him into the first-team fold ahead of his debut in 2016.

ST HELENS, ENGLAND - Wednesday, October 2, 2019: Liverpool's elite development coach Vitor Matos (L) and Academy Director Alex Inglethorpe (R) before the UEFA Youth League Group E match between Liverpool FC Under-19's and FC Salzburg Under-19's at Langtree Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

While the manager may not have the time to watch every academy game, the standout talents can be showcased to him.

The ethos was maintained upon Matos’ arrival from Porto, with the Portuguese liaising with academy coaches and senior staff to create a cohesive link.

Of course, paramount has been Klopp’s commitment to rewarding youth; during his almost nine years at the club, the German has given 40 academy players their first-team debut.

There are long-term success stories and fleeting glimpses alike on the list of debutants, from Joe Maguire and Herbie Kane to Alexander-Arnold and Curtis Jones.

But as the years have gone by – and under the guidance of academy director Alex Inglethorpe, the ranks have become streamlined from quantity to quality – the youth presence at Liverpool has become more prominent.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - Thursday, December 14, 2023: Liverpool players line-up for a team group photograph before the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 6 game between Royale Union Saint-Gilloise and Liverpool FC at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. Back row L-R: Conor Bradley, Ibrahima Konaté, goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, Jarell Quansah, Cody Gakpo, Curtis Jones. Front row L-R: Kaide Gordon, Luke Chambers, Ben Doak, 19', Wataru End?. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Matos’ fingerprints are all over the current crop: Jarell Quansah, Conor Bradley, Ben Doak, Stefan Bajcetic, James McConnell, Owen Beck, Tyler Morton, Luke Chambers, Kaide Gordon and so on.

It was Matos who introduced Klopp to Bajcetic, for example, with the manager immediately convinced he had found a new long-term No. 6.

Lijnders, in his book Intensity: Inside Liverpool FC, recalls a conversation with Matos over the imminent arrival of Bobby Clark from Newcastle, when the Portuguese brought up the youngster’s father, Lee Clark.

“This guy has 32 hours in a day,” Lijnders told Klopp at the time.

Matos is known, affectionately, to the first-team staff as ‘Vitorpedia’, such is his wide-ranging knowledge of players and coaches, and it is this relentlessness that has made him such a success as elite development coach.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, November 4, 2019: Liverpool's elite development coach Vitor Matos during a training session at Melwood Training Ground ahead of the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Liverpool FC and KRC Genk. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

But his influence stretches beyond the promotion of youth, with Klopp and Lijnders increasingly relying on his tactical input, while Matos regularly leads training sessions at the AXA.

“The most special and loyal coach I’ve met in my life,” is how Lijnders sums up the coach who will now become his No. 2 when he takes up a senior management job.

That makes finding his replacement a priority for Liverpool this summer, though it will be a complicated appointment.

Any new arrival will need to align with the principles of the incoming manager, with FSG almost certain to uphold a focus on youth development when seeking Klopp’s successor.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, November 29, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp (R) and elite development coach Vitor Matos during a training session at the AXA Training Centre ahead of the UEFA Europa League Group E match between Liverpool FC and LASK. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

If not, there is a very real risk of close to a decade of dedicated work going to waste, and the new breed of Jayden Danns, Lewis Koumas, Trey Nyoni and Co. being left in limbo.

It would be no surprise, then, if Matos is replaced last; unless the idea is to promote from within, for example with Inglethorpe’s assistant academy director, Nick Marshall, holding a UEFA Pro License.

Either way, it is a decision FSG will need to nail in order to preserve the lasting legacy of Klopp’s legendary reign.

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