PERCEPTION is an intriguing concept in football.
The perception of our modern-day footballers can gain influence both directly and unconsciously through the things we absorb from the plethora of content we consume daily. Gone are the days when your only football-based content came from a local fanzine or paper along with Alan Hansen-filled critique on Match of the Day.
I often wonder how, say, a Roy Evans side may be perceived by a constantly-opinionated world that has the portals of social media to postulate on. The vitriol that would surround the underwhelming performances and high-profile blunders of David James, the transfer furore that would surround the future of Steve McManaman and the mere contempt at the fact Oyvind Leonhardsen was wearing the number eight for Liverpool Football Club.
When Dejan Lovren signed for Liverpool in 2014, he arrived amid a wave of pre-conceived perceptions. Lovren was seen as the player who would add the steel, solidarity and leadership to a Liverpool rearguard that was deemed in need of solidifying following the free-flowing nature of that Liverpool team the previous year, who were now without the sublime talents of Luis Suarez to spearhead them.
It became abundantly clear from early on that Lovren was not that type of character. His often panicked nature on the pitch in his early performances was all too apparent, none more so than in a 0-3 home defeat to West Ham, where he was in such a state of disarray with not only adjusting himself to life as a Liverpool player and a more aggressive type of front-foot defending, but also trying to act as a commander in chief on the pitch to what was now a severely disjointed football team.
The perception of Lovren being the heir to Steven Gerrard’s now immortal captaincy was now replaced by one of a footballer who always has a mistake in him, is unsure of what is being asked of him at times and is prone to the odd nudge in the back in a finely-balanced Merseyside derby. Mud has certainly stuck for Lovren in a Liverpool shirt, rightly or wrongly.
As Liverpool enters a new chapter in their quest for defensive union on the pitch, with the colossal signing of Virgil van Dijk, there is a feeling that it may lead to new chapters, and in certain cases, the opportunity of redemption for some already at the club. The apparent reintroduction of Loris Karius as Liverpool’s number one from here on in feels too intertwined with the arrival of van Dijk, a genuinely calming and organisational presence in front of him, for it to be coincidence.
The notion that van Dijk may bring out the best in those around him is not uncommon and it is something which Liverpool fans far and wide will hope his mere presence can manifest throughout his teammates. Big players with big personalities will always push out the chests of others sharing the same shirt. In a cohesive unit such as Jürgen Klopp’s which needs everyone to a man to be fully immersed in the team ethos, personalities such as van Dijk can only serve as a positive to all involved.
You get the feeling that all of this can benefit Lovren. As a player who has been at his best when he only needs to primarily concentrate on his own game and not the game of those around him, a towering and bellowing centre-back partner who acts as a reassuring influence on others has been just what he has needed throughout his Liverpool career.
There is previous evidence to support this. Jose Fonte was widely regarded at Southampton as being a vociferous captain on the pitch, a supreme organiser who would spend the entirety of a game shepherding his teammates and making sure they didn’t switch off. Lovren was very much an accompaniment of this and was not Fonte’s equal in this sense, their respective qualities as a pair were sometimes lost amid the Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher-led hyperbole that rightly surrounded the pair in their pomp on the south coast.
There is also a tactical consideration to this. Lovren’s best form in a Liverpool shirt was arguably in the second half of the 2015-16 season where he struck up a foundational partnership with the enigmatic and flamboyant Mamadou Sakho which helped Liverpool reach the League Cup and Europa league final that year. This partnership saw Lovren play on the right of a centre-back two and where he looked a lot more assured and comfortable. This is something you think would again be the case given van Dijk’s preference to play on the left, should the pair be chosen together in the coming months.
Lovren strikes me as an intriguing character in the same way that many do in this current Liverpool squad. You can see that he is very much a confidence-driven individual, someone who wears his emotions and is unable to be characterless or disengaging.
The same can be said for players such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andy Robertson, for example. It is an endearing quality that a humanist like Klopp will grasp with both hands and try to harness. Unfortunately, this can also work against these characters when the brutal humbling of a football pitch can leave them exposed to their deepest insecurities and doubts in their own ability.
As an elite defender, fault can always be found in every goal, something that could have been done better in the last line. It is easy to forget you can sometimes be insular about this and can castigate your own players too much as a result. I would imagine Manchester City fans will be having conversations about Jon Stones’ involvement in Liverpool’s second goal on Sunday if they haven’t already. Yet it is worth noting that since Lovren’s admitted horror show at Wembley in October, when Liverpool succumbed 4-1 to Tottenham Hotspur, Klopp’s men have now gone 19 games unbeaten.
This unbeaten run has undoubtedly coincided with an upturn in form of all the defenders at the club, with widespread praise rewarded to Robertson, Alberto Moreno, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan. However, since the whirlwind arrival of van Dijk in the New Year, Lovren has quietly had three very impressive performances against Leicester City, Burnley and Manchester City.
There is undoubtedly a feeling that the gauntlet has been thrown down by not only the manager but by Lovren himself. He no longer has the blanket of being viewed as first choice at the club. He knows that one standout performance in three is not enough for him to maintain a starting berth in this side now. You feel that this is a crucial moment in his Liverpool career and how he reacts will in many ways define his immediate future but also his legacy at a club he undoubtedly loves.
