Jürgen Klopp And The Reality Cheque: Liverpool Can’t Always Get What They Want

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 5, 2017: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during a press conference at Anfield ahead of the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Liverpool FC and FC Spartak Moscow. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I’ve got a conundrum for you which, if you can solve, wins you a dream job that pays around £5million per year with bonuses, plus a legacy as one of the most important men or women in the history of association football.

It goes like this:

How can you combine having a manager of a football team whose entire philosophy rests on treating footballers as special individual humans and building team spirit in order to bridge a financial gap between his club and its rivals, with forcing a player who wants to leave the club to stay against his will, with convincing another footballer to leave his current club (while under contract) in favour of yours despite another, richer club, also being interested, and finally combining it all with avoiding a highly-rated player from leaving on a free transfer at the end of his contract having been unable to convince him to sign a new contract and not selling him earlier.

If you’ve followed the above you might have noticed it’s a challenge akin to squaring the circle.

If I’ve already lost you, let me expand.

I’ve heard a whole host of opinions surrounding Philippe Coutinho being allowed to leave Liverpool FC for his “dream” club in sunny Spain while under contract, not least a fantastic TAW Player Gutter Show involving a debate between the inimitable Mike Nevin and Neil Atkinson of these shores.

https://twitter.com/TheAnfieldWrap/status/948927647404511235

I’ve also heard that my own views on players leaving the club caused some debate last week, although I have to admit I often don’t review every internet-based comment on my articles so I’m largely reliant on other people telling me about them.

As an aside, it still amazes me how upset some people get about things someone says on the internet (me in this instance, but often some other lady or gent). If that’s you, you really need to have a little word with yourself for the start of the new year. I promise there are better ways to spend your time than getting upset about something I think about football.

To clarify my opinion on the whole sorry saga before going any further, though, if I was in charge of Liverpool this month I would have told Coutinho to unpack his little box of magic tricks and to get used to pulling rabbits out of hats at Anfield and at grounds around England for another few months before revisiting any potential sale in the summer after the World Cup when his value is likely to have increased again.

I would have told his team mates that he signed a contract last January and it’s unreasonable for him to disrupt their season, which they’ve worked so hard to build, just because he’s scared that his dream move might disappear in the space of a few short months, which is unlikely to happen in any event.

If he refused to play or claimed an injury which the medical team couldn’t corroborate, I would fine him and force him to train on his own. I would send out a clear message that this sort of behaviour simply will not be tolerated at Liverpool Football Club.

But, and this is extremely important, I’m not Jürgen Klopp and I wouldn’t run a dressing room in exactly the same way he does, so my treating a player in that way wouldn’t cause all hell to break loose, as it would be expected from my previous behaviour.

I would accept that players have always (despite what some people might label as being a modern-day football problem) wanted their own way and, ultimately, get what they want sooner or later. I would accept that a player like Coutinho is likely to be desperate at some point to play for Barcelona or Real Madrid, so I wouldn’t build a dressing room on a philosophy that means I have to let them go when they want to for fear of disrupting the team spirit I’d so carefully created.

I would build a squad that understood that everything we do works both ways, and that if anyone crossed the line there would be consequences that would make others not want to cross the same line in the future, and, again importantly, I’d accept the natural consequence of that process being that I might not be able to pull off signings like the Virgil van Dijk one.

Because this is one of the arcs of the circle that can’t be squared.

For anyone apoplectic about Coutinho being allowed to leave, on the opposite side of the debate sits the world’s most expensive defender who arguably has only signed for us above Pep Guardiola and his unbelievably exciting Manchester City team (with buckets full of money) because of our manager’s philosophy and his treatment of players as special individual humans.

How many other managers in Klopp’s shoes do you think would resist the temptation of signing another centre back when he couldn’t get his first choice in August, instead being prepared to sit tight, take months of flak but, ultimately, demonstrate to his main target just how special he considers him to be?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Friday, January 5, 2018: Liverpool's match winning goal-scorer Virgil van Dijk celebrates with manager Jürgen Klopp after the 2-1 victory over Everton during the FA Cup 3rd Round match between Liverpool FC and Everton FC, the 230th Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Not many is the answer. Especially when taking into account the unique pressures that go with being the manager of Liverpool.

That philosophy in the end must, in my view, be the main thing that convinced van Dijk to still sign for us in spite of the possibility of signing for Manchester City, winning the league in five months and having a realistic chance of winning the Champions League over the next few seasons.

