By Dan Holmes
Jürgen Klopp is unlike any other football manager. We all had a reasonably clear idea of this before he took the job at Liverpool, and the way he has conducted himself since has only further confirmed it.
What is it, though, that makes him so captivating, so engaging and so able to make even post-match interviews – usually such facile affairs – seem worth watching? He is brutally, uncompromisingly honest, but it isn’t that. He is astute, erudite and knows how to shut down impertinent questions, but it isn’t that either.
He just ‘gets it’, that’s what it is. He knows what it is to be a fan. To kick every ball, fly into every challenge and protest every decision. You can see it on the touchline. If there is a manager on this earth better suited to Liverpool Football Club, then he has done a very effective job of concealing himself.
Nowhere has the German displayed this more than in his post-defeat interviews. These have been blissfully platitude-free zones. How easy – and arguably justified – it would be for him to blame his predecessor for the club’s woes. Not for Klopp, though, any of that. None of it. If a bad workman blames his tools, Jürgen Klopp picks up whatever tools he can find and, given time, pieces together something brilliant.
All of this brings us to two of his most telling post-match comments yet. Firstly, in the wretched wake of Liverpool’s dismal 2-0 surrender at the Boleyn Ground, he spoke of his side not giving one hundred per cent. A less cynical mind might suggest that he was accusing his players of mailing it in, thinking they could beat West Ham by virtue of having supposedly better players.
When your manager is Jürgen Klopp, chief advocate of the gegenpress, and he is accusing you of not giving it your all, the time has come to start worrying if you have what it takes to play for him. He doesn’t do complacency and he doesn’t believe in easy games. For all the tiresome, clichéd suggestions from the likes of Sam Allardyce that Klopp has underestimated the English game, he knows full well that nothing comes easy. Everyone wants to beat you and everyone will if you let them impose themselves.
The second comment that Klopp made that day was perhaps even more significant and made especially impactful by its simplicity: ‘it’s no day for being disappointed, it’s a day for being angry.’ That is why Jürgen Klopp ‘gets it’. Liverpool FC have done disappointment. They’ve done frustration. They’ve done unlucky. There’s nothing left, only anger. Klopp knows this. He feels it and he wants his players to feel it as well. But how angry were they? Angry enough to have it ruin their weekend and the entirety of the period until the next game, or just enough to look disappointed, sound disappointed and trudge off pulling a disappointed-looking face?
It is often asked if players ‘want it enough’ in reference to victory, but what about in defeat? Do they hate it enough?
Those players commonly described as ‘winners’ usually have one thing in common, they look absolutely awful in defeat. Think Terry’s tears in Moscow, Suarez’s at Selhurst Park or Ronaldo’s after, well, anything other than victory, and you will see that these players hate it enough.
How many of Liverpool’s players hate losing? As in really hate it? Losing is particularly hard to take when you usually win, but we don’t usually win. Not anymore. Perhaps therein lies the problem. Have some these players become too accustomed, even subconsciously, to defeat? Do they now regard it as a semi-regular inevitability that ‘comes with the territory’ of being a footballer?
Why do teams think they can come to Anfield and quite justifiably expect to come away with something? Well, because they can and often do. That should infuriate Liverpool’s players. It is something that must change and Klopp believes the fans can be integral to the process, hence his attempts to foster better relations between the two on match-days.
From the moment Klopp walked into the club, amidst the media and fan frenzy, it was pretty clear that all of Liverpool’s players were on trial. He has made it quite clear that he will have more time for the younger players than he will those who’ve have had one too many chances, but everybody has something to prove.
Apathetic defeats against anybody simply will not wash anymore. If they’re going to lose at all in Jurgen Klopp’s team, then they had better hate it and play like they hate it. Nothing else will do.
These are Liverpool players, and we don’t like them when they’re not angry.