THE Liverpool manager has been subject of a series of interviews with a range of media, including The Daily Mail, Goal, FourFourTwo, the BBC’s new Premier League Show with Gary Lineker and, most recently, Monday Night Football on Sky Sports.
Jürgen Klopp even took the time to speak to The Anfield Wrap in the summer.
For some, this approach jars: It’s not what managers do; it’s not what Liverpool managers do.
Take Ronnie Whelan, for example.
In Irish newspaper The Herald this week, Whelan, who won 12 major honours with the Reds and clocked up 493 appearances for the club, said: “Jürgen Klopp will be on Sky tonight with Jamie Carragher and I don’t think that’s a good idea. What’s in it for Liverpool Football Club?”
He went on: “I’m not sure we need more Jürgen Klopp and he only has to look at his predecessor’s time at Anfield for a lesson in what over-exposure can do to a manager.
“Brendan Rodgers became a parody of himself towards the end of his spell at Anfield, simply because he didn’t seem to know when to say nothing. Every time he turned up in front of a camera, his words became more flaky, but he made himself available when he would have been better served hunkering down.”
Whelan offered up a similar word of warning for Klopp back in January in The Herald, saying: “In my day, a good rule of thumb was always to avoid unnecessary exposure to journalists and television cameras. Anyone who was ‘busy’ with the media was frowned open and put simply, not trusted.
“Kenny Dalglish was famous for his impenetrable answers and sitting on the other side of the fence now I can appreciate the difficulties journalists have to cope with. But at the time I thought it was hilarious and just what I wanted from the gaffer. He saw the media as the enemy and operated on that basis throughout his career.”
Whelan’s first question was what is in it for Liverpool Football Club? It was a view echoed by another ex-pro, Alan Shearer.
As great a watch as Klopp is, not sure of the upside for him doing this tonight?
— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) September 26, 2016
First off, is the feel-good among fans. Most sets of supporters put their managers on a mantle. At Liverpool this is perhaps truer than anywhere else. Our bosses are deified. And after a break from tradition that has witnessed Liverpool employ six managers in 18 years after previously only turning to four bosses in 32, we’re needy.
Klopp is comfortable and charismatic when it comes to dealing with the media. He was a pundit in Germany on a very similar show to Monday Night Football. The nation wasn’t bearing witness to a shrinking violet overcome by butterflies in the stomach when the red light read live. This was a seasoned media professional talking with confidence and knowledge — saying what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. Klopp was in complete control.
A glance at social media tells you Liverpool fans enjoyed it. The event of the Liverpool manager on prime time TV — and that’s what it was, an event — was live blogged by The Liverpool Echo and became news in itself.
If Liverpool fans enjoyed it, is it a big leap to suggest Liverpool players enjoyed it, too?
Everything we see on the pitch, and everything we hear about off it, suggests Klopp and his squad are tight knit. It’s key to the Klopp approach: the hugs, the chest bumps, the piggy backs. The players like him, respect him and work hard for him.
Seeing the boss crack his punditry gig on TV while taking some gentle ribbing about his playing days can’t have hurt. So what’s the downside? Did he give away any secrets about Liverpool’s play? With the amount of analysts employed by Premier League clubs these days — plus everything that can be gleaned from Liverpool’s performances on TV so far — that’s a tough one to argue. It’s no secret what Liverpool do or how they do it. It’s stopping them that’s proving the problem for the opposition.
Klopp talked in an interesting — and fairly simple — way about the game. The wider world enjoyed it, Klopp’s stock remained high and Liverpool felt good.
More, it was interesting how Klopp’s appearance was lapped up by rival fans. “I wonder will we see Pep Guardiola or José Mourinho on Monday Night Football?” asked Whelan in his column. Perhaps more pertinent a question is, how many Manchester City or Manchester United fans would love to see their manager on Monday Night Football behaving in such an engaging manner?
Jurgen Klopp was class on #MNF. Don't give a shit who he manages.
— Danny Kay (@DKay_99) September 27, 2016
And again, is it beyond the realms to suggest that players all around the football world were sat there thinking “I wish I played for Jürgen Klopp” (and perhaps even better, having negative thoughts about their own managers).
