TONIGHT Liverpool play yet another game of football – the semi-final of the League Cup, to be exact. So Jürgen Klopp manages Liverpool in another game of football. He’s been fairly vocal on the relentlessness of it all. He’s tried to do it with a wry smile, so as not to be accused of being the foreigner coming over here moaning about our game. Or the “soft German”, as a certain hippo-headed manager described him. But it’s all clearly burning Klopp’s brain out a little bit. He’s normally off at this time of year, putting his feet up, but in 2016 he’s been tasked with saving Liverpool Football Club and he must be wondering when he might have time to get round to it.
This will be the 19th game Klopp has managed Liverpool since he arrived at Anfield, refreshed and smiling, getting executives in headlocks, two-and-a-half months ago. This includes a two-week period when many of his players were away on international duty.
In some ways, all this has to be a positive for him. Twenty-four different players have turned out for Liverpool under Klopp so far. So that’s 24 players he’s been able to see first hand, and assess in meaningful games. Twenty-four Liverpool players he knows more about now than he did when he joined. But what he can actually do with this information while games are coming thick and fast and there is little time to coach on the training field, is another thing.
We can all be guilty of simplifying a manager’s role at a football club.
When Brendan Rodgers was sacked there was a lot of talk about “players playing in their right position” being a cure-all. Analysis focused around getting the players simply “working harder”. When we talk about what a manager should be doing better, it is often mostly small changes in tactics and selection. Which often amounts to: “If he did what I wanted him to do, we’d be fine.”
You can be sure that there are a thousand things that Jürgen Klopp wants to do with this football team, and hundreds of them that he can’t do at the moment.
He’s still got the same unbalanced squad the last manager had and the same issues with quality. He’ll have players he is realising can’t do what he requires them to, but he’ll know overhauling everything in January is unrealistic. He’ll have others who he’ll feel he can get what he needs out of, but minimal time to work with them to squeeze out their very best.
Take Christian Benteke as an example. Everyone knows he has qualities as a footballer, yet everyone is saying he doesn’t fit in at Liverpool, despite his seven goals for the club in 21 appearances, a ratio of one in three. Could he get better given time? It’s possible Klopp hasn’t given up hope. Alan Shearer, among others, has been focusing on Benteke’s movement, or lack of, in the box.
Jürgen may agree with the Match of the Day pundit, but when can he work on it with the big Belgian? He can tell him to run more, and have man-to-man chats about his focus, but anything more complex than that needs work on the training ground, with his team-mates, in time he doesn’t seem to have right now.
Saturday was another game of football in London. Sunday likely a day off. Monday a light session with focus on Stoke and keeping players off the treatment table. Tuesday is travel then a game. Wednesday recovery. Thursday back in training. Friday travel to Exeter. A week has gone, with three more games of football played. Lots of learning, very little teaching.
What also needs to be considered is a man moving to England, and trying to acclimatise to everything. A new language. A new culture. Different media. Different expectations.
Some assume the big money and the accompanying luxury solves everything. But Klopp must still be getting used to the city, to the club, to the Premier League, to the officials and their decisions, to the varying styles, to the opposition.
On top of 19 games of football and trying to get Benteke to make a near-post run, Klopp has to find somewhere to live while operating in a goldfish bowl.
He’s trying to assess the 100 players Liverpool have out on loan and whether any of them could be of use to the club. He’s watching videos of West Brom wondering what on earth is going on. He’s got a transfer committee showing him holding midfielders and a wife showing him curtain samples. He’s trying to work out a route to walk his dog that doesn’t involve Liverpool fans telling him how crap Dejan Lovren is.
You start to understand why David Moyes stayed in a five-star hotel not learning any Spanish while he was in charge at Real Sociedad.
The winter break in football is a hot topic every year with the key argument the break it gives the players, who would then perform better towards the end of a season and become more competitive at international tournaments. But it’s a break for a manager, too. A time when he doesn’t need to focus on what’s next, but can focus on what he’s seen. When he can talk to his assistants and evaluate the bigger picture, instead of having to deal with a collection of smaller ones.
Klopp’s not going to get a winter break, or any break, anytime soon. The next international games are not until March, by which time the season will probably have found its pattern, good or bad. In the meantime, the Liverpool manager just has to hope small changes can make a big difference. That what he is saying to players in the limited time he has gets through to them quickly. That, and it’s a dirty term in football, he stumbles across something that works.
During this time, we have to be realistic about what we can expect from a manager with more problems than training sessions. Remember that you give top-level managers longer than six-month contracts for a reason. Ignore win-comparison statistics that are unhelpful and unfair and only really useful to people creating headlines. Turn from doubters to believers and see what happens. It’s a big game tonight.
Pics: Propaganda-Photo–David Rawcliffe