I simply don’t buy the argument that he was guaranteed more first-team appearances at Liverpool which is why he picked us over City. If you think van Dijk doesn’t have enough self-confidence to consider himself able to shift Nicolas Otamendi from a first team, then you haven’t been observing the same man I have.

So, my point is that we can complain about the club and the manager deciding to let one of our best players leave mid-season, but we can’t in good conscience simultaneously laud the masterstroke signing of the Dutch Milk Tray man.

Around the next arc of the circle that can’t be squared is the further dynamic of the argument that we should just force the likes of Coutinho to stay while they are under contract, while failing to acknowledge the current impasse with Emre Can, which inevitably happens when a player simply allows their contract to run down and puts themselves in the box seat for picking and choosing what happens next, with very little the club or manager can do about it.

If you are simultaneously arguing that Coutinho should have been forced to stay indefinitely while lamenting the possible imminent departure of Can on a free transfer, I’m not sure how you can justify the juxtaposition between the two events.

The one thing no club can, and has ever been able to do, is force a player to sign a new contract against his will. Players running contracts down and refusing to agree new terms has happened to us over the years, Steve McManaman (below) was the first, and it has happened to most, if not all, of our rivals.

London, England - Monday, December 2, 1996: Liverpool's Steve McManaman in action during the 2-0 Premier League victory over Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

That simple fact means that you can force a player to see out their contract, but you must then accept, inevitably, that more players will leave for free and can’t, therefore, be annoyed with the Can situation.

Are you already itching to tell me somewhere on the internet that the club should find a way of fixing all of these things simultaneously so that we, the world-famous Liverpool Football Club, should be able to have the best of everything?

If so, going back to what I said at the start, you should save your comment and instead write to John Henry and let him know how it can be done. You’ll definitely win the dream job I promised at the start (I know because I’m mates with John and often write what he asks me to on here…).

Unfortunately, as far as I can see it, we simply can’t have all of those things at once. As Mick Jagger said, you can’t always get what you want.

We can force players to see out their contracts against their will but, if that’s what we really want, we can’t also want Jurgen as our manager because that’s just not how he does business.

If that’s how you want your manager to act then you need to accept, as difficult as it may be with how it makes you feel about yourself, that you’d be better served hoping for a manager in the mould of Jose Mourinho to take over.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND. TUESDAY, MAY 3rd, 2005: Liverpool's manager Rafael Benitez and Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final 2nd Leg at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I remember vividly Rafa Benitez being slaughtered by many fans for treating his players like cogs in a machine rather than special human beings. He would have forced Coutinho to stay in a heartbeat.

Unfortunately, that attitude is what led Xabi Alonso to be happy to leave when Real Madrid came calling, which Rafa continues to be castigated for to this day.

We’re witnessing at Arsenal now the impact of forcing players to stay who clearly want to leave. One of our closest rivals is likely to be faced with — within a few months — two of its stellar players walking out of the door without receiving a penny in return.

It’s almost like there’s no magic solution, isn’t it?

If your immediate response to any of the above points is that it’s not your job to come up with the answers, then my view is you shouldn’t enter the debate in the first place.

It’s not acceptable in my eyes to argue vehemently that something is being done badly by another party without having any reasonable or logical suggestions for how it could be done better. To say “it’s not my job” is just a cop-out that serves no purpose and just leads to the equivalent of mindless screaming into a pillow. Don’t get me wrong, screaming into a pillow can be therapeutic I’m sure, but you shouldn’t expect anyone to listen as you do it.

If you say that you want Klopp as the manager of Liverpool (which most still seem to do, understandably), I can’t see how you can argue against his decision to allow Coutinho to leave. Only he and his team know the negative impact forcing Phil to stay would have had on the fine nuances of what they’ve been building for the past three years, so only he and his team can make the call based on all of the information at their disposal.

HONG KONG, CHINA - Saturday, July 22, 2017: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp shakes hands with Philippe Coutinho Correia as he substitutes him during the Premier League Asia Trophy final match between Liverpool and Leicester City at the Hong Kong International Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As we’ve often mentioned on the TAW Player Review Show, unfortunately none of us get to see the alternate universe in which the other decision was taken, so we never get to see what the fallout would have been.

Would Coutinho being made to stay have unsettled his best mate Bobby Firmino? Would it have put other highly-rated young players off joining us in case their dream move was blocked at some unknown future point?

We’ll never know for sure.

What we do know is that the manager’s approach has in the last few months persuaded both Van Dijk and Naby Keita to join us when there were apparently huge overtures from Manchester City and Barcelona — clubs currently much stronger and more likely to win major honours than we are, which is no mean feat and not something which Liverpool managers in recent history have managed to achieve.

On that basis, in a year’s time I back the manager to have created a stronger team and squad than we had before Coutinho was allowed to leave.

Does that mean I’m happy that we’re weaker now and will remain weaker for the season regardless of whether we bring in another player in January?

No, it doesn’t.

I would prefer to live in a world in which we could have forced Coutinho to stay and the manager could have been confident that it wouldn’t undo some of the work he has so carefully been carrying out with his squad, but he clearly doesn’t think that was possible and I’m happy to trust his judgment, especially after the van Dijk and Keita deals. I think he’s earned that level of trust.

My only suggestion as to how we could have tried to mitigate the situation was to tell Coutinho and Barcelona that he could leave in January subject to us having secured a replacement. I think the squad would have accepted that without too many issues and we could then have either been in a situation in which Keita came in early or someone new was signed, or Phil stayed with the whole club accepting that he was likely to miss the entirety of January with ‘injury’ and, probably, the last month of the season while he made sure he was fit for the World Cup.

I am prepared to acknowledge, however, that it’s easy for me to sit here and make that suggestion, and it’s much more difficult to carry it out in practice. I can’t imagine that it wasn’t considered by the club to act in that manner. If it wasn’t, of course, questions should be asked. The problem is, we are unlikely to ever know.

I know there’s a strange argument that seems to have developed on the internet whereby supporters who choose to support the decisions made by the club are labelled as patsies by supporters who choose to question everything done by the club, who are, in return, labelled as angry-heads, with both sides saying they just want what’s best for the club. I think that’s a strange argument akin to people arguing about Brexit or gun laws in America by saying they just want what’s best for their grandkids.

Whenever I hear an argument being used by any side in a debate that can equally be used verbatim by the other side of the same debate, I immediately think it’s rendered useless.

The same applies here.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 10, 2016: A view of Liverpool's new Main Stand during the FA Premier League match against Leicester City at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

We all want the same thing, which is Liverpool Football Club winning trophies, and many of us have different opinions on the best way that target can be achieved. How good a supporter you are is not determined by how much you choose to trust or challenge decisions that are made by the club, its owners or its manager.

My personal view is that in our pursuit of world domination we should always be looking to upgrade, whether that’s owners, managers, CEOs, goalkeepers or crazy centre forwards. If we can get better than what we already have we should do it. An endless, relentless pursuit of excellence.

But, if we can’t in reality upgrade on what we already have, we should support those we do have as vociferously as possible. By all means we should challenge decisions and ask sensible questions, but we should make sure that we’re prepared to enter into reasonable and logical debates before entering the arena. Otherwise we just become that lunatic screaming into a pillow.

My view is that we should discuss and debate everything to our heart’s content, but that we have a duty to consider our own arguments carefully before entering into a conversation with compassion and open ears, willing to listen to what others have to say provided, of course, that they are entering into the conversation with the same level of care and compassion.

It’s only by doing so that we can understand fully what all sides think, following which we can reassess our own positions and beliefs if they didn’t previously take into account something of importance.

Having said all that, if you have read and considered all of the above and taken some time to digest it, and you do think that you have the solution to the conundrum posed (after having considered carefully whether it does in practice solve the problems faced at each step), you should definitely get in touch with FSG and share your ideas.

You might land that dream job and get us all to where we want to be much sooner.

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23 Comments

  1. My only suggestion as to how we could have tried to mitigate the situation was to tell Coutinho and Barcelona that he could leave in January subject to us having secured a replacement.

    Not sure I get that makes a difference…coutinho is injured. He wouldn’t have played against city. So selling coutinho on the 8th or 28th makes no difference….our current squad would still have to do the job. Swansea WBA and Huddersfield should prove no massive obstacle.
    But we do have 3 weeks to work on the right player(s) and I’m sure that’s in progress.

    But our squad should be ok regardless.

    • how do you know he is injured? as he tends to “cry wolf” … Jk saying its ok, doesnt make it “ok” … neither you nor he could convince me that allowing PC to go in january is anything but weakening the squad mid-season!

  2. “My only suggestion as to how we could have tried to mitigate the situation was to tell Coutinho and Barcelona that he could leave in January subject to us having secured a replacement.”
    Absolutely spot on.
    The thing is that this move by Coutinho has been on the cards since last summer. So what have our management/ownership been doing in the meantime? Why do we seem to be reacting to it as if it has caught us on the hop and only now do we go out seeking a replacement (or an upgrade)? Shouldn’t one have been lined up so that the announcement of Cout’s departure could have been mitigated by the announcement of this replacement? If that was what the Van Dyke thing was about, I’m not sure it would have helped as it wasn’t a like-for-like replacement. If there is no plan to replace (or improve upon) Coutinho till the summer, it would behoove the club to have said that by now and not frustrate the fans for the next 3 weeks into believing that there is something in the offing.

    • Devinder, I am pretty sure its only the fans who are acting as if this is surprise. Its absolute nonsense to think this just happened over the weekend. As I said above, there is no immediate rush to get some one right this minute. If it takes a week or so, if at all, then that’s how it works.

  3. James Lambert

    I agree and disagree Paul, I can support Klopp whilst criticising him and Klopp himself can say to Coutinho you must stay for the next few months without That impacting on his philosophy. That philosophy by the way is about being considerate and empathetic to others, whilst expecting the same consideration in return. Maybe I’m old fashioned but I would’ve preferred Coutinho to be forced to stay and if disruptive be given the Sakho treatment because it would show the world LFC will not be bullied into selling in Jan’. If keeping a player for a whole 5 months longer than he wants, damages us in the eyes of new recruits (I don’t for a second believe it would because Coutinho was acting unreasonably) then so be it. The true damage is that agents now know that they can force our hand whenever they want , even mid-season and we will cave in.

    • thing is we had already kept him 5 months longer than he wanted. As for agents I think its overplayed that we will cave in. we cave in when the price is exactly right for us

  4. That’s a very good article, Paul. the dilemma of building a trophy-winning team while keeping your best players and acquiring others in the face of individual ambitions and aspirations is very tough to figure out. Klopp’s main agenda is winning trophies, starting with the EPL. FSG’s agenda is to grow the club to enable it compete with the best. The hope is that’s the way they both see it.

  5. Many have commented how Coutinho didn’t down tools after the disappointment of not getting his move in the summer, that he still carried on giving one hundred percent. Is it possible that Klopp obtained that level of commitment by promising Coutinho a January move? If that was the case then the issue of goodwill in the dressing room comes into play because had Klopp reneged on that promise his whole model of leadership goes out the window along with the trust of current and future players. If a gentleman’s agreement had been reached between Klopp and Coutinho after the summer, wherein if Coutinho committed fully to the club until January (thus allowing time for replacements to be sourced) a move would not be opposed, Klopp would be honour-bound to give Coutinho his move irrespective of whether replacements were actually in place or not, as long as Coutinho fulfilled his commitment up until January. Maybe this explains our current situation.

    • @SJB Is it possible that Klopp obtained that level of commitment by promising Coutinho a January move?

      That’s a good point. I didn’t think of it that way. Seems more plausible than the drama insinuations regarding Coutinho.

  6. Walter Kennedy

    Very enjoyable piece. It is very true that fans run bull headed into a convo without considering their logic (I do it too) we have to stop this us vs them scenario, it doesn’t help anyone but mostly its click bait for people to get follows. Sad the draw to attention these days. I look on all this positive if someone said at start of last summer Phil would be gone and we’d have VVD and Keita coming 6 months later I would of taken it. It doesn’t make me a less supporter cause I accept Coutinho is gone it just means that I know the club is bigger then anyone player. Kenny Dalglish is my last hero and he will always stay that way, i’ll enjoy watching players but never get attached as these guys have no loyalty anymore. I have loyalty to The Reds and that will never change.

  7. Agree with most of this but not the point about the importance of team spirit to this side.

    If it’s so importance why can’t I see any?

    I’m not talking about players joyously celebrating with each other after scoring a goal (11 sworn enemies will celebrate a goal together); I’m talking about our weakness of character on the pitch, our failure on the majority of occasions to recover from going behind, our failure to cajole players after making errors (Lovren at Spurs was subbed rather than reassured), our failure to demand more of under-performing teammates, our failure to crowd the ref and argue on behalf of teammates in potential trouble (Mane at City) (the way every other side does), etc etc. To me these are signs of team spirit, not photos of players guffawing together on fuckin intragram.

