Sunday 19 May 2019

Chris Bascombe: Klopp is one of the greatest tacticians in modern football – and more than equal to Guardiola

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Chris Bascombe

Do you know how f*****' difficult it is to play like that? Seriously. Do people realise?" These were the words of a Liverpool legend ahead of the latest Anfield thrill seekers' convention against Roma.

"To get your players to show such bravery against the best teams in Europe?" he continued. "To get into their heads they can go anywhere and keep going forward?

"(Pep) Guardiola is doing it and he is regarded a genius but (Jürgen) Klopp is the same. If it was so easy to do what Liverpool are doing tactically, why isn't everyone?"

Since the player who said this was unaware the sentiments would be pinched to print it would be unfair to name him, but it was stated with justifiable incredulity that amid all the rightful acclaim for Klopp's work, there is still some misunderstanding surrounding it.

When Liverpool overcame Manchester City in the quarter-final there were plenty who portrayed it as the philosopher being outshouted by the manic cheerleader - the meticulous, flawless masterplan of the world's greatest manager inexplicably undermined by a coach embracing chaos theory, ordering players to frenziedly surge forward in zig-zags to confound logic. You would think from some interpretations a mob of Metalheads had the audacity to smash up the Philharmonic.

It would be easy to fall into trap again following the 5-2 win over Roma. With the Liverpool manager rousing the Main Stand after each well-timed tackle on the halfway line, there is a readily accessible colourful image for every visiting scribe reporting from the core of the Anfield inferno.

While Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are portrayed as strategists - the Manchester City manager in particular inspiring a cult with the notion pass-and-move football from back to front is a reinvention rather than modern interpretation of the game - Klopp's implementation of thematically similar football is somehow regarded less sophisticated, built around emotion rather than control.

The German coach is partially responsible for the sluggish misreading of his work, of course.

It was he, after all, who coined the phrase 'heavy metal football', thus perpetuating the notion it is less methodical, more prone to improvisation and, naturally, more shouty. If Klopp was passionate about classical music there may have been more inclination to depict him as a conductor.

Equally, he might argue there as much artistic merit in the opening riff of AC/DC's 'Back in Black' as Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata'.

Klopp considers the passion of football an exploitable tool - what manager with access to Dortmund's Yellow Wall and The Kop would not? - but Liverpool's success to date is an amalgamation of finely-tuned choreography on the training pitch stirring the masses on a match day. You only have to compare the tranquil mood inside the stadium for Klopp's first game against Southampton in 2015 to what we are witnessing now, even in Premier League games, to understand what came first.

Liverpool's training drills are a repeat prescription. It demands highly technical and tactical attacking football to move the ball at speed from Loris Karius to Mohamed Salah to tear through opponents, and the harrying of the opponents from Roberto Firmino back to Karius to ensure Liverpool are more difficult to create chances against than set-piece frailties and inexplicable late lapses in concentration suggest. Porto, City and - after one leg of the semi-final - Roma barely had a shot on target against Klopp's side.

There is more studiousness and theory to the work of Klopp and his backroom team - and indeed those recruiting on their behalf - than has been credited. It is comparable to Guardiola in that both managers see more risks and zero pleasure in cautious football.

Perhaps Klopp and his training ground assistants Peter Krawietz and Zeljko Buvac are too generous when deferring to their mentor, former Mainz coach Wolfgang Frank (who was himself a disciple of Arrigo Sacchi), rather than proclaiming (or having others claim on their behalf) they are creating something new.

Maybe they are less ego-centric than some of their peers. There is nothing truly unique in football anymore. It merely evolves. Managers broadly choose between three or four defenders, three or four midfielders and two or three attackers, deciding upon a system most reflective of their personality.

What separates the greatest from the imitators is the courage of their convictions, methodology, access to the personnel capable of executing their plan and, yes, charismatic leadership.

But anyone who believes there are not as many emerging coaches seeking to copy Klopp as much as Guardiola is delusional. Many will presume they are never going to manage a club with Lionel Messi or backed by an Arab state so will find the Liverpool manager a more realistic character-study. Football historians will be fascinated by what Klopp and his scouts saw in Salah that Mourinho did not.

Klopp is rarely asked about his tactics. The long-established cult of personality is responsible for that. There are plenty with a taste for 2,000-word dissertations on gegenpressing (what Joe Fagan would have called defending from the front in 1984), but Klopp understands when a left-footer from 20 yards finds the top corner, it is the point of entry that stirs the soul of spectators.

Klopp is more generous in his time than most managers, so naturally there seems less mystery about him given his willingness to discuss a range of subjects. He will never be regarded an introverted, eccentric professor spending his spare time reviewing DVDs of the last performance - even though this is precisely what he does.

Klopp is portrayed in many ways, some of which seem fair, others ridiculously caricatured. But when dishing out the eulogies for the greatest tacticians of modern European football, the Liverpool coach must be recognised alongside Guardiola.

After an era where pragmatism has dominated tactical plans, we must hope the Manchester City and Liverpool managers inspire an enlightened age of progressive, entertaining and most thrillingly of all, daring football. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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