Tuesday 16 January 2018

James Lawton: Jurgen Klopp can show that money isn't everything

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
James Lawton

James Lawton

Amid all the bluster and the extreme examples of ruthlessly displayed wealth, one question refuses to retreat before the swagger of Jose Mourinho and the cult-like reverence for Pep Guardiola.

Quite simply it goes like this: could it happen again? Not, surely, under the avalanche of money that has been the response of Manchester United and Manchester City, in particular, to the astounding triumph of Claudio Ranieri's Leicester City.

Yet at the dawn of the new season, when the elite have never before displayed such a desperate need to spend their way to success, we are entitled to hope.

That, after all, was the gift of Ranieri and his superbly united team and, who knows, the old Italian sentimentalist may just have inspired another fierce reaction to the idea that, give or take the odd eruption of defiance, absolute wealth can create in the hands of megastar coaches like Mourinho and Guardiola absolute power.

And so what is it we are hoping for? It is something magical, of course; something that takes us back to the meaning of the game which has held for so long the attention of the world.

It is a reminder that even in the football of today, when Paul Pogba's agent can earn €20m for himself in a single deal, money does not necessarily have to be the final arbiter of success and failure.

Maybe if you are United or City or Chelsea you can make offers that are impossible to refuse, perhaps you can wield your wealth in every situation - but there are other forces and they are to do with inspiring talented sportsmen to produce the best of themselves, qualities that previously they were unsure they possessed.

Claudio Ranieri's Leicester won the Premier League title by 10 points last season

Ranieri did that last season and, who knows, he might be on the point of conjuring something similar once more.

Jurgen Klopp did it for a few years back in Germany and he, too, might also be close to producing again an astonishing rapport with the troops he cajoles and berates and hugs as though they are so many beloved, if sometimes exasperating, sons.

We will know better on Sunday when Liverpool visit Arsenal, perennially frustrating guardians of Arsene Wenger's notion that a superior way of playing will ultimately produce superior results.

There is, though, a compelling reason to believe that of all the contenders for a serious challenge to the re-exerted financial might of United and City, Klopp may just have had the time and the encouragement at Liverpool to make a major impact.

Sadio Mane grabbed his first Liverpool goal in their Wembley friendly against Barcelona
Pool striker Sadio Mane

His transfer financial balance is at a mere €15m - the cost of some passably competent defender from Serbia or Bulgaria - and his signings, apart from €30m Sadio Mane, are plainly aimed at stiffening the fibre rather than the star quality of his squad.

Klopp invests more than workaday passion into his teams. Plainly, he also donates quite a bit of himself.

He re-stated his essential motivation with some considerable force this week, declaring: "What we have done is give the guys a foundation to have freedom with their skills.

"We have no influence on their skills. . . a little in their potential maybe. You take a player who you know is good in many things and you bring him from this level to another higher one.

"I love this with the job because you can work together and all become better. You need to give yourself the ability to surprise yourself by being the best you can be, then doing anything you can imagine. Football is the perfect playground to show this.

"I would like it after this new season if we can sit back and think, 'my god, how amazing'."

It would not, of course, be a historically unique sensation at Anfield. Anyone who saw Steven Gerrard wearing his Champions League medal when dawn came to Istanbul 11 years ago will not easily forget this, but that was not quite the kind of achievement Klopp has in mind.

It came from a stunning set of circumstances - and not least the killing hubris of Liverpool's Milan opponents.

Liverpool found a surge of belief, a flash of opportunity in the Turkish hills, but they didn't take it to the stadium, not when Milan strolled to a 3-0 lead and could be heard celebrating loudly down the corridor at half-time.

Dortmund's fans pay tribute to Klopp
Klopp was adored at Dortmund

What Klopp envisages is that kind of sustained self-belief displayed by his Dortmund team which for two seasons dismayed Bayern Munich.

In the end, before Klopp made his tearful departure from Dortmund, as he had Mainz, one of Bayern's reactions was to buy some of Klopp's best players.

The facility of that kind of wealth is now in the service of Klopp's rivals Guardiola and Mourinho but it is not always so easily marshalled - as the Special One discovered so catastrophically last season at Chelsea, and Guardiola found in the Champions League.

Thus it is not unreasonable to anticipate that Klopp will be just one of the coaches so eager to prove that there is more to winning today than simply nominating the most gifted players and getting someone to write the cheques.

At Tottenham, Mauricio Pochettino operated for most of last season brilliantly at the heels of Ranieri and now he claims to be stronger at places broken in that late collapse.

Ronald Koeman takes a deeply impressive aura to Everton. He is another coach who knows the difference between a flashy reputation and the potential for the highest professionalism.

And then, of course, there is another extraordinary Italian, the ultimately driven Antonio Conte.

He re-made a juggernaut at Juventus with three straight Serie A titles and restored Italy to the status of a serious national team in the recent European Championship. His credo is as relentless as it is passionate.

"The football life," he said, "passes quickly enough. It is something I learned as a player and something I try to pass on each day I go my work.

"Money is important in life, of course, but it is not the only thing. If your vocation is to play football, money can never be enough.

"I hope that this is evident in the play of Chelsea this season."

It is something we have heard before, of course, but perhaps not with the same kind of resonance, the same requirement for true and uncomplicated evidence of value for money.

After all the dealing, football has maybe never been under such pressure to show it is worth all the trouble and all the cost.

Irish Independent

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