JÜRGEN Klopp revealed this week that he has met Brendan Rodgers since taking the Liverpool job. I can’t help but wonder what Rodgers makes of everything that has happened since he was sacked following the draw at Everton in October.
In recent weeks, Klopp has taken his side to Stamford Bridge and the Etihad with no recognised strikers, (of course Firmino is a forward but I mean in terms of a genuine number nine rather than a Peter Beardsley-type) watched us dominate better sides and battered both of them to the tune of seven goals.
While poor old Brendan would play false nines till the cows came home with little or no return, Jürgen seemingly can’t put a foot wrong.
To make it more galling, Klopp has an identical squad made up predominantly of Rodgers signings.
None of this makes Brendan Rodgers a bad manager. It’s just that sometimes players can become disinterested in playing one particular way or, and this seems more likely, simply lose focus on what it is they are supposed to be doing.
Players can become staid just as we all can in our own jobs and it’s only when someone new comes in and asks us to prove ourselves anew that we look at what we’re doing.
For example, I often wonder how Emre Can felt about being lauded as a European midfield talent one day, only to be transformed into a less-than-average centre back the next.
A new man sees something new in players and now Emre is playing backheels 80 yards further down the pitch instead of looking nervously across at Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren when the ball is in the air.
It must be annoying to see how your squad plays a matter of weeks after they were dire against Manchester United and West Ham, and a small voice in Rodgers’ mind must be wondering what the German has done that is so different.
I mean, Brendan talked about the value of pressing from day one — so did Jürgen. Brendan believed in winning the ball far up the field — Jürgen, too. Brendan would play with no recognised number nine…yep.
So what’s the difference?
Well, firstly, Jürgen has a honeymoon period and, luckily for him, most Liverpool managers are loved unconditionally from their first press conference. True, they usually end with a juddering ride, but a new man generally brings in a new wind and a sense of optimism.
The men have different dispositions. Whereas Brendan came in with stern words and a no-nonsense expression, Klopp grinned his way through his first meeting with the media and then went out for a pint afterwards. That’s a great start and he hadn’t even met his team by then.
He came across with something even the dark artists of the press admire — likeability. Yes, he’s going to make enemies as he’s known to walk away from the odd inane interrogative, but he’s anything but dour.
Nor was Brendan, but he did tend to defend himself against things that were of his own doing. I’m not slating him for that, just establishing a contrast between the characters of the two men. Brendan spoke of us all fighting for our lives, Jürgen has turned everything into a laugh.
In any case, you tend to get your first few games for free, so Jurgen could always afford to draw a few games while Brendan would have been pilloried for the same result.
Even Roy Hodgson got a pass for his debut when Pepe Reina lost the flight of the ball in the Anfield sun against Arsenal while Brendan saw his side battered by an average West Brom side but still avoided criticism even when he said that there would be similar days ahead.
In this instance, Jurgen started well enough and everyone was on board with his new ideas. A few draws, hugs all round and a dig at the early leavers. Nice. Then came those two games.
Oh. my. Those two games. Talk about a sea change.
They’re not just six points. Well, they are, but they seem much more than that. They’re statement games.
Liverpool have travelled to the homes of the last two champions of England and presented them with their arses on a plate. That means something. That speaks of fearlessness, like reputation doesn’t matter.
Liverpool have the capability to do that now and we all thought that that had gone last year when only the City home game provided us with a meaningful scalp.
Let’s not get carried away, though. Feet have to remain firmly on the ground. This is still the side that were awful against Crystal Palace and have only won two league games at Anfield this campaign so let’s all take Winston Wolf’s advice on board, shall we?
Klopp seems to have begun the rebuilding process the wrong way around. Usually it’s the steady wins that come first before a team steps up and takes a swipe at the big boys.
Last Saturday will be lessened if we don’t achieve even the streakiest of wins against Swansea, West Brom and Leicester. That’s when we’ll really know that we’re on to something.
Look at Rafa Benitez in 2008. I can remember walking through Earl’s Court on my way to Stamford Bridge thinking that being unbeaten in the first eight games was all well and good but Chelsea away was a game we seldom won and that would have to change before we could begin to give ourselves airs.
That was a time when we needed a statement game. Thank you, Xabi Alonso.
This is an important stage in our development. Both players and managers are learning about each other and it may be a while before we reach our potential. There will be stumbling blocks.
Brendan never had that. He went from an okay first year to nearly winning the bloody thing, so any third year had to match that incredible high. Then a Luis Suarez-shaped entropy took over.
Jürgen can afford to fail and we’ll still love him as this is a nascent Liverpool rather than an established one.
All things must pass, and just because the sun is on your side of the street one day it doesn’t mean that it will be forever. After all, the best managers are the ones who constantly rebuild their sides in order to maintain success. Bob Paisley did it, Bill Shankly did it after the Watford debacle and Alex Ferguson did it more than once, but it’s not for everyone.
Look at City. Imperious a few years ago but made to look ordinary without Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany or David Silva. How do you replace those players and expect the same results? Then there’s Jose Mourinho this season — entropy personified.
Jürgen has none of these problems to deal with as any failure will quite rightly be written off as a new manager finding his feet with a squad that wasn’t of his making. He’s still on his honeymoon and we’ve yet to see what he can do once he has his own players on board.
3 – Daniel Sturridge has completed 90 minutes in three of Liverpool's last 47 Premier League games. Fleeting.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 17, 2015
He’s also still got to deal with the return of Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson (incidentally, I loved that he didn’t bring Daniel on in the second half on Saturday. He must have been tempted but it was like the punch Cassius Clay didn’t throw at Sonny Listen when he was down on the canvas. It would have been inelegant), which is a nice problem to have but he also has to deal with an ageing Lucas and the sale of those he doesn’t fancy while keeping everyone happy.
Mind you, if there’s one thing that Jürgen does well it’s the happiness factor. Two months ago Jordan Ibe looked too scared to walk on to a pitch. Nowadays, he can’t get on or off without being affectionately wrestled to the ground by the boss.
At the moment the players all want to play for him. That’s a fantastic position to be in as there’s nothing better than seeing the manager and players in harmony.
Look at Sturridge momentarily forgetting to do the arms when he scored against Manchester United in the third game of 2013-14. He ran off to celebrate with his manager instead.
Then there’s Gerard Houllier’s face after the Gary Mac derby free-kick. It’s a perfect understanding and I hope it lasts long beyond the days when players start frowning and harrumphing at the sound of the manager’s name because they’re not getting a game.
Brendan was faced by those problems all the time, be it of his own making or otherwise. He clearly didn’t fancy Mario Balotelli from the off and the treatment of Fabio Borini was simply bewildering.
None of that today, of course. Hell, even Jose Enrique has a chance of playing. When he’s fit.
These days the word ‘philosophy’ has been overused and granted an almost mystical significance when all it really means is ‘a way of doing things’, but the difference between one man’s methods and another’s mark out failure and success.
It is, of course, transitory by nature.
As things stand, Claudio Ranieri has the top philosophy in the country. Does it make him the best manager? Only, as Jürgen would say, ‘in this moment’.
Personally, I’m enjoying the honeymoon. There are no factions around the ground and everything seems a laugh again.
I just wonder what the same players were doing in their last few games under a different manager but in a similar system. Sometimes football can just be confusing.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo