Saturday 23 March 2019

Declan Lynch: Kloppo takes Liverpool to the Promised Land

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

I couldn't help noticing that the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid takes place on May 26, the day after the Referendum vote - I guess you could say that the Irish have been going to Liverpool for a long time.

Personally, I'll be looking for a win for Repeal and a win for the 'Pool, and I don't care what the margin is, but then some of you would know my position on these things already - when Jurgen Klopp became the manager of Liverpool in October 2015, in these pages I proclaimed him the Messiah.

Which I am mentioning not to demonstrate how right I was, but to make the bigger point that of all the many things I have been right about, this one seemed to me the most obvious.

Indeed, it was so easy I am reluctant to take any credit for calling it, and would prefer to point out that back in September, after Liverpool had beaten Leicester City 3-2 away in the Premier League, I found it "pleasing, but for me the focus this season is the Champions League".

That one is working out quite nicely, so I'll leave to one side the prediction made in January of this year, when Philippe Coutinho left Liverpool for Barcelona, where he was reported to have a beautiful apartment with a magnificent view, that if - I speculated - he looked hard enough, he might even be able to see his old comrade Jordan Henderson lifting the Champions League trophy in Kiev.

No, I will leave that to one side, because the final result is still pending. But there is certainly a better chance of it happening now than would have been apparent to most commentators when Coutinho - who was supposedly Liverpool's best player - left for what he must have thought was a better life in Barcelona.

Alas, poor Couts, he did not believe in Kloppo as the rest of us have done. He did not know that this man is the Messiah.

Back in 2015, of the many Messianic qualities which were evident in him, one of them was the simple fact - that he had chosen Liverpool when he could have waited for a "bigger" and an easier job. I noted in these pages that "for a man to be the Messiah, he must choose that path, he must see himself in that light, he must want to be the Messiah."

And I see no reason now to depart from the analysis that "he has made this choice for reasons that are essentially spiritual in nature. In Liverpool FC he has discerned something of the essence of the game. He has found something in the soul of the grand old club that is commensurate with his own capacity for greatness - by his actions he has let it be known".

And yet there is this wondrous paradox in the nature of any Messiah you care to mention, a profound contradiction which is well known to those who have followed a few of them over the years: the Messiah possesses this gift whereby he fills his followers with a tremendous sense of belief, of hope, of a shared destiny. And yet because we are human, still we are tormented with doubt.

Therefore, this Liverpool team can be leading by four goals with the second half starting, high on the improbability of it all, and still we are praying for the end to come. In the better parts of our being, we are elevated by the supreme certainties which Kloppo has imparted to us - and yet we still find ourselves two goals up on Roma going into injury time near the end of the game, deeply agitated, knowing no peace until it is all over.

Even then, some all-too-human failing causes us to suspend our celebrations until we are absolutely certain that the referee has indeed blown the final whistle, that all those people walking on to the pitch have not somehow picked up the wrong signal, and that there will in fact be another 30 seconds of this terrible suffering to endure.

As flawed individuals, we are still trapped in these old ways of thinking, which decree that football should be played like it was in the big European games which had Jimmy Magee as commentator - when a score of 1-0 seemed like an impossible extravagance, with both teams preferring to engage in the vastly cynical exercise of keeping it scoreless for 90 minutes and on into the void of extra-time, until the penalty shoot-out decided it, for good or ill. Usually for ill.

Whatever happens under Kloppo, we won't be going back there.

Being the Messiah, he seems to have changed the very nature of the game, while somehow taking us back to the eternal verities, to the purity of watching a game in the under-12 league in which both teams can easily score about 14 goals, in which they just keep banging them in at both ends until somebody tells them to stop.

This is the game we fell in love with as children, it's just that those under-age games which might easily have ended 7-6 were not being played with the European Cup waiting as the prize for the winner. It is this which, perhaps understandably at times, makes us nervous.

Still in this Liverpool team we can discern these ancient fundamentals, we can look at Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah, and we are back there watching an under-12 game in which one of the teams seems to be fielding a number of lads who are 15 or even 16, who have the ability at least of that higher age-group, who look like they are finding this game so easy - who are just, if you like, much better than all the other lads on the field.

They were three good men to begin with, albeit flawed like the rest of us, but as disciples of Kloppo they have been playing and scoring goals like men possessed, driven by a higher knowledge, or perhaps just by the knowledge that they have Loris Karius in goal and Dejan Lovren at centre-half.

We may never know this - we are not the Messiah after all - but we must wonder anyway, how much of the marvellous urgency of Liverpool's forwards is directly linked to their fear of their own defenders?

Would they be scoring half as many goals without that sense of constant danger lurking behind them?

Kloppo knows the answer to that one too. We can merely guess at this deeper understanding of his, that the strong can be inspired by the weak. That you really should only be worried about your own performance and not that of the other side. And that when you know you can concede six goals in the Champions League semi-final and still somehow win the tie, you stop worrying anyway.

So regardless of what happens in Kiev, to mark the achievement of getting there, I will return to that piece in October 2015, hailing the arrival of the Messiah, and the last line of it, because I can't think of a better one now:

"This changes everything."

Sunday Independent

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