Something that was lost in the euphoria of Sunday’s victory against the league leaders was the man who led Liverpool out onto the pitch. The handing of the captaincy to Lovren has been overlooked and underplayed completely; maybe this is given the nonchalance of Klopp’s public interpretation of what the armband represents.
While there is no reason not to take the enigmatic German at his word, it is worth noting that everybody who has had the captaincy in recent times has had something to prove in some way. It can be argued that it was maybe a way of trying to tug on the heartstrings of Philippe Coutinho, or maybe it was designed to bring out a more forthright and confident Simon Mignolet. This type of tactic is not unfamiliar to Klopp, who is maybe not as flippant on the subject as he would like us to believe.
The player and manager will know what that empowerment of leading Liverpool through a victory of that magnitude can do. As well as everything else, Lovren will now be hoping to permanently change perceptions of him for the better.
The gauntlet is there to be picked up, and his Liverpool career now depends on it.
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Fantastic read, well done.
Fan of LiverPool . Love So Much
Vvd and Gomez are the best cbs at Anfield. New kpr,cm,cb and striker needed. Lallana and Sturr should be sold.
My theory is that Lovren was awarded such a bumper contract because it explicitly didn’t contain any guarantees of being first choice (Klopp was of course already planning to bring Van Dijk in).
He is an outstanding third choice centre back, compared to our rivals. And of course if he finds the form to force his way into starting the big games, all the better. Anyway, as we know, Klopp has become a big fan of rotation, so he will always get games, even if Matip stays fit and plays well.
what is an outstanding 3rd choice? does that mean that we have a constant list of 1st and 2nd choice CBs just so Lovren can maintain being a brilliant 3rd choice? What if, god forbid, he has to do 2nd or 1st choice things?
Jesus wept. Try this. Think first, then type. It clearly means that he’ll be better at them than the third choices at most of our rivals.
what does a 3rd choice do that marks them out as better then other 3rd choices? Does a 3rd choice become a shit 1st choice again if he has to actually play for any period of time?
Smacks of being the sort of thing someone who wants rid but wants to appear balanced would say.
You’re asking a lot there to be honest. Scan some of the other comments, the one comparing Lovren to a habitual recidivist is a particular highlight. I for one think he’s a very good player, prone to lapses of concentration. A natural leader like Van Dijk can hopefully be the catalyst for him to become the player that his natural ability warrants. I like Matip but I worry he can be bullied occasionally and seems a bit weak in the air (good on the deck though). Klavan has been showing this season why Klopp bought him I think. Much better than I thought he was tbf. Cheers.
A very very very very very good article.
Whilst you make a lot of good points, Lovren was at fault for City’s last two goals. Typical rash decision making taking him out of the centre of the pitch and forcing last ditch covering tackles from his teammates. Lovren is 100% a confidence player but the tactics of 1-1 defending from klopp will mean a player like Lovren will always be exposed or prone to error. It’s no coinincidence the bulk of goals against us are due to individual mistakes – whether from a set piece or lapse in concentration.
Great article Danny.
I think Lovren is the ideal partner for Ford Transit Lesbian. I think Matip is just a poor mans VVD, so will end up being back up in the long term. Wouldn’t mind seeing a back 3 with Lovren VVD and Gomez.
Yeah this is a very good article, bar the nightmare at Spurs and the Everton penalty, I think he’s performed well. I think he’d excelled when played alongside Van Dijk
After the Spurs game i was quite happy to never see him wear the Liverpool shirt again. Since then he’s done much better and i hope this is the start of a renaissance, for both him and, for my knee jerk foaming at the mouth reactions. :)
Fellas, Players are like criminals, habitual offenders. It’s a flaw in their mental state, and whilst crims can, with rehab and being confronted by their victims in a controlled environment, become reformed characters and leave their past behaviour behind them, Lovren has absolutely no chance whatsoever of doing the same. Admittedly since the Spurs debacle he has played better, but you know it’s like when you’re got a very naughty dog that constantly nips and bites when left with kids, it’s never going to shed it’s bad dog image, the fear is always there it will repeat it’s sickening beviour. And as with such an animal and pest you have no option other than to get rid, for safety’s sake.
Good read, thanks. I actually think Lovren is a decent defender given the right circumstances. If we’re picking a first choice two then for me it would be Van Dijk and Lovren. Lovren is the most naturally talented (in my opinion) out of the three (Klav/ Matip/ Lovren) and I agree that the calm, assuredness of Van Dijk, as well as his organisation skill, could well bring out the best in him. Against City I thought he was outstanding, right up until his positioning mistake on Gundogan’s goal. It appears to be a concentration thing with him but he has never been helped by having a quiet keeper and CB partner (as well as never truly having a settled line up in each position). It is no coincidence that his best spells, and amongst them some truly outstanding displays (the Europa run, and the recent unbeaten period) have come when a stable relationship has developed, with Sakho and then Klavan. If ‘big Virge’ (copyright ‘Robbo’) can settle and play consistently as well as we all believe he can, then we may well see a different Dejan Lovren. I like both Matip, and Klavan, but I just see a little more in Lovren I think. Despite his lapses and ‘emotional’ displays sometimes, there is clearly someone of strong character and mental strength. He has overcome a tough upbringing, personal problems being splashed across the gutter press, and occasionally deserved, occasionally, ridiculously over the top, criticism, and still gone out to do his best. Hopefully Van Dijk’s arrival can be a turning point for both him, and our beleaguered back line.