Liverpool: Why We Should Trust The Decisions Of Jürgen Klopp

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SHALL I tell you how I’ve spent the last half-hour? Searching for the true, accurate origin of a quote; I need this detail as I want to start this with the very highest standards. I want literature, I want specifics, I want relevance.

I had what I thought was a genuine quote in the back of my mind and it went something like this:

“The one thing we can never know is what we don’t know.”

I can’t find the original, though. I’m beginning to think I may have made it up. There are similar statements. There’s the Socratic paradox (one part of the paradox being that nobody is sure that Socrates, the Greek Philosopher rather than the captain of the brilliant 1982 Brazil team, ever said it):

“I know one thing: that I know nothing.”

More recently and much more prosaically, and much as I hate to quote him, Donald Rumsfeld said it like this:

“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 7, 2017: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp before the FA Cup 3rd Round match against Plymouth Argyle at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

‘Unknown unknowns’, I’m going to focus on the ‘unknown unknowns’; I’m going to focus very specifically on one that struck me recently. I’m going to focus on something that probably doesn’t really belong in this article, not if I were to stay true to the ideals that the piece is supposed to be written in.

A little secret for you: when Neil first mentioned the idea of running longer than usual pieces (these things aren’t just made up, you know) the brief was that they not be time-bound, not be simply reactions to events that have happened recently, that the subject matter could be revisited across a period of time. So, obviously, I’m going to talk about a thought that occurred during the second half of the Manchester City game, was reinforced by the aftermath of the Sunderland game and further reinforced by the response to the draw with Plymouth Argyle. Trust me, this will work. This will work in the long run and for the long run. It will be an education for us all, not least for me.

If you’re a subscriber, and if you’ve listened to the Tuesday Review — and if not, why not? Consider this an advert for the show, it’s marvellous — then you’ll know the way we approach the show; it’s thoughtful, considered, analytical. It’s not a knee-jerk reaction, it’s an attempt to explain what happened in a particular game, why it happened and what it means. It starts with a discussion about what was in the manager’s thoughts when he approached the game, what he intended to achieve and how he was going about it. It accepts that, although Jürgen Klopp may not have visibly changed much in the way of the system for each game, our manager actually changes a fair amount each week with the opposition in mind. We may be nominally 4-3-3 but the way that we use that 4-3-3 can change significantly. These are the changes that we discuss.

And, if you’ve read some of my previous comments about The Review, you’ll know that the show rests very firmly on the fact that Sean Rogers is an experienced manager, that he has badges for this stuff, that he actually knows what he’s talking about and understands the inside of the game. Me? When I’m doing it I use it as an education, I use it to learn a little more about the game while pointing out the things that I thought I saw and hoping that I’m not sounding too daft. It’s a pleasure to be part of.

The Tuesday Review shows that I enjoy most, though? They’re the ones that feature Sean and Paul Cope with Neil. They’re the ones that I get to sit back and listen to, the shows where I learn something from other people’s conversations without the need to think about what I’ll say next.

And the show following the Sunderland game was magnificent.

I’ll be honest, the aftermath of the Sunderland game was the first time that I’ve questioned Jürgen’s judgement — not for the lack of changes that saw players who had finished their previous game 44 hours earlier playing once more when we, all of us, every single one of us, knew for an absolute fact that we needed changes, needed fresh legs and were quite happy to ascribe the loss of two points to tired legs and tired minds — but for our manager’s response.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - Monday, January 2, 2017: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp argues with referee Anthony Taylor after he awarded Sunderland two penalties to give them two equalising goals for a 2-2 draw during the FA Premier League match at the Stadium of Light. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I didn’t see the need to complain about the penalties, or, more specifically, didn’t see the need to complain about the first penalty and then the free-kick that drew Sadio Mane’s stray hand. I understood Jürgen’s point, that if the free-kick isn’t given then the handball doesn’t happen, that’s simple cause and effect, but I thought the free-kick was a free-kick. Soft as it was, soft as Ragnar Klavan’s challenge for the first penalty of the afternoon was, I thought it was a clear free-kick of the sort that we would demand if it was us that were about to receive it.

I found a somewhat bitter irony in the idea that, if he is to move as the rumour mill has turned a little quiet on this one, there was every chance that Lucas Leiva’s last act for us would be to give away a daft free-kick in a dangerous place — though his appearance against Plymouth now means that definitely won’t be the case. As much as I now love him, he’s done this kind of thing before. And, as much as I was concerned with Jürgen’s adamance that the free-kick shouldn’t have been given, what really bothered me was this:

“I told the players if nobody wanted to play I would never speak about it and not tell anyone, but nobody came.”

