Friday 24 May 2019

Klopp's lesson: leaders must learn to trust those they lead

Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Let me start by briefly looking at the lessons of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur's astounding displays at Anfield and in Amsterdam.

Regular readers with no interest in football can relax - I'm leaving all the technical analysis to mightier pens than mine on our sports pages.

But I can sympathise with readers who don't follow football; until relatively recently I could not figure out why it was called the beautiful game.

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Flicking through TV channels, looking for rugby or hurling, football seemed to have only two faces, one of which was booting a ball around a sodden field in some sad English city.

The other was watching the fashion mannequins of Spanish football, so beloved of RTE panels, passing the ball precisely until they finally gave it to a star like Ronaldo or Messi.

But like most people, what I want from football is great drama: a plot of necessity, a flowing story, characters with courage.

Unfashionably perhaps, I prefer open play, the long ball and the headed ball to the anoraky precision passing that makes my mental paint dry.

This season was heaven thanks to the fast-flowing style of my two favourites, Liverpool and Spurs.

Last week they gave us the lot: the plot, the character and the courage.

Belonging to no sporting consensus and armed with innocent ignorance, let me make four points.

First, Klopp and Pochettino did not micro- manage as bad leaders do, but trusted their depleted teams to do the job.

Both were like men in a trance during their games. Klopp was sparing of his sideline jumps, standing in stoic mode, waiting for destiny to decide.

Pochettino, too, was in another space, having also entrusted everything to his equally diminished team.

Second, there was no magical act of alchemy in what happened at Anfield and in Amsterdam.

Liverpool played pure Klopp, an attacking game based on motor skills built up over four years.

His German work ethic of honest effort has served him well from Mainz to Dortmund and now at Anfield, his spiritual home.

Pochettino, too, like Klopp, shows admiration and affection to his players, permitting them to relax and play without fear.

Leaders in all walks of life can learn from their honesty and humility.

Third, while some of the commercialisation of football has its downsides, they have been well balanced by its upsides.

Commercialisation has been of immense benefit in raising the standard of the game, as well as giving it a multi-racial cast, and thus multi-racial fans, that puts Hollywood to shame.

Sport seems to be the only force that, for a few magical moments, can dissolve race, religious and national prejudices and give us a glimpse of what might be.

And no, I'm not getting soft in my old age. In proof of which I offer my reply to a friend who loves football in all its forms.

After the Spurs victory, he texted me: "Sad for Ajax though. The bright young hopes of this season's Champions League."

For a moment I put my own sense of mortality aside and share his generous empathy with young Ajax's blighted hopes.

But then I remember the role of two Spurs veterans in the winning goal, in the 95th minute of the game.

Far in the rear, Sissoko, no spring chicken at 29, launches a long ball high into the air ahead of him.

Fernando Llorente, at 34, waits for it, harried by Ajax's young captain Matthijs de Ligt, who at 19 is just over half Llorente's age.

But as De Ligt grabs him from behind, Llorente bears back hard on him, and though falling somehow heads it down to Dele Alli - who sends it into a black hole that is suddenly filled with Lucas Moura, who scores his third goal and sends Spurs into the final.

I thought, too, of the ruthless advice attributed to the veteran politician Michael Noonan: "A sitting TD should watch for young talent emerging in the constituency - and crush it."

Finally, into my mind flashes an image of Milner, approaching early middle age, tears in his eyes.

And I jab down on the keys. "Tough s**t."

******

Liverpool was also the birthplace of the great labour leader Jim Larkin and his equally militant sister Delia Larkin, neither of whom had any time for IRA nationalists.

But although Delia was active in the 1913 Lockout, founded the Women Workers' Union of Ireland, and was a supporter of the arts, she still has neither bridge nor statue in Dublin.

This shows clearly how bourgeois Irish nationalism has beaten down all its socialist and feminist rivals.

The Labour Party has gone along with elevation of the raffish Constance Markievicz to cult status - although her posturing compares poorly with the work of her serious socialist sister, Eva Gore-Booth, who became a heroine of the Manchester working class.

Far from Labour and feminist groups looking hard at Markievicz's lethal militarist legacy, they are still suggesting new statues.

This has prompted the playwright Eddie Naughton to complain to his local Labour councillor Rebecca Moynihan about the latest statue proposal.

In a letter to her, he says he finds it disappointing to "see a member of the Labour movement falling over herself in a scramble to have yet another statue erected in honour of a woman whose main claim to fame is that she shot an unarmed policeman at point-blank range in St Stephen's Green in 1916".

Naughton, whose current play Joxer Daly Esq was inspired by Sean O'Casey, reminds us that in 1926 Markievicz tried hard to shut down the first production of the The Plough And The Stars.

Because the play offended her nationalist politics, Markievicz organised a riot in the Abbey Theatre in a blatant attempt to silence O'Casey's socialist politics.

Naughton points out that Markievicz's riot was not just responsible for Sean O'Casey's exile, but was a prelude to an era of censorship by church and State that saw Ireland enact the most repressive laws in peacetime Europe.

Books, plays, films and certain types of music were banned. In short, Markievicz helped to create the climate of silence which protected the Magdalene Laundries. Some feminist she was. Not.

******

Liam Mac Con Iomaire, who died last week, left us two fine biographies, one of the singer Seosamh O hEanai, the other of his brilliant fellow journalist Breandan O hEithir.

Having worked closely with O hEithir, I spoke at length to Liam about him. From the start, I felt that Liam was the perfect choice as Breandan's biographer.

That's because Breandan deliberately projected a casual, even bohemian persona, to conceal his seriousness about writing.

Liam was not fooled. He knew that Breandan cared passionately about four things: the Irish language, creating a clear, modern Irish prose style, Gaelic games and puncturing the pomposity of the pious and the pretentious.

Liam did him proud. It takes a good man to write a good life. Ar dheis De go raibh a nanamcha beirt.

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