TO say Ragnar Klavan arrived at Liverpool without much of a fanfare is an understatement. When every newspaper and football website runs a “Who is?” article in the days after a new player joins you know he isn’t exactly the edge-of-seat signing fans so often demand.
It was quickly concluded that the defender recruited from the Bundesliga was coming in first and foremost as back up — that he was more of a replacement for Kolo Toure than an improvement on Martin Skrtel. Not there to rock the boat, more the man who prevents you having to get Steven Caulker on loan. The steadiest of Eddies.
Sound. £4.2million. Plenty of money to improve the squad elsewhere. Probably won’t see him until the League Cup anyway…
Except, lads kept getting injured or sent home and suddenly he’s starting all the pre-season games alongside Dejan Lovren. They look a decent enough partnership, too, with Lovren seemingly enjoying playing with the no-nonsense fella who defends well, is tidy on the ball and looks to be a good communicator — something Liverpool have lacked at the back since the playing days of Jamie Carragher.
Klavan settles quickly and most of all seemed to enjoy it. I met him after the AC Milan game at San Francisco in the mixed zone area. It is fair to say player moods in these spaces generally range from reluctant to disinterested. But Ragnar was great. He couldn’t wait to tell me about how great it was to play for Liverpool.
I saw him again while hiring a car to take us all to footgolf last week. I won’t say which hire company it was, but it’s the UK one with the American customer service. They’re nice to me in there. We chat football. Someone tells me Ragnar (’cause he’s my mate now) has booked a car for that day but will probably go to the “premium centre”. I’ve no idea where that is. Which suggests they’re not that nice to me in there after all.
Yet later on when I take our car back (I came last, Apprentice Shaun won) Ragnar is there in the reception. Apparently he declined the premium service I’ve never been offered and just asked for “a Volvo or something”. No nonsense Klavan. On the way out someone asks him if he is Ragnar Klavan. He smiles and says yes. A smile that says he’s currently very pleased to be Ragnar Klavan. About to start playing for Liverpool. They have a picture and he drives off in his modest car with plenty of boot space.
There is something to be said about players who are delighted to be here. It can’t be the sole criteria, of course. Otherwise we’d be playing Gutmann up front, and he’s rubbish. But it has been rather tiring down the years watching plenty of lads who aren’t. Ones who either think they have made it just because they’ve signed for Liverpool or wander round like they would rather be anywhere but. How refreshing to have someone who looks like he thinks this is all the best thing ever.
I think about my imaginary football career a lot. It’s changed over the years to be become marginally more realistic. In my younger days I was just the best striker ever. A mix of John Toshack, Kevin Keegan and Ian Rush, who broke through as a precious 16-year-old and scored 500 goals for Liverpool before retiring to the dugout.
As I got older, this seemed too far fetched, so I just became a brilliant midfielder instead who got his chance as an 18 year old and took it. I rarely scored, but when I did it was a big one. Like my famous volleyed winner from the edge of the area against Manchester United that made it into the Match of the Day opening credits.
But that didn’t happen either. By my mid twenties I imagined a journeyman, released from Liverpool as a youngster, who drops down the leagues and enjoys a decent career, working his way up until, finally, a Premier League club. Suddenly a call comes from Anfield. They need a few more Scousers around and they wonder if I fancy it. Just as back up at first. But we’ll see. I jump at the chance and my performances are through the roof.
Ragnar Klavan doesn’t have to have daft daydreams about being a footballer. He’s played Bundesliga, European and international football. He’s played at the biggest grounds in the world. Yet not for one of the biggest clubs. He probably thought that was out of his reach. A dream almost as unlikely as mine. Yet the call came for Ragnar. No wonder he feels like he has wings. He seems determined to make the most of it.
It’s testament to his pre-season that no one seemed particularly worried about him starting at The Emirates. He did well, too.
I’ve seen some blame him for the first goal, but it seems a determination to absolve blame from more obvious targets to me. He may play Theo Walcott onside. But teams haven’t played offside as a tactic since 2005. The rules have changed and so have styles of defending. He shouldn’t have to abandon tracking one runner to go and close down another.
His numbers were commendable. A flawless 100 per cent of tackles won. Eight clearances, more than any other player on the pitch. Remarkably the Arsenal centre halves only had one each. They probably want to look into that. Klavan could also boast 75 per cent of aerial duels won and 85 per cent passing accuracy. Not bad at all, that.
His career can still go either way, of course. For every Sami Hyypia there is a Bjorn Tore Kvarme — a defender who promised plenty at first, but ultimately fell way short.
Klavan’s simple style might not be enough for us long term. But right now he’s loving us and we’re loving him. Right now he looks like a centre-half partner’s dream and a real “manager’s footballer”. A man who knows how lucky he is to pull on the Liverpool red, and will play like it too.
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