Saturday 20 January 2018

James Lawton: Don't judge Klopp until he has had time to paint his own picture

Jurgen Klopp is plainly looking for something more than spasmodic brilliance. Photo: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters
James Lawton

James Lawton

If the verdict on Louis van Gaal at Manchester United is so withering, why does Jurgen Klopp receive such an easy ride even when his Liverpool team dissolves before our eyes?

It cannot any longer be his overt embrace of Anfield passion. It is not the touchline extravagance, the emotional peepshow he makes available to every gallery.

No, it has to be the overwhelming sense that sooner or later he will nail down a real identity for his team. He will keep a clear picture of it in his mind and make many bold brush strokes until he has seen enough, until the canvas has enough balance, enough content to please the keenest vision of a competitive eye.

That, anyway, is the meaning of Klopp's career so far. He was seven years at Mainz, turning them into a Bundesliga club for the first time in their history. He was the same length of time at Dortmund, surpassing mega force Bayern in three years. They wept in Mainz and Dortmund when he left - and so did he. It was the mark of a seriously committed man.

That was not obliterated in the Europa Cup final this week. For him, it is clear enough, it wasn't so much failure as a passage of arrested development.

Yesterday, it is true, he found life a little more buffeting. The local paper was less adoring than usual, even posing the question, 'Is the Klopp honeymoon over?'.

Two finals, both lost, this week's defeat a middle-sized monument to a failure of nerve and resolve, and a wipe-out of European nights next season does not exactly augment the stockpile of credentials he built back home in Germany.

Yet if Klopp still smells as sweetly in defeat as in victory to the majority of Liverpool fans, it should be the least of a tumultuous season's surprises.

Jurgen Klopp is plainly looking for something more than spasmodic brilliance. Photo: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

No doubt such a verdict will be withheld if Liverpool are again outside of the elite by next season's end, but Klopp is committed to a campaign which initially courts failure as much as success.

It is not about striking poses but finding out about who it is he is dealing with - and how well they will last the course. Some of them, plainly, are not about to last the summer. Klopp said as much on the retreat from Basel, declaring: "The team will be a bit different next season. We will do something with transfers."

The most striking change, we can be sure, will come in the sometimes elusive category of team character. If there was any doubt about Liverpool's enduring frailty in this department they were swept away as Sevilla strode out for an ultimately comfortable victory.

Moreno's defensive irresponsibility provoked the old Anfield stalwart Jamie Carragher into a tweeted obscenity; the left-back has had his chance and thrown it away and there are surely others higher up the Liverpool food chain who must wonder about their status.

SOCCER Fin_160.png
Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho

Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino have had their moments for Klopp but overall they have made less than overwhelming cases.

Jordan Henderson was coming back from injury but he didn't make it past the bench. Was that medical caution or doubt about the quality of Henderson's game?

Klopp is plainly looking for something more than spasmodic brilliance and, maybe in Henderson's case, a superior level of influence and touch.

The German has tended to forge a close bond with his players - and that is one reason to believe that he may, despite the lack of Champions League football, persuade his former Dortmund protégé Mario Gotze to re-join him at Anfield.

Plainly, Liverpool lack a figure of persuasive influence - or the relentlessly dynamic potential of Steven Gerrard before he was ambushed by the years.

Gotze, so nerveless in that vital moment in the World Cup final, might well believe that he has enough years to make good one season's absence from the Champions' League.

He might well be drawn by the need for some certainties of his own, including trust in a coach who knows him so well.

If there was one redeeming moment for Klopp in Basel it was in the exquisite touch which brought Sturridge's opener - and the potential of Liverpool to take hold of the game.

Liverpool's Alberto Moreno, Daniel Sturridge and Dejan Lovren look dejected

Sturridge has dismayed a series of coaches drawn by his brilliance but frustrated by his enigmatic nature.

There is some reason to believe that Klopp may just have found the key.

Meanwhile, he is said to be pursuing a batch of middle European, middle-rated but no doubt combative players: Joel Matip from Schalke, Marko Grujic of Red Star Belgrade and Udinese's Polish midfielder Piotar Zielenski.

In themselves, they might not light up Anfield, but, who knows, each of them could prove to be a crucial brush stroke.

They might just remind us that Jurgen Klopp cannot be properly judged until he has had time to paint his own picture.

Irish Independent

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