NOW that I have a weekly article on these pages you’ll soon realise that I’m a fan of quotes. Mainly quotes to motivate me and quotes to remind me that nothing we’re experiencing is very new at all.
My uncle said to me a few nights ago “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” which, as he well knows, is attributed to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who died in 1900, suggesting that people have been thinking for a long, long time that going through a pile of shite in your life will ultimately make you a stronger human unless, of course, it kills you.
I’ve heard that quote being bandied around since I was a little kid and always thought it was pretty fair. I’ve realised recently, though, that it’s not until you get into your 30s (speaking from personal experience, anyway) that you really start questioning the things that you’ve previously accepted as being true because your parents told you so when you were younger. Of course, the first stages of discovering that adults are basically liars comes when we find out that there are no fairies paying for our old teeth and that any fat men in suits trying to get down our chimney should actually be reported to the local police force.
The Nietzsche quote isn’t quite as bad as a make-believe old man who has flying reindeer and an unlimited budget for buying presents (my nine-year-old nephew recently stumped everyone when discussing Christmas presents by pointing out that he can have whatever he wants because it’s all free), but it’s still not strictly true. I can think of a number of things that won’t kill you but are unlikely to make you any stronger, either in a physical or metaphorical sense. For example, a cousin of mine started out as a Liverpool supporter when he was a kid then went on holiday to North Wales years later and caught a nasty case of Evertonian-itis, from which he’s never recovered. Whilst he’s still alive and well, I can’t see how the nasty infection has made him any stronger. Aside from anything else, his aversion to all things red causes him no end of problems in his life.
But what’s all this talk of my family, Santa and Evertonians got to do with football? I’ve been intrigued of late by that quote about negative experiences making us stronger in the context of the Jose Mourinho situation, which led me to thinking about Jürgen Klopp and the manager we inherited from Borussia Dortmund.
After what was by all accounts a difficult spell for the self-proclaimed “Special One” at Real Madrid, he returned to his spiritual home to be surrounded by like-minded fans with the intention of settling in for a while and creating a dynasty. He won the league in his second season back and all seemed to be rosy, but then he lost his head, revealed his truly despicable side with a bit of good old fashioned sexist abuse (given recent events he might have actually been a modern trendsetter on that front), refused to apologise for his actions and set a chain of events in motion that inevitably led to him moving on again in acrimonious circumstances having destroyed Chelsea’s season.
After a short break away from the game he accepted the Manchester United job, which many of us thought would lead to a quick fix of United’s problems given his record at clubs with the spending power of our arch rivals. Whilst the resurrection might still happen at some point, the noises coming from Mourinho in recent weeks haven’t been very Mourinho-like at all. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve obviously still had him slating his own players, frustrating Anfield and moaning about referees, but his general demeanour and quotes about living in a hotel have been more akin to Alan Partridge than the bolt of lightning that tore through the Premier League in 2004. Even his attire has become more Primark than Prada in recent months. Mourinho has the air about him of a man who’s been through a lot in recent years and could just do with a break. He doesn’t seem any stronger having been through the Madrid and Chelsea experiences.
And then there’s Jürgen. Our tall, handsome manager with electrifying charisma and a laugh to brighten the darkest of days. The biggest compliment I can pay to Klopp is that I’m yet to get into a fight with an older member of my family about how good he is, like I used to have to do when Rafa was winning the European Cup “in spite of” himself. The only other Liverpool manager I’ve known to unify the fan base as much as this in my adult lifetime was Hodgy, but that unification was of an altogether different nature. Everyone loves Jürgen.
What is most intriguing about our Germanic leader, though, is that the one we’ve got is better than the one we all thought we were getting. When thinking about the Nietzsche quote and the new, deflated version of Mourinho that we are now seeing, it strikes me that we have been even luckier with our manager than we first thought. If you listen closely, you will hear plenty of snippets from Jürgen in press conferences and other interviews that sound very much like various forms of ancient philosophy. Even the way in which he handles the questions about winning the league and whether the 25 years of history weigh heavy on his players’ shoulders denotes an air of wisdom. He’s quick to lean on philosophical principles when talking about those factors which our young group can control, rather than 25 years of history over which they had no influence.
The most striking way I think Friedrich’s quote is fitting in this context is the way Klopp dealt with his final season at Dortmund. That season had echoes of Mourinho’s last at Chelsea as far as results were concerned (obviously not for the sexist abuse of club staff), to the extent that he even joked about it when we played Chelsea early in Jürgen’s reign, as he said that he had some experience of what Mourinho was going through. From afar it looked as though wheels had fallen off his Dortmund Rolls Royce and Jürgen’s team struggled to get them back onto a car that they had turned into a well-oiled machine over the previous seasons. After managing to keep everyone on board and do a patch-up job to salvage some pride and points, Klopp decided that it was time for a change for everyone at BVB and time for him to have a break. He left to an emotional farewell from the Yellow Wall.
What I think is striking about the difference between Klopp and Mourinho is that, in their respective periods of reflection after their last seasons at Dortmund and Chelsea, Jose appears to have learned nothing, no doubt repeatedly telling himself how everyone else was to blame for his problems and surrounding himself with people likely to agree with him, whilst I picture Jürgen and his team embarking instead on a period of introspection, identifying why their methods stopped working or where precisely they could have done things differently to avoid the wheels falling off in the first place. You can hear it in post-match interviews. Klopp will take ultimate responsibility for his team’s bad performances whilst Mourinho is trying to use a lad with a broken toe as a scapegoat for his team not having enough commitment.
Obviously, my observations are exactly that, and are based on the small pieces of information that we are privy to. In fairness, I doubt Mourinho has reached the peaks he has in the game without learning from any mistakes, and I’m sure that Klopp is no angel in that regard (I’d argue it’s impossible to be at the height of any industry). But I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Jose’s style is to make himself the centre of focus for all things that go well in his world, whilst Jürgen is happy to heap praise on both his immediate team and the rest of his staff throughout the club in the good times and take ultimate responsibility when things go wrong. It’s that ability and how it leads to an individual growing through every experience, good and bad, that results in the version of Klopp we’ve been fortunate enough to inherit being better than the one that went before. The only way in which bad experiences make you stronger are if you learn the lessons that were on offer from them and use them to grow.
Klopp knows more than anyone that to win the league in Germany against a dominant Bayern Munich side was one thing, but to do it in England with four, five or six other giants to contend with is quite another.
Fortunately for us, our version of Jürgen Klopp has already battled Balrog in the fires of Middle Earth and come through the other side.
Jürgen the Yellow was great, but Jürgen the Red is magic.