    When decisions (correct, wrong or borderline) go against us we have 11 lads looking at their boots. So while I like the idea of team spirit being important to us, I just don’t see any evidence that it actually is.

    For me team spirit has always meant going to war for every last one of your team-mates, a la the great sides of the 70’s and 80’s. In contrast, the current crop resemble peacenik draft-dodgers more than soldiers.

    • @Paul C, I wonder about all your questions regarding team spirit as well. I never got it from this group of players, and I don’t think it will ever happen.

      Those days of playing for the shirt are over. Gerrard was the last of those players in Red.

      I’ve gotten used to players leaving, but not used to managers not having a proper back up plan for this.

  8. the Fundamental question is why do our best players want to leave the club? Suarez,Torres, Coutinho….

    FSG haven’t really achieved much. They built a new stand that cost less than Coutinho cost Barca

    They won an FA cup.

    That’s it.

    • @Caldy, same reasons that Owen, Alonso, Mascherano, etc left the club.

      Ambition to say the least and maybe better weather for them and their families?

      • Oxford Street Maternity

        Carra said Liverpool should be a destination not a stopping point on a journey. The Manchester clubs retain better than we do, and the weather is worse there plus they have no beaches. Players want trophies like the support does. That’s why we can’t retain them. Along with salary caps.

    • no only a league cup!

  9. Won a league cup,not FA.Should of bought a replacement before Phil was sold.Need to extend Anfield Rd and increase capacity by 6,000.Second spot and a Cl tilt still possible .

  10. “How can you combine having a manager of a football team whose entire philosophy rests on treating footballers as special individual humans and building team spirit in order to bridge a financial gap between his club and its rivals, with forcing a player who wants to leave the club to stay against his will, with convincing another footballer to leave his current club (while under contract) in favour of yours despite another, richer club, also being interested, and finally combining it all with avoiding a highly-rated player from leaving on a free transfer at the end of his contract having been unable to convince him to sign a new contract and not selling him earlier.”

    Wow, is this supposed to be a question? It sounds like too many ingredients for a disaster recipe.

    I don’t think you can combine anything you’ve mentioned. They are all different things and each needs to be treated differently.

    Klopp’s Philosophy is different from Coutinho’s and Can (since you mentioned these player scenarios).

    – Team Spirit does not bridge financial gaps; it’s a roundabout way of thinking. For me it’s money, business strategies, branding, better negotiators and marketing etc, can certainly bridge financial gaps.

    – As for players leaving, they will continue to leave for money, fame, better weather, bigger cities, opportunities to play or just wanting to be somewhere else. I still wonder how United were able to hold on to De Gea.

    – Tapping up other players from other teams can be done since Barcelona already did it to us, and we did it to Southampton. So if Klopp wants players in this window, go tap them and pay even more inflated prices.

    All in all nobody has answers, just opinions.

    The reality “cheque” for me is that we will not get any players as a replacement for Coutinho right now, since maybe Klopp (but definitely I) think we can work with what we have, starting against City.

    If you’re concerned, look at Bristol City. They have no stars or special individual humans, just team spirit. They played as a team and showed that you don’t have to fear Man City, just respect their quality and take the game to them to bring them down to earth. They almost did it if only they showed more composure in front of goal.

    Anyways I will be waiting for the job offer now. :)

  11. yeah sure… manage expectations… however, one 2nd class trophy since the USA corp infested Lfc… 10 seasons and always “its gonna be NEXT season” … meanwhile the “management” changed staff coaching & playing staff FIVE times in that period ,,, in the same period Lfc have spent almost as much as man utd, with ONE trophy …. whilst the bitter rivals rub fans nose in it constantly that they won 16! … net spend ; is another story.. around half a billion pounds income from player sales… ” you can fool some of the people ..all of the time…but…”

  12. The Rafa – Xabi issue interests me. Xabi was unhappy that Rafa wouldnt let him stay at home for the birth of his child. People were on Rafa’s side if i recall. But this was the start of the fall out of their relationship. No way that Klopp would want him to play if he didnt want to

    • some fan nies just wont accept that the boardroom made Rafas job so diffiuclt, Xabi had injuries and loss of form , Rafa wanted Barry and G & H said he had to sell to buy, … and btw none of you would have known Xabi had Rafa not brought him to Lfc!

  13. not allowed to criticise Jk or J Henry on TAW?

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