IT is one of those strange football contradictions: you never quite know what you are going to get from Jürgen Klopp, even when asking the most simple of questions.
Yet the manager strives for a form of consistency; a predictability even, in his forcefulness that all visits to Anfield should be a prospect that consumes opponents with dread.
I remember interviewing Francis Lee, Manchester City’s stocky part-time centre forward, full-time provocateur. Liverpool considered signing him from Bolton Wanderers in the 1960s before City moved in and this is catalogued in Secret Diary of a Liverpool Scout (details to follow conveniently — especially with Christmas coming soon).
Lee was dubbed Lee Won Pen, when later he fell too easily while playing for Derby County against Leeds United in the mud of the old Baseball Ground. It prompted a scrap with Norman Hunter featuring a thump that George Foreman would have been satisfied with.
Lee was fearless. I thought he was exaggerating when he claimed that he couldn’t remember winning a single game at Anfield despite “at least a dozen or so” attempts.
Quick trawls through history books reveal Lee was right. In 12 games at Anfield, he lost eight and drew four. He reasoned that the crowd influenced the outcome — and this wasn’t misty-eyed codswallop or a consequence of Beatles songs being played on the public address system while the Kop swayed simultaneously.
“They were moaners at Anfield,” he told me. “The linesmen must have had a hell of a time. He must have worried about where his car was parked, let me tell you. I remember winning a throw-in once. I felt like celebrating.”
There have been other articles published on the Anfield Wrap since Klopp targeted the issue of atmosphere inside the stadium in the aftermath of the first defeat of his reign, focusing particularly on crowd reaction to setbacks.
Lee had insisted that above everything else, Anfield’s mystique arose from the team he was facing: the players and particularly, the manager in charge of them, Bill Shankly.
I interviewed Lee in 2009 and even then, 28 years after Shankly’s death, Lee continued to call him “Mr. Shankly.” In passing commentary elsewhere during the conversation, Brian Clough remained “Brian Clough” and Don Revie, “Don Revie”.
It takes a special character to manage Liverpool. I am convinced that at this moment in the club’s history, it needed someone with a remarkable ability and personality to make it rise again because above him — at boardroom level — it is yet to be proven in five years of ownership that the people who can help make Liverpool successful on the pitch are in place.
Thinking they can’t really have an effect — that results are dictated absolutely by players, managers, coaches, scouts and a bit of luck — is a rejection of responsibility. Shankly leant on Peter Robinson for support. Where is Liverpool’s Peter Robinson presently?
So here we are with Klopp, a manager who in less than a month has achieved what his predecessor did not in three-and-a-bit seasons: away victories at two of the clubs consistently referred to as being part of the top-four status quo.
After trashing City at the weekend, Klopp mentioned that he wished the victory had been at home, at Anfield, and the comment is significant.
Away is good, because it reflects a team’s potential, but it’s at home where confidence and reputations are really built — where the fear originates and begins to spread like fire in a wood, as it did in the brilliant 2013-14 season under Brendan Rodgers before all of his work was undone in one slash-and-burn summer.
Rodgers spoke a lot, of course, but Klopp has a command of his words, a real trust.
“I would love to win a game like this at Anfield,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure our fans want to stay 20 minutes after the whistle.”
And then he was asked how this happens.
“If you are stuck in the forest and its dark and you are afraid and someone tells you not to be, it doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s your own mind. Only you can affect that.”
In placing an emphasis on the individuality of the players, he is putting himself under pressure to find a solution.
Just as it is overlooked that Leicester City’s surge to the top of the Premier League has coincided with a generous fixture list that has included only five games against last season’s top 10 — and three of them were at home, two of which were with Arsenal and Tottenham, and neither ended in victory — it hasn’t really been widely acknowledged that Liverpool have already played Chelsea, both Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Tottenham, Stoke City and Everton away from Anfield, achieving a reasonable tally of 12 points from a possible 21 in those encounters.
It means that Liverpool’s season will now be defined by their home games and Klopp clearly appreciates that.
It explains why he is highlighting it. It illustrates, too, that Klopp is more pragmatic and rationally minded than he appears to be, not just an emotional vessel, who attempts to navigate the high tides of feeling based merely on instinct.
The reputation does not seem to annoy him because he likes the attention that accompanies being branded as different, certainly in the generic industry in which he works. Perhaps the caricature disguises the reality, that he is actually a manager with deep tactical thought and a vision of how to execute those thoughts practically.
“When people speak about other persons, in this case about me, they make it black or white often; because they don’t know this person personally,” he said before the win over City.
By cuffing Jordon Ibe across the face or by giving him, or any of his team-mates, a bear hug it suggests that Klopp is a man ruled by passion.
Yet maybe there is more to him than that. Perhaps his tactile spirit is a method of control: telling players that the 6ft 4ins German bloke with floppy blond hair, glasses and a tracksuit is not afraid to handle you; that the player, indeed, is not too old for a slap — that dealing with reputation and ego is not beyond his governance.
Maybe truth is in the contradiction.
– Secret Diary Of A Liverpool Scout is available in paperback from Amazon and all leading bookstores
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