Wednesday 28 June 2017

Stephen Hunt: 'I told the manger I was sh** - He agreed'

Stephen Hunt in action for Ireland
Stephen Hunt in action for Ireland
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

If you want to get something out of a manager, you have to go the right way about it. I went in one Monday morning to see a manager of mine and the first thing I said was that I was shit on Saturday. Naturally he agreed.

So having found that common ground, I went on to say that we were training too hard in midweek for the games on Saturday. He didn't agree with me there and then, and I didn't play for a couple of weeks, but the training got better straight away. That was the main thing on my mind.

Jurgen Klopp says his training can't be the reason for Liverpool's injury problems because all they're doing is recovering, but there is no question that the arrival of a new manager, with different ideas, can make a big difference.

You can't win a match on a Friday in training, but you can lose it. If the ideas of one manager are radically different from his predecessor, as they seem to be with Klopp and Brendan Rodgers, then you could have problems.

'You can’t win a match on a Friday in training, but you can lose it. If the ideas of one manager are radically different from his predecessor, as they seem to be with Klopp and Brendan Rodgers, then you could have problems'. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
'You can’t win a match on a Friday in training, but you can lose it. If the ideas of one manager are radically different from his predecessor, as they seem to be with Klopp and Brendan Rodgers, then you could have problems'. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

I worked with Rodgers for a pre-season at Reading, and I loved his training. It was short, sharp and involved a lot of ball work.

Here's the thing: I also loved watching Klopp's Dortmund, and I liked the way they played. If I'd ever heard of gegenpressing, I would have said I liked to gegenpress myself. Unsettling players when they're in possession at the back was something I loved to do. But it requires a different level of fitness, and different methods of training, to the ones I experienced under Rodgers.

Trying to enforce the change in October may be where Klopp has experienced problems. The players at Liverpool did a pre-season which wasn't just about getting them fit, it was designed to fit in with whatever training plans Rodgers had for the rest of the campaign.

Rodgers didn't last too long, and in his place you get one of the best managers in the world, but one who has very clear ideas about what his teams should do, and to do what he wants them to, Liverpool require a different type of fitness.

In the change, you encounter the problems, but in some ways there is not a lot Klopp can do, especially as some people are already criticising him and he's only been two months in the job.

How would those who are criticising him now have felt if he'd made no changes and said, 'I'll wait until next summer before I do any of the things I like to do with a football team'?

He wouldn't have learned a lot by keeping the style in place which he wasn't going to use, sticking to a training routine which he didn't believe in, while trying to assess players under conditions he didn't intend to use again.

Klopp has attempted to see if the players he has could play to his system. What he's also discovered is that the change will cause problems. Perhaps he thinks he will find out more about his team this way, but there's only so much you can find out when half the squad is injured.

Maybe Klopp could have brought a bit more pragmatism to it, especially concerning team selection. He also might have needed somebody in the squad to stand up and tell him their concerns, but the problem with the Liverpool team is that it doesn't seem to have too many leaders.

I remember reading that Tony Adams persuaded Arsene Wenger not to abandon three at the back when the new manager arrived at Arsenal after the season had started. Wenger wanted to play a flat back four, but under Bruce Rioch, Arsenal had played with a three. They'd worked on it in pre-season and Adams felt it would be counter-productive to change at that stage. Wenger agreed.

I'm not sure who would speak to Klopp in a similar way. Jordan Henderson has been injured, James Milner has just arrived at the club, while there are very few players so certain of their place that they'd want to make a challenging if constructive point to the manager.

These are important times for Klopp, but not in the way his critics imagine. The players will have taken on board what he has said, how he wants them to play, and that's what they have to do for him. In the early weeks, they did that, but now he needs to win hearts and minds again which becomes harder when players' bodies are failing, for whatever reason.

Klopp might decide that he needs to get rid of most of this squad, but that will take time, and, in the meantime, he'll need to take some of them with him. And that will only happen if the important players can stay fit.

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