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Zeljko Buvac: The loss that Liverpool could do without

‘The brain, the eye and the normal one.’ That’s what they call themselves. As with the team on the pitch, those gathered on the touchline are very much a collective. They bounce off each other: ideas, thoughts and sometimes themselves. However, on Monday morning there was some rather surprising and potentially damaging news emanating from Melwood. The brain was absent – at least for the moment.

Zeljko Buvac, Jurgen Klopp’s assistant for over 17 years, and a major part of the coaching set-up and style, is “spending some time away from the first team environment between now and the end of the season” according to Liverpool, who have declined to comment further on what they regard as a private matter.

Klopp first met Buvac – who is of Bosnian-Serb origin – when they were players together at Mainz. It was there in the heart of Germany – and the second division – that they shook hands and promised that whoever went into management first would take the other as their assistant. From Mainz to Dortmund and now to Liverpool, the agreement has held and appeared, if anything, to be getting stronger.

Buvac is trusted and respected by not only Klopp but also the third member of this trio, Peter Krawietz. Buvac is the soundboard off which Klopp throws his thoughts and concerns, and Krawietz his findings. However, Buvac is a soundboard with a difference, what rebounds back is often challenges rather than agreements. A man free to think on his own is vital inside the manic environment that is the dressing room.

But such pressure and responsibility can bring strain. Recently, the 56-year-old has cut a distant figure at Melwood and during first-team matches. I was at the Liverpool team hotel on Saturday morning prior to the match against Stoke, and Buvac was the first on the coach with an expression that hinted of fatigue.

The timing of this step-aside is certainly intriguing as Liverpool’s – possibly historic – season is coming to a conclusion. The best performances that the Anfield crowd have witnessed for some time have come in recent months. Scoring goals, winning tactical battles and being able to claim the PFA Player of the Year is far from frustrating and only adds to the surprising timing.

Although there is no claim that Buvac’s temporary move away from the first team is linked to a specific argument with Klopp, it would not be the first time. The pair have had huge rows before, their relationship has been volatile at times. In some ways, it’s completely understandable given that they are both impulsive characters. However, as Raphael Honigstein says in his recent biography on Klopp, they always come back together, make up and move on for the best.

The short-term effect may be rather negligible despite Liverpool travelling to Rome on Tuesday afternoon for the club’s biggest game in more than a decade. But longer term, if Buvac does not return, then Klopp will require someone else to bounce his ideas off. But who knows, the temporary break may benefit Buvac and allow him to recharge his batteries for next season. Amidst all this uncertainty, one thing is for sure; Klopp will look to his left when sitting in the dugout in Rome – and quite possibly Kiev – and not find his assistant, and friend, next to him for the first time in a long time.