Liverpool assistant manager Zeljko Buvac is to take a break from his role at Anfield - dealing the Reds a significant blow ahead of their Champions League clash with Roma.
The Bosnian-Serb has been Jurgen Klopp’s closest ally throughout his managerial career, but will not be part of his coaching staff between now and the end of the season due to personal reasons.
Liverpool’s players were informed of the news on Sunday. Buvac was present for the goalless draw with Stoke City 24 hours earlier, but will not fly out to Rome with the rest of the Reds’ travelling party on Tuesday. Peter Krawietz, the third member of Klopp’s coaching triumvirate, will take on a greater role in his absence.
Liverpool sources insist that Buvac's position is not affected by his absence, and that he remains a club employee. There will be no official comment from the club due to the private nature of the issue, but the news at the very least raises doubts as to his long-term future at Anfield.
Buvac, 56, moved to Merseyside alongside Klopp in October 2015. The pair first met as players with Mainz in the early-1990s, forming a close bond, and when Klopp took over as manager of the German club in 2001, it was Buvac he chose as his No.2..
The pair stayed at Mainz until 2008 before moving to Borussia Dortmund, where they enjoyed significant success including two Bundesliga titles, a German Cup win and a Champions League final appearance. They left together in the summer of 2015
Klopp has described Buvac as “the brain” of his coaching team, and the former midfielder’s tactical knowledge has been key in developing the high-energy ‘gegenpressing’ style used at both Dortmund and Liverpool.
“I’ve made a lot of good decisions in my career as manager,” Klopp has said. “But the best one was appointing Buvac as coach – he’s the best coach I’ve ever known. He’s the one I’ve learned the most from. We’re like an old married couple, and that’s sensational.”
Discussing his role in an interview in 2016, Buvac said: “Before every training session and after every training session we talk together. Before every match and after every match we talk.
“In training I am observing and watching and if I have the feeling something needs to be changed I will speak to Kloppo. We discuss it, ‘Why should this be? Why that?’ But it is a decision we come to together. That is the way in training and that is the way in the match.
“If it is necessary, I get up from the bench and that is okay. I don’t need to ask. Together with Peter [Krawietz] we have six eyes. You see more than if only one man is looking.”
Liverpool have already seen significant changes to their backroom staff this season, with first-team coach Pep Lijnders leaving in January to take up a role as manager of NEC Nijmegen in the Netherlands. In October, head physio Andy Renshaw was sacked, with a shake-up of the club's medical department expected in the summer. The Reds are also braced for the departure of U18s coach Steven Gerrard, with Rangers hoping to confirm the Kop legend as their new boss this week.
Liverpool will fly to Rome tomorrow as they look to book their place in the Champions League final for the first time in 11 years. Klopp's side must defend a 5-2 first leg lead in Rome in order to do so.
They will make checks on the fitness of four first-team players before departing. Captain Jordan Henderson and defender Joe Gomez suffered ankle knocks against Stoke, while Trent Alexander-Arnold was substituted due to a dead leg. Sadio Mane missed the game due to a thigh issue, though all four are expected to make the trip to Italy.
The Reds are also braced for the departure of U18s coach Steven Gerrard, with Rangers hoping to announce the Kop legend as their new manager this week. Roberto Firmino at least provided some cheer for Liverpool this weekend by penning a new contract, which will keep him at Anfield until 2023.