LIVERPOOL, as a city and as a football club, has always been proud to be different. Fans wear it as a badge of honour, supporting Liverpool, being a Red, is not like supporting any other team.
Not in an arsey “we’ve more history than any of you, we’re special” sort of way, but different. As a fanbase and as a club, we march to our own particular beat. While some fans of other clubs have been all too willing to embrace net spend statistics and revenue growth as apparently acceptable parts of a footballing discussion, Liverpool fans have been more worried with broken ticket price promises and blatant corporate bullshitting surrounding the sale of main stand seats and, you know, the actual football that takes place on the pitch.
So, if being different is part of being a Liverpool supporter, why does it seem that so many fans are now so worried about it? This summer’s transfer dealings have, it is fair to say, somewhat split opinion. This transfer window has been notable for how few “bidding wars” Liverpool have been involved in. The typical pattern we have fallen into is to pursue a player and look to have a deal close only for the likes of Spurs or Chelsea to sign the player instead. This year, Liverpool have largely avoided this problem (apart from the whole Piotr Zielinski thing, which has dragged on since what has felt like the mid 1980’s) by signing players who have not really been linked with anyone else. In fact, the players have barely had a chance to be linked with Liverpool before talks have gotten to an advanced stage.
The apparent problems with this tactic have been plentiful; the club has signed another bloody Southampton player (Sadio Mané), they’ve not spent enough money (Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan), the names aren’t big enough (basically everyone), Albie Moreno is still the only left back (I’ll give you that one).
It seems as though some fans have fallen into the trap of taking the gossip columns and rumour mills as gospel, judging new signings not on what they add to the squad but on who they have been signed ‘instead of’. Mané has suffered for not being Mario Gotze and Georginio Wijnaldum has suffered for not being Mohamed Dahoud.
This summer window has not been about a starting point for Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, a line in the sand for where he sees the team going. Rather, for once, it feels as though the transfer policy is a part of a larger plan, of something bigger. This is not Brendan Rodgers and the transfer committee trading signings, nor is is a ‘throw a lot of stuff against a wall and see what sticks’ approach. It all feels part of a longer term view, one which has been worked on and carefully tweaked since October of last year.
This window very much feels like Klopp entrenching the identity he wants for this Liverpool side going forward. This identity is not just in formation or tactical approach, it is not just in fitness or nutrition but in attitude and mind-set too
As much as our inner eight-year-old wants Liverpool to have signed Gotze and Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona from circa 1986, so we can rush out to get their name on our jersey, big name signings were never on the cards. You never felt like Zlatan Ibrahimovic was likely to rock up to Anfield this summer. He fits much better at Old Trafford, the Nouveau Galacticos still searching for who they are as a club since Fergie upped and left them.
On the face of things, the profile of the players signed by Liverpool might not knock you sideways. But, when you take their attributes and their characteristics, they make more and more sense. Aside from the obvious holes plugged by players like Matip, Loris Karius and Marko Grujic, arrivals like Klavan and Alex Manninger have important roles to play within a young squad still waiting for leaders to develop.
Having lost an experienced, well-liked international centre half – and Martin Skrtel – in the off-season, Klavan’s presence as an international captain with experience in Europe as well as the Bundesliga means £4m looks a very good price to pay. Similarly, with Karius signed (pre-injury) as theoretical first choice goalkeeper, and Big Si the Mig on the bench, to have promoted a youngster to third choice keeper would leave Karius with Mignolet as his only guiding light in his debut season as a senior professional outside of Germany. Instead, Klopp picked up another experienced head, Manninger, who had spent last season in the same league as Karius and who can be there essentially as his own personal hype-man. The signings of Mané and Wijnaldum point to Klopp’s preference for versatility and tactical fluidity, as well as addressing a lack of goals from midfield.
Implicit in all of the transfer dealings done by the club this summer is the idea that the new arrivals will be able to buy into the identity Klopp is fostering. Liverpool will not be a team of stars, nor of individuals. They will be a collective, a team in a very real sense. The profiles of the new arrivals only serve to further underline this, coming as they do from ‘smaller’ clubs with something to prove. Liverpool have not taken the cast-offs from the richest clubs, rather they have looked for players who are hungry, players who are willing.
I think it is this word, willing, which best sums up what Klopp’s identity for Liverpool looks like. We have seen an ever increasing willingness from the team since the man from the Black Forest took over. A willingness to run more, to chase and harry and hustle more, to want the ball more, to try more and to want to win more. A willingness to do everything they can to do the thing that wins the game.
It is not just the players that Klopp wants to be willing. It is strange, but I thought more and more about the aftermath of that 2-2 draw at home to West Brom as the season wore on. You know the game. Klopp gathered the players and brought them towards the Kop in a line. They joined hands and raised them above their heads over and over, eliciting cheers and clapping from the fans. Some weren’t sure about it at the time. Fans of other teams ripped into the team for ‘celebrating not losing to West Brom’.
But it was just Liverpool being different again, they wouldn’t understand. It was not about the result. In fact, the whole point is that the scoreline does not matter. Klopp wanted the fans to be willing to cheer louder, come into the ground earlier, stay later, willing to do everything they can to help the players do the thing that wins the game. I genuinely believe that day was the start of the movement which encompassed the ticket price walkout and two incredible European nights at Anfield, which has led to a renewed unity between players and fans; together in willingness.
When the actual football starts, I could be proven horribly wrong about all of this. Maybe Klavan was just signed as a bargain bin low-risk centre half option. Maybe the scouting system hasn’t been retuned to find the most willing lads going, maybe it still just says “sign whoever plays dead good against you”. And maybe Klopp isn’t crafting a new identity for his Liverpool and it’s all a load of romantic, idealistic drivel. But I hope I’m not wrong. I hope Kloppo is fostering a new, committed and united identity for this club. Because that would make them different. And I like that Liverpool are different.
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