Now, this is the bit that I think I contribute to the Tuesday Review; I don’t have coaching badges but I know how to manage people. I have the best part of three decades of managing performance from staff teams and I tend to lean towards the idea that the principles of man management vary little from business to business. Skill sets change and the additional demands that come with managing multi-millionaire, world class athletes is obviously a world away from anything I’ve ever done but there’s one thing that I thought would be obvious here:

It wasn’t their choice.

For my money, and this was my immediate reaction, Jürgen should have been making the call without asking the players. He should, using the array of sports scientists available to him, have made the big calls, the tough calls, the calls that are part of his role and decided who was fit to play, who wasn’t, who was tiring, who was firing and built his team around that.

Not that I was bothered about this concept at the start of the game. At the start of the game I was more than happy to see the one, lone, enforced change. ‘Momentum’, I thought, ‘The lads have a week off after this, most of them won’t be playing Plymouth, let’s get one last burst from them, keep the run going and see where we are’.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - Monday, January 2, 2017: Liverpool's Sadio Mane is shown a yellow card by referee Anthony Taylor for handball during the FA Premier League match against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The momentum didn’t happen. The mistakes cost us and when Jürgen mentioned that he had canvassed the players’ opinions on whether they should play my knee set itself to ‘jerk’ mode.

This is where the Tuesday Review becomes important. This is where I receive a little education. This is where I learn from not putting forward my own opinion in public.

Sean would be the first to point out the difference in scale between his management of a squad of skilled footballers and Jürgen’s handling of (at least) international class, highly-trained athletes but there is one definite commonality here; a dressing room is quite definitely NOT a staff room. It doesn’t matter how much I believe that I can manage the performance of people in a business environment, a football team is a different beast.

Sean was able to pull on the absurdity of having to rotate a squad across two games in just over 24 hours to illuminate the issues that Klopp would face in rotating his at a higher level over just less than 48. He could paint the picture of the interior of the dressing room, the players’ meetings, the need to address the ego of each individual, the need to maintain an image with your squad, to keep the cohesion.

No matter how much you may claim that business is about the team (there’s no ‘I’ in team and all that) you’re dealing with individuals, many of whom have no desire to be working there in the first place and simply work because that happened to be the job interview where the interviewer said yes. Football is about the team in it’s entirety; it’s about structure and balance. About — as has been made clear in Pep Lijnders’ recent interview — character even before talent. If you’re managing in the lower leagues then, to a large extent, you’re managing players because they want to be there, because they love the game (I may be being exceptionally naive and idealistic on this point, feel free to correct me, it’s all education); if you’re Klopp then you’re managing players who have worked bloody hard to get to where they want to be. Their own considerations have to be valid.

To summarise. The Tuesday Review, a show that I wasn’t on, challenged my preconceptions. Made me appreciate that, perhaps, just perhaps, I wasn’t as informed as I thought.

And this tied in with a thought that had struck me during the second half of the City game.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 31, 2016: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp and Manchester City's manager Pep Guardiola during the FA Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As we (‘we’ the team, participants and highly trained) sat, seemingly, too deep and awaited the next pale blue attack and we (‘we’ the crowd, observers and prone to rash judgement) panicked and urged our team to push on, close down, put a foot in, I thought:

“We don’t know what he wants.”

That may seem a little obvious but it was, to me, a blinding flash of insight. It had genuinely never really occurred to me before that second; the only people who know what was said at half-time, the only ones who know what instructions were given, what focus was asked for, were the men inside that room. We’re sitting/standing/edgily bouncing up and down screaming for 10 men in red to push up the field and rely on the pressure and there’s every chance that the man standing in the technical area with his hands behind his back has told them, not 10 minutes before, that that is the very thing he quite definitely doesn’t want them to do.

We’re reacting to the game before us, as it happens, based on nothing but our own expectations, our own experiences, judgements, priorities, our idea of how we would approach the game if we were in charge. We’re not, we’re never going to be. We don’t have the experience and understanding that the job requires. We believe that we can criticise.

When I say ‘we’ here, I’m talking the amorphous ‘we’, the collective 54,000-plus strong ‘we’. The ‘we’ that make the loudest noise and has the most effect on the men on the pitch, not the individuals in that ‘we’ who have the ability and the knowledge to assess in a reasonable and informed manner. I’m talking about the knee-jerk, rash ‘we’, the ‘we’ that has the strength but lacks the knowledge. I’m talking about the gap between expectation an event. Not the gap between expectation and event that Jürgen discusses after the City game, where he is very specific about the things that he saw that he thought could be better in the second half as they’re not the same issues that we thought we saw.

