Opinion

Jurgen Klopp and the Modern Footballer

“I have often heard the theory that Shanks would not have been able to cope in an era when players earn £100,000 a week. I don’t agree. He knew how to handle footballers because it was in his blood”

Ian Callaghan’s words on the legendary man who built our club up from the ruin it had become is an intriguing insight in to the imposing Scot.  They are also relevant to our current manager, a man who is cut from the same cloth as the man from Glenbuck.

Watching Klopp in press conferences, interviews and on the touchline is fascinating for a number of reasons. He wears everything on his sleeve, and is a disarmingly honest character who even the most iron of cynics out there would struggle not to warm to.  Like Shankly he simply gets footballers and knows how to get them on side.

It is perhaps one of his most useful tools and has given him a great advantage in forging a career for himself at the very top of the game.

However, Jurgen Klopp’s knack of getting the most from his players runs a lot deeper than bear hugs and touchline eccentricity. Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of modern football coaching is being able to keep your players fighting and motivated.  You only need to cast a glance at the performance put in by United at The Amex last weekend to know it’s very easy for a bunch of talented players to down tools and show a lack of attitude and fighting spirit.

Grueling 

Once again we should take a moment to thank our lucky stars that the former Dortmund man came to our aide almost three years ago. Klopp is a manager with Liverpool in his lifeblood. His teams are the embodiment of his work ethic and he demands an awful lot from his playing staff.

Despite the grueling workload enforced on them, the players always respond in turn with wonderful commitment and graft. The win at Palace was a great example of the commitment Klopp has instilled in his players.

A tough, combative match at Selhurst Park on Monday saw Liverpool come under the cosh for significant periods. While the defense and keeper will take the lion’s share of praise, take a moment to look at the yards ran by Gini, Keita and Jimmy on the night. Their pressing work and defensive cover was vital, none of them relented. Klopp has instilled that kind of spirit in them; giving up and not showing the right level of commitment is simply not an option.

The Gini Myth

Gini is actually a really interesting example of just how effective Klopp is at getting his players in board. Others are more celebrated for their eagerness to run the lines, but Gini does just as much good work off the ball.

Despite his obvious ability, it’s become a common feature of any Liverpool game away from home. A casual soundbite thrown in by commentators to fill the air. Barely twenty minutes will go back until the Wijnaldum away goal stat is thrown out like a spasm of Tourettes.

It’s a sign of how crudely some interpret the game, that a players influence and ability can be swiftly assessed and dismissed by his goal tally. Gini offers so much more though, despite the fact he is yet to register an away goal in The Premier League. We’ll also just ignore his goal at Roma in a Champions League Semi-Final as well shall we?

In his Premier League career he has thrown in 121 tackles, 45 blocked shots and 79 interceptions. His work rate is always solid, even if he can appear to be at the periphery of our attacking play at times.

Even the most articulate Newcastle supporters were cautious in their assessment of Liverpool’s £25 million acquisition of Wijnaldum. Both of them said he was a bit of a liability and was Mr Anonymous when the game needed a match winner.  The consensus was, they had received good money for a luxury player.

It was with some wariness then that Liverpool fans watched the Dutchman’s Reds career unfold. However, Klopp did his work and within the space of a few weeks Gini was pressing, hounding and grafting with the best of them.

Any signs of a lack of willing or work rate have been hard to discern in his two years at the club, working with Klopp. The German simply will not contemplate signing anyone who won’t do the yards, or show the right level of commitment.

Making them fight

Klopp is an extraordinarily candid manager and he clearly likes to avoid over promising to young, impressionable players.  His meeting with Manchester City play maker Ilkay Gundogan, when he was Dortmund manager is very revealing.

The below testimony from Ilkay Gundogan, cited in Raphael Honigstein’s book Bring The Noise, is a fascinating incite to Klopp’s methods.

“It was very hush hush. I have to say I was a little intimidated by him at first — he was so tall. We talked for half an hour by ourselves and it was obvious to me that I wanted to go to Dortmund afterwards. He’s got this gift. He can totally captivate you. Dazzle you. Make you feel euphoric. I never met any other coach like him.”

“He asked me, ‘What would be your targets if you came to us?’. I said, ‘To play as often and well as possible’. ‘You see, that’s already your first mistake’, he said. ‘It’s not about playing often, but about making the most of your time on the pitch. I can’t promise that you’ll play often — that’s not possible. But I can promise that you’ll learn an incredible amount, and that we will be extremely successful if you all bring your potential to bear.”

“I remember that clearly. That was the first time in football that somebody didn’t promise me the stars, but was open and honest with me.”

This strikingly honest exchange is proof that Klopp is in touch with how modern footballer’s tick.  Despite the common misconceptions that they are all just greedy, mindless mercenaries following the biggest sack of cash, a lot of them genuinely want a manager who can improve their game and develop them on to the next level.  Klopp’s charisma obviously helps, but he has that rare knack of getting his players on board and switched on to his way of thinking.  The carrot he offers is wonderful coaching and guaranteed  improvement, if you are interested in more than that, chances are, you won’t be a klopp player.

Watching Liverpool play, you get a crystal clear image of a team playing for each other and their manager. The Palace game was just one in a long line of performances that demonstrated the desire and will to win in the camp.

It’s a stark contrast to United’s capitulation at The Amex when faced with a similarly plucky and difficult opponent. The body language, work rate and lack of fight should be of grave concern to their fans. As should Pogba’s post-match comments.

It’s the manager’s job to get his players showing the right fight and spirit. Klopp is able to work with a talented bunch of very well paid young men en-mass and get them to commit to this high pressing, full throttle approach.  In the hands of other, lesser man managers, they could easily have become sulky, sullen players, with their own emojis.

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