Friday 6 December 2019

COMMENT - Jurgen Klopp has four separate groups of Liverpool fans to please... and that may not be possible

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

Simon Hughes

When Jürgen Klopp became Liverpool’s manager, he spoke about turning the doubters into believers, asking fans inside Anfield to stay right until the end rather than choosing to make an early dart. He spoke too about feeling lonely on the touchline during these moments: his despondency at seeing the stands beginning to clear before a result was settled.

Four minutes of injury time were signalled at the end of the second half on Saturday. Liverpool had not long scored through Divock Origi and though it remained 2-1 to Wolverhampton Wanderers, placed 18th in the Championship, you would think Liverpool had every chance of recovery. Had Klopp chosen to look behind his dugout, however, he would have seen lines of glum faces, chins nuzzled into breasts; people filing their way to the exit gates.

Perhaps some of the doubters who turned into believers have returned to being doubters again. Klopp did not choose this moment to ask for help. He could understand why decisions were made.

“I’m not worried, I cannot be new every day and I cannot say the same thing. But I would I have left. It was a bad game,” he said. “It is not that I think that people have to stay and accept everything. It was not good enough. It was a deserved win for Wolverhampton.”

Liverpool have played three games at home in a row and lost them all. Should Chelsea turn up at Anfield and inflict a fourth defeat on Tuesday night, it will represent Liverpool’s worst run at Anfield since Newcastle United - like Aston Villa, Sheffield United and Cardiff City before them - went there and won on Christmas Day 1923, despite the presence in goal of the great Elisha Scott.

To try and stop the prospect of that happening, Liverpool have laid on a private jet to bring Sadio Mané back from the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon after Senegal’s exit on penalties to Cameroon and he might be named on the substitutes’ bench.

Before that decision was made, it was put to Klopp that Liverpool are now in a crisis situation. Because of exits in the domestic cup competitions and with no European interest, Liverpool will play only six games between now and the start of April. Victory would put them seven points behind Chelsea. Defeat would stretch Chelsea’s lead to 13, leaving Liverpool with the sole target of Champions League qualification.

“I don’t think this is the right time to talk about the whole season,” he responded. “It is enough just to think about this game. I can’t have an influence on what people think. I know it is a few weeks since we don’t fly anymore. Everybody is reminded of difficult times in the past. You, all the people around – that is how it is. Who dreamt that it was going to be always like it was against Hull (when Liverpool won 5-1)? It’s a difficult situation. This is still a very good squad, even when everyone is thinking “Oh my God!” I am still quite a good manager, even though we have lost the last three games. That doesn’t change. The mood around? That has changed. This is football and we can change it [again]. The only good thing about this game is that it is over.”

Nestled amongst those quotes, Klopp used that line for a second time, the one about not being “new every day.” It must surely reflect that he thinks his novelty has worn off after 18 months in charge. His response to a different question, one related to touchline loneliness, was also telling.

“It is a little bit of your responsibility if you want – the people are saying a few things here, a few things on social media, a few things in the press,” Klopp said. “Some will have not seen the game and only seen the result. I don’t know exactly what they can think.”

Maybe this illustrates Klopp is beginning to understand that Liverpool’s fanbase is more separated than anybody at Fenway Sports Group would like to advertise, that it is not anymore simply one living and breathing organism. Let’s have it right, there are four sets of Liverpool supporters with different mindsets that Klopp must appease. The first are the Anfield regulars, from Merseyside or not, who understand Liverpool best but are worn down by its failures. You have the day-tripping consumers that head to areas of the ground like the ‘Fan Zone’ and, perhaps, have eaten too much pizza and chicken before games to expend energy in creating the atmosphere Klopp dreams of. You have the corporates, the Club Wembley types, who leave behind rows of empty red seats at half time. And then you have the ones who are not even there: those who follow games through platforms like Twitter and want their voices heard, reacting instantly to everything: good or bad.

For Klopp and Liverpool, Saturday was a bad day. Goals from Richard Stearman and Andreas Weimann had secured Wolves’ passage to the fifth round but the most credit must go to Paul Lambert, who maintains his record of never having lost at Anfield as a player or a manager. He knows Klopp well having played for Borussia Dortmund before going back there to study coaching methods when Klopp was in charge.

“He had an incredible time at Dortmund when he built the club up and got it going again and this is maybe his first spell where he has had to ride the storm,” Lambert said of Klopp. “It will make him stronger and it will make him bigger and better. He is a top guy and a top manager and I think it is just a blip they are going through.”

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