Klopp’s appearance on MNF even prompted an article from the satirical website The Daily Mash, detailing how Britain’s football fans would like Jurgen Klopp as their stepdad.
It’s hardly damaging for everyone to think the manager of Liverpool is great, is it?
Klopp is box office and he, his agent, his advisors, and Liverpool Football Club’s public relations and media teams will know this all too well.
To bastardise a popular Anfield Wrap phrase, When Jürgen Klopp Bosses An Interview, We All Boss An Interview (Might struggle to get that one on a cup, Gibbo…).
The point is, Klopp has this in his armoury. It’s not affecting the day job. It doesn’t demean him in the eyes of players or fans. And it might work to Liverpool’s advantage both in terms of selling the club to future potential signings and in reminding the rest of the world that we have one of the best in the manager’s chair.
Football and its relationship with the media has moved on significantly from the times that Whelan references and the media game is an essential one for managers to play. Yes, Brendan Rodgers got it wrong at times. He sometimes said the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong times; trying to sell his own worth when his mistakes were clear to see.
But this is a different man, at a different time with a different standing in the game. With a different motivation, no doubt, too. His recent rash of appearances in the mainstream media comes at a time when Liverpool are flying; when everything suggests that Klopp’s methods are having the desired effect.
Klopp and the people around him aren’t stupid. Quite the opposite. There will be strategy behind this. Whelan suggests Klopp needs to learn to say no but you can be sure he already has. Requests for time with Klopp will beam their way into Liverpool FC’s offices on a daily basis. He’s recently said yes to a few. You can be sure he’s said no to many more.
We’ve seem from Klopp’s press conferences — now a must-watch for Liverpool fans — that he can manipulate the media to bow to his agenda. He only talks about what he wants to talk about. There is a respect for him there. He laughs and jokes, and shows off the beardy grin at every opportunity. But the expression can quickly shift to a frown if the question is one he doesn’t want to field.
Take for instance how often he bats away talk of individuals. Or how “rumours” around Daniel Sturridge were given short shrift.
Inside a year, Klopp has made it clear that he is the man at Liverpool; a de facto boss. He sets the agenda, he makes the decisions and he doesn’t suffer fools. In the past we have witnessed grating Sky Sports reporters like Geoff Shreeves and Andy Burton treat Liverpool managers with little respect. The lines of questioning, even attempts to doorstep personal space jarred when watching interviews with Rafa Benitez and Kenny Dalglish.
Can you imagine either of them trying that with a 6ft 4ins Klopp?
Liverpool’s current manager knows how tough the task ahead is in what he himself described as the toughest league in the world. He knows how high the expectations are at Liverpool and he is quickly and cleverly identified some the things that have held the club back.
Much of that is mental: a team that was too easily beaten; a fanbase that was took quick to offer ire to those it pays to support.
Klopp’s answer to much of that and more is to encourage enjoyment. And if we all think the right man is at the top, then that’s more likely. The media appearances are part of that. It’s us getting to know him — buying into what he can do; thinking about what it must be like to be on a training pitch with this man week in, week out.
Managerial comparisons with Bill Shankly always draw a muffled chuckle from outside the Liverpool bubble and when it comes to Klopp he clearly has much to do to be mentioned in the same breath as an Anfield legend in future decades.
But where a parallel can be drawn is his engagement with the media, his knowledge of his own worth and his cultivation of an aura.
For all the hand-wringing around being so open and accessible not being “The Liverpool Way”, it’s worth remembering that at times Shankly was just that.
The pre and post-match press conferences that are now the accepted norm of the football media world were in fact born on Merseyside with the approval of Shankly. He later even had his own show on Radio City.
Broadcaster and journalist John Keith, who will soon be a guest on an Anfield Wrap special about the media, said on Shankly.com: “Shankly loved the limelight, he basked in publicity. Shankly’s use of the press was to bolster his team and Liverpool’s image, rather than to trick opponents.”
Perhaps, like Klopp, Shankly realised the power in football of telling your story, your way. Because then, and even more so now, if you don’t, someone else will.
While Liverpool are winning and doing well, media appearances that the boss bosses are nothing to cry over. In fact, as Rodgers once said, they are all part of the dance.
- For more discussion on Jürgen Klopp and the football media, listen to our Back Page Show.