I LOVE Jürgen Klopp. There, I said it.
I completely understand those who believe adulation should be saved until he actually wins something with the club. I can absolutely appreciate that there are those who feel he hasn’t done anything yet and that the overt love-in offered to him by supporters is a bit cringe-worthy. On an intellectual level I totally and utterly get all of that.
But I still love him.
I listened to the interview that the lads did with him in America the other day with a smile on my face pretty much the whole time. Every now and again it was one of those fake smiles that you put on when you see an ex with a new fella who you know is probably more attractive than you, but that’s only because I was so insanely jealous that they got to meet him and chat to him in the first place.
He’s an infectious personality. His positivity for pretty much everything shines through when he talks and he seems to be able to have a laugh no matter what’s going on. Not just ‘have a laugh’, but have that massive boundless laugh that bowls you over and takes you along with it.
Rafa Benitez will always hold a special place in my heart. Istanbul was the best night of my life thus far and the Spaniard deserves enormous credit for that. He also made Liverpool a European force in a way no other manager in the modern era has. He was a tactical genius and, possibly, a better football manager than Klopp.
Yet somehow I personally found him to be inaccessible as a manager. Perhaps that’s in part because I was away from the city when Rafa was the boss, only returning sporadically to visit friends and family and get to the occasional match. He was, after all, drily funny in a way that the London press either didn’t get or deliberately ignored.
I’m also not suggesting that his inaccessible nature, that Steven Gerrard called ‘cold’, was a bad thing. If I had a choice between a manager who won us the Champions League and FA Cup but was ‘cold’ or one who won us nothing but was a good laugh then it’s not a competition.
Managers need to be tactically aware first and foremost, but I also think there’s something about Liverpool Football Club that requires the man in the dug-out to be more than that. To go one step further. To connect.
There were countless reasons why Roy Hodgson was a terrible, appalling appointment for us. You know them all so you don’t need me to repeat them. However there were plenty of supporters, myself included, who were willing to give him a chance. The notion that everyone associated with the club was against him from the start has always been a nonsense.
Even aside from the dire football he had us playing, though, the biggest problem with Old Owl Face was that he didn’t ‘get’ us, didn’t ‘get’ the club. Formidable Northampton Town. ‘Sir’ Alex Ferguson. ‘The Great Jose Mourinho’. The list goes on. He had no understanding of the ethos of Liverpool as a city, let alone the football club specifically.
Klopp is different in so many ways, but the fact that he definitely does get us is very high on my personal list. His recent comments about Hillsborough is a case in point. He acknowledged that he didn’t know enough and that he had a responsibility to find out more about everything surrounding one of the darkest days in the club’s history. He didn’t try to claim a connection or suggest he was as emotionally invested as supporters.
He is a manager for whom connections need to be earned and forged. I realise there’s an irony in my saying that having declared my love for him before he’s achieved anything but I don’t care. They say that true leaders are the ones that don’t want to lead and equally I think the best managers are the ones who don’t demand you respect them. I’ve no time for anyone turning up and telling everyone that they’re special before they’ve even managed a game.
Klopp’s infectious personality is one thing. His amazing laugh is another. I’m also delighted that he’s a dog lover. But more than anything else I like what he’s been saying, especially in recent weeks. His refusal to allow excuses to infect his players’ minds could be really important in Liverpool’s title challenge this season. And there will be a title challenge.
“What I can say is we will be a challenger, we will fight for everything, for every cup and what’ll happen in the end we will see. Certainly at the moment we should not look for excuses and say things like ‘I need another year’ or things like that. We will try everything 100% and see what happens. We built this team only to be successful, not one where we say we will have to wait. We will accept it as the end”.
No five year plan. No waiting for the team to gel. No gaining of experience or asking the fans to be patient. Just the now.
And that is Klopp’s key characteristic that I like so much: He’s all about the now. In matches he gets wound up. He tells the opposition manager where to stick it. If it suits, he tells the crowd to stick it. He’s as excitable, passionate and quick to be provoked as a supporter and I love him for it.
Klopp celebrating Milner's 90th minute tackle on Thursday! https://t.co/8aXR9UP0sJ
— Liverpool FC News (@LivEchoLFC) May 7, 2016
Again, I understand that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I get the people who thought he should have made tactical changes during the Europa League final rather than trying to gee up the crowd. Yet I’m totally behind him trying to create an atmosphere. In his interview with the lads he said that the crowd can make the difference. I’m all for that. The more people that fall in love with him and his madcap antics rather than waiting for him to achieve something, the more chance there is of a decent atmosphere at Anfield on a regular basis.
I also think that he *has* achieved something since arriving at Liverpool. It’s not the silverware winning achievement we all want, of course, but he’s still done something. He’s completely changed the vibe around the club. I think it must be remembered how divided the club has been for so long, how split the fanbase has been. There was an uneasy truce in 13-14, but the Rodgers haters were simply biding their time rather than won over completely.
There are still some out there who aren’t on board with Klopp in any capacity, obviously, but it’s not anywhere near as pronounced and I think they’re just against the club out of principle nowadays. I’m not talking about the ‘wait until he’s done something’ lot, either. I respect them. I wish I had their patience. It’s the other dullards I mean. But I don’t care about them. They’re just cranks.
We’re not there yet, but slowly Liverpool FC is becoming a force to be reckoned with once more. If you were at Anfield for the Borussia Dortmund game you’ll have felt it. An awakening. There’s life in the old dog yet. Klopp has woken us all from our slumber. Fans aren’t arguing with each other over Rafa anymore or having to protest over the ownership of the club by some blood-sucking Cowboys. We aren’t all trying to stab ourselves in the eyes instead of watching Hodgeball or feeling a little sad that Kenny didn’t win the league one final time.
To become one of the greats there’s no question that Klopp has to win the league. That should be the holy grail for any Liverpool manager. To be thought of up there in the same bracket as Rafa or Houllier he’ll need to win in Europe. I’m not saying that he should have a job for life just because he’s a good laugh.
Right now, though, we’re gearing up for the first steps on our title winning campaign. There is hope, optimism and a feeling that anything is possible. Jürgen’s making me smile with pretty much everything he says, so I’m more than happy to just go along for the ride. If you’re more cautious then I genuinely respect that. I’ve often been too quick to fall in love. The thing is, I don’t care.
Up the loved-up Reds.