IT’S been a joyless week.
Calamitous defeats don’t aid restful sleep. Saturday can’t come too soon and yet simultaneously may just make things worse.
I’ve been arguing on social media, but mainly in my head, with good friends about the manager. I like the manager and I don’t much enjoy the onset of the manager-doubting phase we’re now entering.
Anfield Wrap columnist Paul Cope argued in his piece this week that Jürgen Klopp was being treated to an extraordinarily long grace period by the Liverpool FC fan base. Paul felt that the goodwill extended to this manager eclipses that granted to his predecessors. He felt that Klopp’s geniality was a major factor. People bear with people they simply get along with, argued Paul. People like Klopp the man.
Paul is very correct that there was enormous buy in to Klopp’s appointment in 2015. But it was with good reason. Jürgen had been touted as Europe’s must-get manager for a few years. Only Pep Guardiola seemed more coveted by Europe’s elite. Talk was that all of the continent’s big sides had Klopp on their shortest lists. The man’s pedigree and potential was not doubted anywhere.
Supporters correctly hold on to that instinct they had in the October of 2015 — the sense that Liverpool had acquired a truly world class talent. Klopp’s capture was undoubtedly a coup for the club. Is it suddenly not so now, nine games into a new season?
Klopp was rightly seen by our fans as a special talent who had achieved special things with scant resources. Bayern Munich’s hegemony in Germany looked unbreakable yet Klopp breached it twice with broken Borussia Dortmund. He was unfortunate not to add a Champions League title to his two Bundesliga ones.
Maybe Klopp’s immediate predecessors at Liverpool did not all get solid periods of grace, but there were reasons. Brendan Rodgers was given the Liverpool job on the back of promotion seasons but had one season of top flight experience. He was doubted by many Liverpool fans before a ball was even kicked under his stewardship. That was harsh but understandable.
Roy Hodgson succeeded Rafa Benitez who enjoyed a cult status with a large swathe of the fan base, and as an appointment of the loathed Tom Hicks and George Gillet was never going to be backed by supporters. And he was awful from the get go, and a terrible bloke.
Those who didn’t just admire Rafa Benitez but worshipped him still do not begin to understand how he was ever doubted. Many were smitten by 2005’s remarkable European Cup triumph and suspended critical faculty thereafter.
I was one of those often caught in two minds over Rafa. He was my choice to replace Gerard Houllier, although I wasn’t convinced Gerard should necessarily have lost his job. I had been smitten by Houllier leading Liverpool to a treble in 2001 after years in the wilderness of credibility. Houllier had restored the club’s status and pride, it should not have been a given that he was dispensable after a fourth-placed league finish (in 2004).
Rafa arrived having won two titles in Spain. A fantastic achievement but with Hector Cuper’s team that had reached successive Champions league finals. Rafa had won his two leagues in Spain with record low totals of 79 and 80 points with Barcelona and Real Madrid in disarray.
These facts didn’t taint his successes but provided a context which set Rafa as a very good European coach but not widely coveted as an elite one. Neither of Spain’s big two or any other European giants were rushing to secure him in 2004. Just Liverpool.
Rafa’s biggest admirers felt that he truly and profoundly understood and loved the club. In 2007 though he was routinely being linked to the Real Madrid job. His agent would periodically swat the speculation away, but never with unequivocal statements. There lingered a fear that Real could take our man — their man — if they really wanted him badly enough.
By 2010, there was a groundswell wanting Rafa out as Liverpool floundered around lower mid table halfway through the 2009-10 season. Before this point he had been broadly backed by the majority and rightly so.
Klopp’s Liverpool trajectory was entirely skywards until around mid September this year. A first season saw two cup finals reached and the second saw qualification for the Champions league. No significant investment had been made in his squad by then either. What has occurred in the past six weeks has been the first serious bump in the road since Klopp’s appointment. And already we’re seeing murmurings of discontent.
I’d argue that Jürgen has not benefited from any extended grace period, but if he has it has been because his team has been progressing.
That progress has been tested and checked. Perhaps the honeymoon is finally over. Time will always make that so for a Liverpool manager. None are expected to win leagues in their first or even second seasons, but by the third it needs to look a plausible reality. If it isn’t then there will be dissenters.
Klopp faces his best mate and prodigy David Wagner and his Huddersfield team needing an honest break. This is not already a season beyond salvation. Liverpool have completed some tough fixtures and more winnable games lie ahead. The Reds are top of their Champions League group and have four of the season’s 10 games against the top six already out of the way.
Saturday’s game at Anfield has become a must win. And so are the next four scheduled matches if truth be told. I will be with Klopp a good while longer because I remain convinced that he is an exceptional talent. We wouldn’t give up on Phil Coutinho or Sadio Mane if they couldn’t get their game going for a spell. A star manager is no different to a star player. The form often temporary, the class eternal.
And regardless of what justice former managers faced in the fans’ court, if the current manager is backed roundly then this can only be a very good thing. When I was growing up with Liverpool one of the many things that was uniquely our thing was that we backed our managers. While others called for heads we remained calm, knowledgeable, loyal. We had the main guy’s back.
Klopp will not relish facing Wagner’s cock-a-hoop Huddersfield, but they are very beatable opponents nonetheless.
An uninterrupted week on the training will have been just what the manager will have wanted. A full week to clear cobwebs, to get back to basics and for the manager to remind his team who they are.
They are not the hapless fops who lay down like dogs at Wembley that is for sure. Better days lie ahead. Let’s let patience be its own reward and settle on that.
We’re all in this together after all.
Predicted 11: Karius; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Matip, Moreno; Henderson, Can, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Chamberlain
Kick off: 3pm
Referee: Kevin Friend
Odds: Liverpool 1-4, Draw 63-10, Huddersfield 29-2