Saturday 17 March 2018

COMMENT - Why Jurgen Klopp was right to argue with the Liverpool fan in the blue jacket

Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp

Ian Herbert

The story of Jürgen Klopp and the supporter in the blue jacket tells us something significant.

It belonged to the first half of the 1-1 draw with Chelsea when a ball had been sent back towards goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. A groan sounded from the section of seating behind the manager, who returned the sentiment with interest.

Klopp joked about it afterwards. “Blue jacket! Maybe that explains a lot!” But in the heat of the moment he had the argument because everywhere the manager looks he sees an impatience and he considers that to be self-destructive. In part, it was borne of the side exceeding expectations last autumn. “Nerve” and “cool” are the vocabulary he has come back to more than any in the past few difficult weeks.

"It was only one guy, by the way, that I made eye contact with,” Klopp said of the argument. “I said: ‘Keep your nerve, please. It's still football.’ I have no problem with emotion. I have much more emotions than I should have. But it's in this moment (I think), 'What do you want?'"

Taking supporters on carries risks at any club and Liverpool more than most, because the emotion borne of a 27-year wait for a 19th title engenders an atmosphere perhaps unique in Premier League football – for those who remember what winning a championship felt like, at least.

"I don't just think about winning the League once a day, but sometimes as many as half a dozen times in an afternoon," Jamie Carragher once said, describing the absence as "a void - a gaping, lingering hole.” He and Steven Gerrard would subconsciously curse the questions about the title which would whip up every time the club’s autumn was half decent. It has been there, like a proverbial ball and chain for so long, ready to drag everyone down.

That accomplishment is perhaps two seasons away. The construction of a side capable of winning the league is well under way but Klopp’s defence is not robust enough, the quality of players sitting on the bench are not in the same bracket as those of Chelsea or Manchester City. (Sadio Mane’s return was akin to a papal visit, shrewd though the investment in him has been.)  The title will come when Liverpool are not consumed and twisted into knots by it; when they are liberated, as they were two seasons ago, and, dare it be said, when they are enjoying themselves.

Though supporters in the city are shrewd, they do not always know best and there are times when a manager needs not be cowed by them. This is the 40th anniversary of their first European Cup win, against Borussia Monchengladbach in Rome at the end of a season which was arguably the club’s all-time high point and the manager in those days, Bob Paisley, certainly knew there was a time to tell fans how it was, too.

He was booed, on one occasion in March 1982, for substituting popular Craig Johnston in a league game against Sunderland.  The team had played in eastern Europe midweek and were doing what they often did following such journeys – operating at a lower tempo as they got the rigours of the trip out of their system. Highly charged Johnston was ruining the rhythm. “That would be too intelligent for a few yobbos in the crowd to understand,” Paisley said publicly that day. Liverpool, needless to say, won the game and the league.

There has been a mixed approach by managers in recent years. Brendan Rodgers tried too hard to be Mr Popular at times, while Roy Hodgson was simply out of sync. Klopp is displaying a willingness to take supporters on that is right if it means this entire exercise might even be fun. “As long as the club keeps the nerve, the kind of power we can generate is outstanding,” Klopp said late on Tuesday night. “Stay cool and let’s see what fun we can have at Liverpool. Let’s go for it. Let’s see where it ends.”

Independent News Service

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