Tuesday 23 July 2019

John Giles: There's a line that shouldn't be crossed and Jurgen Klopp has been living on the wrong side of it all season

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool speaks to the media during a Liverpool FC press conference at Melwood Training Ground on December 5, 2017 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool speaks to the media during a Liverpool FC press conference at Melwood Training Ground on December 5, 2017 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

John Giles

At any time up to ten years ago there’s a good chance that David de Gea’s willowy frame would have seen him discarded by the orthodoxy of the day.

Goalkeepers should look like Peter Schmeichel or Gianluigi Buffon or from my day, Pat Jennings and Ray Clemence. When he first arrived at Old Trafford, I’ll have to admit that he looked too skinny to make a great ‘keeper.

But these are different days for netminders. There is no contact allowed at all from players so it is pointless to make any comparisons with the past.

I was at the 1957 FA Cup final and saw Peter McParland break Ray Woods’ jaw with a legal shoulder charge and finish the game as Aston Villa’s hero with two goals while Manchester United’s goalkeeper went to hospital.

De Gea has been remarkable for United and all four managers he has played for at Old Trafford have had reason to be thankful Alex Ferguson signed him.

Of all the players Jose Mourinho inherited, de Gea is the most important and United fans know this because they vote him Player of the Year every season.

They will be offering fervent prayers that de Gea puts off his wish to return to Spain for a few more years but if he does choose to go, it will still take a world record fee to prise him loose.

Certainly more than the £35m Pep Guardiola paid for Ederson last summer, a lot of money for a young goalkeeper but looking like a very sound investment.

I can’t underline how important it is to a manager and his team to have complete belief in the man between the sticks and the only way a goalkeeper can convince everyone he is right for the job is by doing it.

De Gea had to fight through general scepticism about his physique but has now reached a point where he is not just the last line of defence who can pull off the most astonishing saves imaginable. He’s the foundation of United’s defence.

Look what happened Guardiola’s team last season when he was messing around with his goalkeepers and insisting they play like defenders.

With Ederson providing a stable base, City have improved defensively and he is one of the reasons why Guardiola has been jumping around like a man possessed in recent days.

There is no happier moment for a manager than when he is watching players he has worked with become the living expression of his thoughts.

That’s why I would forgive Guardiola has recent excesses at the end of tight games won because he is seeing his football vision on a pitch in front of him and that is exhilarating for any manager.

He has created an environment at Manchester City which has removed the brittleness which has played a big part in the club’s rags to riches story.

He has achieved that in a relatively short space of time by encouraging players to be brave and has been rewarded recently with some very late goals against teams ‘parking the bus’ and I can understand why he was so excited.

Everything is magnified when you are under intense pressure to deliver and I understand that Guardiola’s mind is fizzing at the end of a game like that.

But I’d prefer he toned it down a bit and I think most football fans want to see managers in control at all times. The odd show of passion is fine but there’s a line which should not be crossed and Jurgen Klopp has been living on the wrong side of it all season.

That’s why his smiling image has been replaced by something a lot less wholesome of late.

I’m always fascinated by the speed these things can change. Mauricio Pochettino was the top man just a few weeks back until Spurs form slumped and people began to question his decision to publish a ‘warts and all’ review of last season.

To be fair, Klopp’s reputation as a loveable German eccentric is hard to square with the bug-eyed character who was fist-pumping in front of Chris Hughton at the weekend.

I will concede that Klopp’s wildly enthusiastic behaviour on the touchline in recent weeks is rooted in his passion for the game and contains nothing malicious.

But Hughton is one of the game’s few remaining gentlemen and also a tough, determined competitor.

The sight of Klopp abandoning all sense of decorum as each hammer blow goal hit the back of the Brighton net would have stung him on both counts.

I’m not even sure Klopp has any justification for his wild, almost out of control, behaviour.

I don’t agree with his assertion that Liverpool’s form in the last two games against Southampton and Brighton is evidence that his team is developing and now knows how to deal with clubs which don’t co-operate with his attacking style and pull everyone back into defence.

Put it this way, Liverpool must get a point tonight to be certain of making it into the knock-out phase of the Champions League and they find themselves in that position after giving up three goals to a beaten Sevilla team just a few weeks ago.

Leading 3-0 at half-time, Liverpool collapsed at the back, the same issue which displayed itself in a memorable 4-3 defeat away to Bournemouth last season.

Run a finger down Klopp’s list of Liverpool games and you’ll find many more like that.

In other words, Liverpool’s problem was never about breaking down teams that ‘park the bus’.

Klopp has more than enough firepower to break down any team.

No, it was and is about conceding stupid goals to all teams, good, bad and indifferent, through woeful defending.

There is no evidence that he has found a solution for this and there is plenty from the Sevilla game to suggest the opposite.

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