I LIKE Jürgen Klopp.
You can’t really know a “celebrity” but I think I’m not miles away with Jürgen. I’ve watched, I’ve listened, I’ve learned. He’s exactly the same age as me — give a take a month — and I feel I’ve got a decent sense of his “journey”. Loyalty towards a manager is one thing, believing in his abilities is another, but liking and respecting him as a human being, that’s a rarer ask. To my mind, at any rate.
Others who have moved me the way Klopp has have been few and far between. And it’s not them, it’s me. Kenny Dalglish got under my skin. Maybe Bill Shankly would have too, but I wasn’t of that generation. I loved uncle Bob Paisley, but none of us ever knew him. He wanted it that way, and that’s entirely reasonable. Kenny D was special. He was dignity and nobility personified. He was the ultimate hero. Your best player. Near enough Europe’s best player for a while. Did he think of leaving Liverpool for riches to be had elsewhere? Did he fuck, and in an era where his ilk did.
I used to lie awake at nights fretting about Kenny’s waning and ultimate retiring. Would any of it mean the same without him? Then Heysel happened and everything was broken. Everything ruined. But then Kenny stepped up and saved a football club. In the darkest hour in the club’s history it’s greatest hero revealed he had even more to give. Stepping up. He was always stepping up. Even up to the point where his final act of stepping up led to his ultimate stepping down. And no one begrudged him doing that. I think we all just cried a bit. Quietly to ourselves.
Did I know Kenny? Such a private stoic man. Yeah I think we may have come to know Kenny better than he even knew himself. We always knew he would never ever let us down. But maybe we pushed him too hard.
Another football man I’ve always really admired isn’t an Liverpool FC icon. I’ve always been a huge fan of Arsene Wenger. I look at the wreck of Arsenal’s psyche as a club and I think as things stand I’m probably his biggest fan still standing. His Arsenal flock have long since deserted him. There are no true loyalists left. Why do I love Arsene? That’s hard to quantify.
I see Kenny in him. I see a brain and a personality that could have functioned in so many other disciplines. The sport of football is blessed that he chose it. I like that Wenger is relentless, unerringly intelligent, calm and strong when the pressure is greatest and yet you know he’s also an incredibly gentle human being. He’s all man to me.
Klopp may yet fail as a manager at Liverpool. It’s always the likeliest outcome for any Liverpool manager in the modern age, given our context and expectations. It would be no big failure to fail with us. I dearly hope he doesn’t fail for Liverpool, but if it happens, and I almost sense there is a core now half wishing that on him, then at least he will always have Mainz and Borussia Dortmund. In those towns they will forever speak of Klopp, in the tones my generation speak of Kenny.
Klopp was a winner for me from very early on in his Liverpool career. I liked everything about him. I felt that all of it was real. None of it for the cameras or mere public consumption. The way people responded to him was a thing to behold. I have cynical friends who think Jürgen is given too much leeway, but it’s for reason. If he makes so many of us feel the way we do, what must he make those lads in red shirts feel like?
I found myself once saying to a friend that I’d rather we fail with Jürgen than succeed with someone else. It seems a stupid thing to say, I know. But I also know intuitively what I mean by that and that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain why I see it this way.
Klopp feels like he has the values I came to associate with my football club from a young age. He embodies them the way Kenny did. The way Wenger does despite having never worked for us. And like those two men he has all the attributes to be a massively successful manager. Well, he already is one. Whether or not he can continue to mark his talent with tangibles while at Liverpool is not entirely within his control.
Klopp has been questioned a lot lately. God knows I wondered what the fuck he was up to with his Sevilla team selection. By Saturday I had an answer of sorts. Not the whole picture, not total satisfaction, but just the hint of an insight into the thought processes of someone a) with much more pertinent information than me, and b) someone really good at their job.
Lots of fans like to muse about what actions or selections they may have made. I prefer to try and work out why the manager has made the choices he has. I don’t feel I can criticise until I’ve at least tried to walk in his shoes. Maybe I’m just a default blind loyalist. I hope I am actually.
Klopp gambled with his strongest team on knocking Sevilla out and finishing top of the Champions League group. He felt they were there for the taking and that a win, ahead of a credible draw, might ensure the Spartak Moscow game became a dead rubber. A vital seven days worth of respite, in the midst of the most congested fixture programme most of us can recall, was the prize.
In a parallel universe two very fortuitous late goals in the space of four days aren’t conceded and Liverpool are on a six-match winning streak, top and qualified in their Champions League group, and up to third in the Premier League, with Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal in their wake.
Yes, in this reality Liverpool came under pressure in the games against Sevilla and Chelsea and ultimately conceded goals against each. Yet neither goal is the consequence of pressure. Liverpool have regained control and composure at the point they are conceded. Of course it’s not mere bad luck that Liverpool didn’t win those two matches, but football is a sport of fine margins, and if in situations that can be expected to be tight things go against you, well, sometimes, that’s simply the breaks.
If Liverpool beat Chelsea having rested star players the universe looks very different today. And let no one pretend we would have begrudged the manager the scrappy manner of a win over the champions.
The hand that fate has actually dealt may adjust Klopp’s thinking once again. Had Chelsea been defeated I suspect he would’ve given the likes of Jordan Henderson, Phil Coutinho and Mo Salah a chance to refresh and benched them for Stoke City. But Chelsea’s late goal did feel like a kick in the pants and confidence may need lifting.
To this end I think Klopp will go strong at the Britannia — specifically in attacking areas — and maybe use his squad more fully at the weekend. If Salah starts it will be his fourth in 11 days, but he did enjoy a two-week break before then. Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, who barely featured on Saturday seem near certain starters. My best guess is that Daniel Sturridge will be benched with a view to him being back in the 11 for the trip to Brighton.
Any which way we seek to preempt the Liverpool boss he will know that this fixture is now very much in the must-win category. So many are, if you’re a Liverpool manager. Klopp is used to this now and he will prepare a team to take a fourth league win in five fixtures. Stoke are there to be beaten.
Predicted 11: Mignolet; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Klavan, Robertson; Can, Wijnaldum; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane; Salah, Firmino.
Kick off: 8pm
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Odds: Stoke 11-2, Draw 73-20, Liverpool 4-7