“IMAGINE trying to play football while holding your breath.” That was the answer of an international when asked what it was like to take to the pitch under inescapable toxicity. Initially, it seemed a rather dramatic response. But upon introspection, just two weeks ago, simply commentating on Liverpool was suffocating. Every thought was labelled, and each day was a battle to avoid, well, being called a “cunt” for your opinion (not my choice of words, theirs).
Picture what it must have like for the players. They would have read, watched and felt their workplace come under constant scrutiny. They were living what others merely had a view on. If it was joyless for journalists on the beat and supporters, it can’t have been very jubilant for them. And just as we feel different today than we did 14 days ago, it is only natural that they do too.
The players can breathe again.
The Thursday before last, Liverpool looked like kids who suddenly realised they had been erroneously left home alone against FC Sion. There was fear, panic and desperation in their performance. And wastage, all of the wastage. At the final whistle, they were booed.
The past Thursday, Jürgen Klopp signed an initial three-year deal to become Liverpool manager and tops were off. Keep the change ya filthy animal! This Thursday, the German held his first pre-match press conference in front of a packed media room. Bring the house down!
The change has been sharp and swift. Again, picture what it’s been like for the players. Surprising, exciting, intimidating… Their workplace is the focus of all the column inches again, but for contrasting reasons.
The restart was essential for everyone, but most especially for them. Klopp revealed that his opening message to the team was that he took the job “because Liverpool is a great club, but also because of the players. I feel that I can help them, that we can work great together.”
As with all dressing rooms, there would’ve been some sadness to see the previous manager depart, some celebration, some unease about what was to come, some doubts, some relief…
The overriding feeling in West Derby though is one of eagerness. Players are properly excited about the adventure to come. They’ve watched Klopp work from afar, and now get first-hand experience of his intoxicating character. They were in awe of his Borussia Dortmund, and want to be a part of people feeling the same way about his Liverpool.
Klopp has asked the players to run more. To leave more out on the pitch. To show bravery. To enjoy their football. In the four sessions from Monday to Thursday the manager said he has seen signs of all of the above.
That’s good because effectively, it’s up to the lads now. The owners made a bold, dynamic change. The manager is a proven winner. The supporters are going to sing like it’s 2005. The players have to turn up for the party.
In the last months of Brendan Rodgers’ reign, every fault saw every finger firmly pointed in his direction. Poor individual performances and awful errors were largely kicked under the carpet. Horrid finishing and unfathomable decision-making was buried there, too.
Blame often knocked on the door of the transfer committee also. Fenway Sports Group have had their share. Rightly, the distraction of “the bomb squad” — Mario Balotelli, Jose Enrique and Fabio Borini — was removed. Wrongly, collective responsibility for results has not happened often enough.
With Klopp in, that stops. There’s no space for deflections. There’s no room left under the carpet. Most players will relish it. Those who don’t understand that the minimum is their maximum will have to think about getting used to a new club, let alone a different manager.
Given the cruel casualty list, there’s no time for passengers.
Liverpool have been keen to create a culture of excellence and Klopp, too, places effort above all else.
Many in the squad already subscribe to this idea. Soon it will be quite evident which are the ones who don’t.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo.Com & PA Images