THE manager on Danny Ings: “Maybe it’s not enough time for him, but next season, we’ll have a lot of fun with him for sure.”
We’ll have a lot of fun with him for sure.
Shall we really over-analyse? Let’s do it.
It has been repeatedly noted, not least by me, that Jürgen Klopp is determined in almost his every utterance to the media, to emphasise the enjoyment aspect of football. It was present in his first press conference, it is present in this, his last press conference. There is a remarkable constancy to this message of his. Jurgen Klopp: having a lovely time, wants you to have a lovely time, wants his players to have a lovely time. Everything about him, the oversized reactions to both goals and questions in post-match interviews, the hair, the glasses, the smile screams enjoyment. It’s a basic, direct response.
In Jurgen Klopp – The Biography by Elmar Neveling there is an interview with German author and life coach Cristián Gálvez wherein he discusses Klopp’s personality. He says this: “We love people with congruency, those who have inner coherence. This is joined by the positive characteristics like the constant smile, that casual blond mane. We view him as an appealing figure. The man’s having fun.”
He is. Klopp has effectively preached enjoyment with a profundity since he has arrived at Anfield — because he wants Liverpool supporters to enjoy their football more, undoubtedly. But it is something greater than that — it is also because it doesn’t make sense to him without that enjoyment, that collective sense of fun.
He ritualises enjoyment both publicly in front of supporters and the media and privately with his players. His ground rules are clear — work for one another, for him, for us. Work and work and work. But then enjoy that work — have it be the best, most enjoyable work you could ever imagine. You see the players, especially the younger players (especially especially Moreno if we’re all being honest) hanging off him in training pictures. The body language constantly inclusive — arms round shoulders, smiles, mischief, laughs. The manager authoritarian on the basic values of work rate and concentration; one of the team when it comes to having a lovely time.
Gálvez goes on to say that Klopp “emphasises again and again that football is joined by a social component,” something which has also come through since his arrival. If everyone isn’t having pretty much the best time they can have then what is the point of this? We’re paying enough money. It is taking up enough of our time. What is the point if it isn’t the highpoint of your week?
This is a socialising point and purpose, and while it hasn’t been repeated for a league game, the mocked response to the late West Brom equaliser is an example of this: Klopp’s desire to make the team aware that they exist for the supporters and the supporters aware that they exist for the players. The collective mutual enjoyment is everything.
This is something which, when coming into a fractured season and getting a side to two cup finals with limited expectation, is relatively easy. Once players have been bought, money spent, once a new season starts, once expectations are set, when we are in a world where the idea that Leicester City are league champions has been bedded in for a summer, the collective mutual enjoyment might get more difficult. It has done in the past.
This is where the inner coherence comes into play from the Gálvez quote. Where the sheer essence of the man becomes key but even that isn’t a bed of roses potentially. The inner coherence of Gerard Houllier as a Liverpool manager was to be risk averse and structure. Rafa Benitez’s inner coherence was that there wasn’t a problem he couldn’t think his way through. Brendan Rodgers’s was to trust his players. Inherent in each of these is part of the reason why they eventually lost their job as Liverpool manager — when structure failed. When there was no thinking through it. When you can no longer trust them and need to win games for them. So often your greatest strength becomes your greatest weakness.
It is quite straightforward to imagine a Liverpool lacking momentum in seventh come November and a manager hoping everyone is having a lovely time beginning to clang with an ageing crowd of whom too many have had enough of their football at the best of times.
But there will be no other way for this manager to do this. This is the only way he can be our man. The only way he can end the 26-year wait for the title is by being him. When he starts having to compromise that then it is game over; that he may have felt he reached that point in his flawed last season at Dortmund is worth speculating upon.
There is no other way he can work with his players other than to have a lot of fun for sure. He wants us to enjoy this because he has to. He wants his players and his supporters to connect because without it he cannot truly function. He has to be able to be himself on the good days and the bad — it’s worth remembering this in the days running up to a cup final and underscoring this memory on the off chance we need it in months and years to come. Worth also hearing his comments around everyone going to Basel in that context. Why wouldn’t we? Obviously everyone goes and has a ball.
Since he has arrived at Liverpool, Klopp has told everyone over and over again who he is and what he is about. The smile, the fist-pumping, the screaming. There was a lap of honour last night. Kids were on the pitch. I’d normally be a grump about the enterprise but I tried my best not to be last night. They, and he, sort of needed us not to be. They, and he, needed us to cheer them to Basel, to next season, to a world of perpetual enjoyment. This is the point of having Jurgen Klopp as your manager.
It may not always be “cool”, but it is meant to be fun.