In the aftermath of the game last night, I didn’t feel like I had a lot to write down. I didn’t feel like I had a lot to say. I was heartbroken. Heartbroken for them and us. For all of them really. The old stager winning his last battle; the centre forward getting the goal he needed as Liverpool’s best player on the big stage. Heartbroken for the left back who does something bloody stupid. For the Reds who made Basel a sea of Red, who brought the party. For those of us at home who have had what feels like an eternity of a season, game after game after game. Heartbroken.
Of course there needs to be match reports and of course there will be emotional outpourings from supporters with phones and keyboards (i.e. all supporters). Rightly so. It is an emotional game, the wellspring of why we care is that the game has an emotional base.
What complicates and simultaneously over-simplifies matters for me is that one ninety minutes becomes defining and obscures everything that has gone before, everything that has been said, everything which is realistic. Klopp has repeatedly said he likes this squad. He has also repeatedly downplayed the importance of this final in his overall thinking. He’s completely right to do so. He has a series of decisions to make not on the basis of ninety minutes but on the basis of over fifty sets of them, over how he envisages and how he wants next seasons sets of ninety minutes to be, over what he sees in training, over data sets and gut instincts, over what one of his coaches thinks against what another one of his coaches thinks. He has to deal in the realm of the achievable. Even if he wanted to bomb all eleven who started last night out – which he won’t – he can’t. He and his team can only pour their energies into the plausible.
Five Things We Learned culture intensifies around the Big Game. The Big Occasion. There’s a rush to judgement, a rush to get content out. Get the clicks, sell the papers, fill the columns. We must have learned something from the football match. There must be something new to say. This x, this x we currently have must lead to a y.
But what if y is happening anyway? What if y – using as an example, y being Liverpool looking to sign a left back who can fucking defend – what if y is already ongoing?
The point is this: the result and performance last night will change very little about Jurgen Klopp and his team’s plans for the summer. It will change very little about Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool tenure, other than meaning he has only made two finals this season rather than won one trophy and made one final.
And that’s the way it should be. If you want a well run football club then wheels have to be constantly in motion. That’s the nature of being on a journey – all you can influence is the quality of the process, not the definitive outcome. If we want to be on the march with Kloppo’s army then we need to accept that there is a nerve centre we will never see making decisions for reasons that go back weeks and months and stretch weeks and months into the future. Last night doesn’t change the journey and we cannot forget what has gone before. These players got Liverpool to the final, winning some big games along the way. Some may not be here when we get to the promised land. That is football. The joy is in the journey.
For me, the only real question, the only real thing I’d like someone to explain to me about last night concerns the manager himself. Why he made no attempts to change it from the bench between the two Sevilla goals? I’ve been thinking about little else.
There is a constant discourse that Liverpool need a controlling midfielder in a general sense. This may or may not be true, but what is the case is that there were three people sat next to Jurgen Klopp in the technical area better at that kind of thing and of more use to get Liverpool a foothold back in the game than James Milner. That isn’t to say Milner off should have been the change. Arguably Coutinho or Firmino should have been the change. Possibly even Moreno could have been the change and Milner could go to left back. Whatever you want. But Liverpool made no attempt from the bench to regain a foothold in the game.
I’m left wondering why.
The manager knows far more about football than both you and I. He knows his players as well. But it seemed strange to me this change never came. It was strange at home to Newcastle too. Close the game down. Kill it. Get through the next fifteen minutes at 1-1 (or 2-1 against Newcastle). Make it ugly and then push on late in the match.
He showed no sign of doing that.
There has been lots and lots of talk of shape since Klopp came in. He was at pains during his first press conference to emphasise the importance of a clean sheet. We’ve seen defenders improve under him. Over the course of this season though Liverpool have become more expansive and have scored more goals, yet they have still let leads slip with regularity. That 1-1 became 2-1 shouldn’t have come as a surprise to the manager.
Perhaps he thought that none of the options on the bench would do what he needed them to do well enough to sacrifice some perceived potency. Perhaps he thought that the game was about to snap back towards Liverpool; that Sevilla couldn’t keep this up.
Fundamentally though, there is this – he is an optimist. This Liverpool manager is an optimist and he thinks his players are good players and he will back them while they are playing for him. He is not standing there imagining the worst.
Gerard Houllier was not an optimist. He was a pessimist. He only ever lost one final as a manager – an U21’s game. When he told me about it he remembered it in detail. He didn’t remember the wins as well. Why would he? They were wins. They weren’t something to worry about. But defeats, defeats are things you worry about. Defeats keep you up nights.
He only ever lost one final as a manager. His sides could win if the worst happened – if they played poorly they could win. This was his biggest concern – ensure this above everything else.
This isn’t to say that approach is the preferable one – for instance Houllier’s Liverpool side went on an infamously long run without being able to fashion a comeback from half-time deficit. Some would argue preparing for the worst never allowed them to become the best. It is merely to point out that the Liverpool manager is and has to be his own man. That he has to be himself. As soon as he isn’t then there are problems. Gerard Houllier got a lot right as Liverpool manager. He got a lot right from the bench. But the substitution everyone remembers is Dietmar Hamann off. The substitution which didn’t feel like a Gerard Houllier substitution.
There is every chance Jurgen Klopp didn’t try to kill the game because he thinks that isn’t what Jurgen Klopp does. The man who demands emotional football doesn’t do that kind of thing. The man who lives every minute as though it is his last doesn’t like to take a backwards step with potentially forty minutes of the football match left. He doesn’t want to send that message to his team or to their supporters. He doesn’t want to send that sort of message to himself, lose his essence in one game, not when he wants to manage Liverpool his way for five hundred of them. The prospect of defeats doesn’t seem to be keeping Jurgen Klopp up nights. That isn’t the way he wants to be Liverpool manager.
I’m an optimist as well. And I am certain that to do what need, what we crave and have craved for 26 years will take an optimist. It’ll take someone who plans for the best and moves constantly towards it, not getting distracted. Even then it might not work, but this is the only way it will work. Fixating not on one game but on working out thirty eight of them. Making decisions based upon how best to reach the promised land need to be considered. There won’t be five of them to make after every game. There won’t be something clean and easy. The manager will get things wrong as will his players. Even the best planned journeys can end up in cul-de-sacs. So there shouldn’t be scapegoating or slaughtering. There will be a gang of lads doing their best and sometimes their best won’t be good enough but they will be all Reds while here. They may then move on and someone else has a go. That’s football. It’s every enterprise worth undertaking.
Thirty eight league games next season. We have time to train. Thirty eight cup finals. We will use it. That’s the aim. That’s the journey. That’s the point. That’s why he is here, why we want him to be himself. He’s come here to do a job and he has a job to do. He’ll have to be DEAD Jurgen Klopp to do it.
Last time this season with love for everyone:
Let’s go Reds. Into these.