Goldilocks In the Dugout – Why Jurgen Klopp is Just Right for Liverpool Football Club
My favorite Jurgen Klopp story is from when Liverpool Football Club made the decision in 2015 that he was the right person for the job. LFC had brought in some possible managers and each brought out their list of transfer targets that they would need to turn LFC into a powerhouse again. Klopp, so the story goes, however, came into his interview and immediately talked about how great Firmino, Milner, Lallana, Henderson, and others were and how he could set up the team to win now. The legend goes that the LFC brass pretty much ended the search then and there. This story tells me a lot about what makes our manager the best in football.
Liverpool’s two wins over the last six days have made me appreciate our manager even more than ever before. In that time he has had players flying around the globe to catch up with the team, dealt with mini media firestorms, had unexpected injuries and shuffled lineups, and delivered us two monster results. The first was a 3-2 European road win where no visiting team had won in four years and the second was a 5-0 demolition of our most hated rival. He did all of this while looking out for our guys both on the field and off, with his wry sense of humor intact, and a shrug of his shoulders that, while admitting both wins were historic, they were not so special that we don’t have to go again.
The Difference the Gaffer Makes
What really showed at that time though, was the stark contrast of Klopp compared to the two managers we faced. The first game was against an incredibly effective manager in Diego Simeone who relishes in the dark arts. At Atletico, we watched a team hack at us relentlessly while also diving to the ground whenever we got close to them. A team that consistently berated the official after every whistle against them while begging for a card any time a Liverpool player so much as leaned a shoulder-in. It was an ugly game made so, by the way, Atletico approach every game. Klopp said as much after the game, explaining that sometimes the ugly wins are the most important. He also mentioned (again) he did not like the Atletico style – though he did admit he was not the “Pope of Football” and everyone was allowed to play however they wanted.
One of the most satisfying and thrilling victories in LFC history came five days after that 3-2 victory in Madrid. Liverpool completely exposed and embarrassed a Manchester United team that was a very expensive mishmash of a squad with little vision and no plan. Ole Gunnar Skolskjaer is very friendly and popular, but he has not stamped United with any sort of identity. LFC on the other hand has a very clear identity under Klopp and a defined plan for every game. While in attack, United looked confused when their only offensive plan of kicking the ball to their flair players and hoping for an individual moment of brilliance did not work. They looked even more perplexed after losing possession, unsure if they should press or retreat at speed. While I was disappointed that Klopp called off the dogs at 5-0 when it looked like we could have beat United by double digits, he may have strategically done this just to keep Ole at the wheel a little longer!
Atletico has a manager that is excellent tactically and consistently grinds out ugly, painful results that make you feel a bit dirty watching them. United, on the other hand, has a manager that has a feel-good vibe but is hopelessly out of his depth when it comes to tactics. At Liverpool, we have a manager that is one of the leading tacticians in the world, while also winning with attractive football and making us proud of every effort. So in appreciation of Klopp not being too hot and not being too cold, but being jusssssst right for Liverpool, let’s look at some random things that make him so dang special!
Habitual Fair Play Award Winners
Nothing irritates me more than players diving to the ground clutching their heads in hopes of getting another player carded when they have only been bumped in the shoulder. Whether it is one of our team or the opposition, I hate watching drama queens roll around on the ground as if they have just been shot by a sniper. Under Klopp, LFC has topped the Premier League Fair Play Table for five straight years. Ultimately, fans do not care so much that Liverpool consistently has fewer yellow and red cards than the rest of the league, but this table tells a story of how Liverpool approach the game in a sporting manner with a desire to win through skill and ability, not shithousery or referee manipulation.
This simple fact alone may be why I love Klopp the most. Barcelona played incredibly attractive football for years, but they also relentlessly dove to the ground and attempted to intimidate officials. At one point Barca seemed to finish every UCL game playing against 10 men. While effective, in its own way it is just as unpalatable as the darkest arts employed by a Jose Mourinho or Simeone side. Liverpool wants to win, but they are not willing to sell their souls to do and it all starts with Klopp. If the biggest criticism of our team is they are too nice, or too naïve, or too sporting, that will always be a team I am happy to support!
Klopp Does Not Have a “Doghouse”
Think about all the times you have to hear about a player in a manager’s “doghouse,” now think if you have ever heard that about Jurgen Klopp? Other than Mamadou Sakho, no player has ever been in Klopp’s “doghouse”. In fact, if you Google “Jurgen Klopp doghouse”, the first result is a picture of Jurgen with his dog! Now think about all the players you thought would never play again for the Reds only to come back and deliver in a huge moment – Xherdan Shaqiri, Divock Origi, Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip, Alberto Moreno, the list goes on and on… Klopp rotates players and some go long stretches without game time, but he always has them ready to go when called upon.
Developing a Close-Knit Squad
It is so fun to cheer for this Liverpool squad because they are “our guys.” LFC does not go out and buy mercenaries or roll over the whole squad every year, and this is clearly as much to do with Klopp’s desires, as it is FSG’s pocketbook. He has built the squad out of players and personalities that buy-in and has created an incredibly stable environment with a long-term view. The only drama out of LFC is always made-up media speculation, like Sadio and Mo not getting along or Bobby Firmino being mad about Jota getting minutes. This team loves each other as it has grown up together, which makes it so easy for us to love it, as we have been with them every step of the way.
I love football. You love football. Jurgen Klopp loves football, but Jurgen also has the levity to understand where football stands. When he stated at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic that if playing a game in Anfield risked even one supporter’s life a tiny bit then there should not be games. This was not lip service; it was obvious Klopp believes that football is a fun game and an important business, but it is not worth risking someone’s life. His levity in a sports-obsessed world is refreshing. Watching him patrol the sideline, there is no doubt he cares immensely about this fun game, but he also knows its (and his) place in priorities.
Attention to Every Detail Imaginable
Remember when the biggest punchline in English football was Liverpool hiring a throw-in coach. How everyone thought it was so ridiculous to have a coach teach throw-ins! How about when people thought it was silly that LFC made such a huge point of hiring a new nutritionist? English, European, and World titles later, are people still laughing at Klopp obsessing over every detail to find even the slightest advantage. This commitment to improvement is obvious throughout the club. It goes back to his development of players. Klopp believes in looking in the margins for every possible improvement you can find and he is open-minded enough to try even farfetched ideas if they can make his team more competitive.
If the sportsmanship is my favorite thing about Klopp and this LFC squad, this is the second. A couple of weeks ago Manchester City was tearing us apart in the first half. Klopp did not shout at the players to get back in a defensive shell or try to give them extra tactical instructions. Instead, he screamed, “Be brave!” Jurgen knew they were aware of what to do. He had confidence that they could do it. Believed if they were brave, they would do it. He did not make any changes at halftime. Liverpool came back out set up the same way, but they were brave. LFC played the second half the way Klopp wanted them to. We attacked City and they took the game over. They played the football we know and love. They played a complex game but made it look simple because all 11 players played together as a unit and had confidence in their tactics, their manager, and each other. Which gave us confidence in them!
Since Klopp screamed “Be brave” to his squad, they are a deflected Kevin De Bruyne shot away from beating Manchester City. Then they sandwich two “pick your score” 5-0 away league victories around a historic 3-2 away Champions League win. This is a team that knows itself and a manager that knows how to get everything out of it.
Those are just a few of the amazing things about our Gaffer. I could go on and on about things that make Klopp special, but for brevity’s sake, I will stop (for now). This team is a reflection of our manager – prepared,