Comment - Jurgen Klopp is infuriating his rivals...but the devotion of Liverpool fans to their Messiah is his trump card
Criticism of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp tends to inspire a united outpouring of venom from his devoted disciples and this curious phenomenon was in evidence once again as his touchline ‘enthusiasm’ infuriated his latest opponent on Saturday.
Even though Klopp has failed to win a trophy in his two years at a club that used to gauge their success on league titles and European Cup wins, the devotion to the club’s current manager and everything he stands for is unshakable among a majority of the club’s followers.
Even though the facts confirm that despite their recent upturn in results and wonderfully entertaining performances, Liverpool have two fewer points than they had at the same stage of last season. Indeed, even after their thrilling 5-1 win at Brighton on Saturday, they have scored four less goals than they had managed at this point of last season.
Despite those statistics, there has clearly been some progress since Klopp assumed control of a team that had lost its way under his predecessor Brendan Rodgers and yet no Liverpool supporter should be satisfied to find their great club 14 points behind the Premier League leaders 15 games into the season.
Expectations have inevitably slipped for a club that were serial winners in the 1970s and 1980s and the diluted ambition of fans - many of whom will not remember the club’s last English league title win in 1990 - has helped Klopp during his time at the helm.
Evidence of Klopp’s ‘success’ is quantified among his disciples by Liverpool’s appearance in this season’s Champions League, but that should be expected rather than celebrated by supporters of a club who rightfully revel in their club’s five successes in Europe’s elite competition.
Yet as Liverpool legend Graeme Souness suggested to me in an interview earlier this year, the club’s fans will not turn on Klopp as they appointed him as their Messiah long ago.
“Liverpool fans love everything about Klopp and that is why they will stick by him even if things go wrong,” Souness said. “He is a good fit for Liverpool. He is passionate, wears his heart on his sleeve and people in Liverpool like that.”
Souness highlighted a point that was emphasised this weekend, as Klopp clashed with his latest manager who took exception to his extravagance on the touchlines, with Brighton boss Chris Hughton refusing his offers of post-match cordiality following Liverpool's 5-1 win at the AMEX Stadium.
This is not the first time Klopp has been embroiled in this kind of storm. The Sevilla coaching staff were infuriated by Klopp’s ranting during their side’s Champions League draw in September (above), while Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino and West Bromwich Albion manager Alan Pardew are among those who have gone public in their criticism of the Liverpool boss and his eagerness to express himself during games.
When the mild-mannered Hughton showed his annoyance towards Klopp following a typically energetic touchline display on Saturday, Match of the Day pundit Ian Wright offered this view of the the German's mannerisms.
“The thing with Klopp, when you score four or five and the fist-pumping and the gurning kind of gets to you,” said Wright on Match of the Day on Saturday. “I’m sure there are other managers who feel the same way about him. He's doing people's heads in!"
Wright’s fellow BBC pundit Garth Crooks went further, as he defended his former Tottenham team-mate Hughton for taking exception to Klopp’s behavior.
“Losing 5-1 is no fun, especially when Reds manager Jurgen Klopp is fist-pumping every goal and celebrating with his staff like it's the final of the Champions League,” declared Crooks. “I understand the importance of winning, but this was Brighton.
“What I take exception to is any manager being kept waiting to shake hands once a game has finished, while his opposite number finishes hugging and kissing his players and staff in celebration of their victory. I sense this was exactly what happened after the final whistle, and why Chris Hughton tore a strip off Klopp immediately after the game and quite rightly.”
You could only smile at the outrage flowing from Liverpool fans, yet it highlighted conclusively their devotion to Klopp and emphasised why few have dared to question a manager who has, as yet, failed to deliver any tangible success to their club.
It's easy to smile as Klopp bounds around the touchline like a liberated toddler who has just been allowed to leave he naughty step, but imagine being the manager standing next to him as he celebrated the fifth goal of a 5-1 win as if it the strike that has secured victory in an FA Cup final.
It must be a little annoying, to put it mildly, yet blinkered Liverpool fans do not want to hear anything that comes close to criticism for their beloved manager.
Klopp is fortunate to be working at a club and for supporters who have placed so much unshakable faith in his talents and while most of us have no problem whatsoever with his touchline extravagances, we are not on the end of the arm waving and the screaming he insists upon applying to each and every decision during a game.
Depending on your standpoint, Klopp and Conte are either wonderfully colourful characters whose passion should be admired or annoying pests who rubs the noses of beaten rivals into the mud unnecessarily.
It was evident over the weekend that anyone daring to fall into the latter category will face the full wrath of vengeance from the good people of Merseyside.