They’re the gap between his expectation and the events on the pitch, they’re giving the ball away in the wrong area or the press not happening at the point that he wanted, that he’d instructed. That gap, between what he wants and what he sees, that’s our ‘unknown unknown’. We may feel there’s something missing, but the missing may not be the missing that we think: we don’t know what was supposed to be there in the first place.

This was amplified for me by the Plymouth game. I will analyse this. I will appear on a Tuesday Review show and talk about what I think went ‘wrong’. By the time you read this you will probably be able to hear that, it’s in the past, feel free to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m the first to admit that I’m just a bloke with a keyboard and an opinion.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 7, 2017: Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge looks dejected after missing a chance against Plymouth Argyle during the FA Cup 3rd Round match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I will probably speak about/have spoken about the crosses that were coming in from either side with no real option in the middle. I will have spoken about what I perceive to be Divock Origi’s poor performance and how he lacked any real threat, how at 21 years of age he could actually be viewed as a senior player on that field and carry responsibility with him for the others. I may admit how unfair that assessment is. I will have pointed out that I thought Origi should have been pulled for Daniel Sturridge, rather than Ben Woodburn and that I thought the younger lad had far more threat and would have been better centrally.

I still won’t know what Jürgen wanted, though. I won’t know what brief he gave to Woodburn, I won’t know what he expected of him or how far he fulfilled his manager’s expectations. That’s the unknown unknown.

I know this, though: I won’t be pulling apart our youngest ever team on Twitter for their perceived failure in not breaking down a line of 10 men across a penalty area. I won’t be pulling them apart because I know, again from Lijnders’ interview, that once a week a select group from The Academy are taken to Melwood to train alongside Jürgen’s squad, to see how the first team works, to learn, to continue their education.

I don’t know what Jürgen wanted from the 11 very young men (10 and Lucas) in the third round of the FA Cup against lower league opposition; a win, obviously, but other than that…

I don’t know if he’ll be disappointed at what he saw. I presume he won’t condemn any of them to a lack of a future based on 90 minutes of football. I presume that he’ll view the experience of the Plymouth game as a continuation of their education.

This may seem a deviation but it’s not, it’s a conclusion; over the years I have developed a small semi-ritual on planes. As the plane taxis for take off, my wife will generally ask, “Can you hear that noise?” “What noise?” “That one, there, can you hear it? Is it supposed to do that?” My answer is always the same. “I don’t know, I don’t know how planes work, let’s assume it is.” I kind of think the whole experience is more enjoyable with a level of trust and belief. Which is obviously your moral.

Let’s accept that we’re all learning as we go along, that there isn’t an end to this, that everything is a constant development, that we don’t know as much as we think we know, that it’s okay to ask questions because that’s how we find out new things, that there will always be so much that we don’t know and that the finding out is the fun part. The whole experience will be so much more enjoyable.

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7 Comments

  1. Hillhouse Pedro

    Well how dare you be so very…reasonable. We all know we’re supposed to go into meltdown at the dropped point or the cup stalemate. Next you’ll be telling us that the Plymouth game will be merely a starting point for some of those young lads who might even be able to cut it at the highest level for the reds at some point in the future.

  2. As usual Ian has shown an insight to situations that almost all supporters , me included, do not appreciate. Do we question the decisions of experts in other fields? Generally speaking the answer is no. This is because we do not understand the complexities of their field of expertise but because we are so involved with football and are desperate for success we are quick to question the judgment of one of the world’s finest football managers.

    I remain 100% behind Jurgen and believe he will bring the success we crave.

  3. Enjoyed this, thanks very much and for your work on The Review which is by far my favourite show.

  4. My mate Professor Jochen Runde wrote a paper “Uncovering unknown unknowns: towards a Baconian approach to management decision-making.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.
    Not light reading, but kind of supports your excellent piece.

  5. Enjoyed this. I’ve always tried to allow for the difference in my expectations and those of the guy giving the instructions, but it’s not easy. In theory, any of our supposed mid-game changes to personnel or tactics could be the one that turned the game in our favour, but unless the boss actually does it we’ll never know. Ah, those unknowns again.

    PS I always thought “All we know is we don’t know” came from Noel Gallagher in The Masterplan. You mean to say he stole an idea?

    • Jimmy Corkhill

      As much as I admire Noel’s ability in his craft (I’d say he was a genius myself, in ‘modern’ music standards anyway), he still did his share of ripping off other’s tunes.

  6. Great article!
    I think the differentiator is emotion. We, as fans, are not emotionally invested in other expertise. I am not emotionally invested in my plumbing, or my car’s engine, or how my bank account works.
    We are swayed because in these scenarios, even though we know you are right in what you say, emotion almost always trumps logic.

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