Debating Klopp’s FA Cup Controversy

A little over a week ago, Liverpool traveled to Shrewsbury’s humble home at Montgomery Waters Meadow for a routine FA Cup fixture. It was a game that many expected Liverpool to win, even more so when the starting XI was announced ahead of kick-off.

But despite racing into a 2 goal lead at the start of the second half, the Reds were pegged back by substitute Jason Cumming’s brace. Even though Klopp threw on Firmino and Salah to avoid a replay, with the latter missing a golden chance in the dying minutes to put the game to bed, the Shrews managed to secure an unforgettable draw.

In the post-match interview with liverpoolfc.com, Klopp was quick to congratulate Shrewsbury on what he felt was a ‘well deserved’ result. But focus was swiftly switched to the replay, which was set to take place during the Premier League’s winter break. That was where the controversy begun.

Stating that the club received a letter in April 2019 from the Premier League where they asked Liverpool ‘to respect the winter break’, Klopp confirmed that none of the senior members will be involved for the game. Instead, it’ll be ‘the kids’ that’ll be representing the Merseysiders at Anfield.

However, a bigger bombshell was about to be dropped. The German then went on to state he’ll also be away for the winter break. Instead, it’ll be U23s boss Neil Critchley that’ll be in charge of the game.

The immediate reaction from the fans, players, pundits, and media alike was explosive to say the least. Accrington Stanley owner called for heavy fines and censure to be imposed on Liverpool, adding that Premier League greed was ‘killing’ the competition.

Pundits also weighed in with their opinions, where they focused on Klopp’s decision to hand managerial responsibilities to Neil Critchley. Speaking to BT Sport, former United defender Rio Ferdinand understood the German’s decision to play the U23s but was nonetheless critical about him not taking charge of the game. His reasoning was that ‘the manager should be in the dugout for every game’ and ‘it doesn’t matter whether he’s putting out a depleted squad or not’.

Ex-Red turn pundit Jamie Carragher had a similar view too. Though he sided with Klopp by criticising the decision to schedule a replay during the winter break, he too felt that he should be managing the side. Not only will ‘his young players be delighted’, but the fact that a ‘picture of him in Ibiza’ holidaying wouldn’t look good on the cover of national newspapers.

Meanwhile, FA sources were left surprised and disappointed by Klopp’s suggestion that they were not respecting the winter break. After all, it’s believed that all Premier League clubs were briefed about the possibility of their winter breaks being interrupted by the replays. Considering the Champions League is set to resume shortly, the FA felt that there was no other choice but to schedule the replay during the winter break.

Through the slew of criticism aimed at Klopp’s direction, other managers have voiced their support for the Liverpool boss. Among the first was Shrewsbury manager Sam Ricketts who understood Liverpool’s position. He noted that his opponents ‘are fighting for the Premier League, fighting for the Champions League and at some point those players need a rest’.

Pep Guardiola has similarly backed his rival, stating that it’s ‘our job’ and not the media to be picking the teams. And although he had no comments regarding Klopp’s decision to sit out the replay, he conceded that he ‘know how difficult it is to take a decision sometimes’ given that his experience as a manager. Last but not least, former manager Brendan Rodgers defended his successor, brandishing the FA’s decision to schedule the replay during the break as ‘ridiculous’.

Likewise, Klopp’s charges have came out in support of their gaffer. In a talkSPORT interview, Andy Robertson insist that he and his teammates are behind Klopp with regards to the team selection plans. He rightly pointed out that ‘he’s made the best decision for the club’ hence the players’ decision to stand by their boss’ decision. It must also be noted that the Liverpool hierarchy has backed Klopp’s plan for the FA Cup replay.

So after listening to so many different opinions, what’s my take on the situation? Ultimately, this whole farce boils down to the FA and Premier League not working in tandem. It’s ridiculous for one party to decide on something, only for the other to overrule it. It left Klopp between a rock and a hard place, and a compromise had to be ultimately made however distasteful it was.

In a long response during the pre-match conference for the West Ham game, Klopp pointed out that ‘no sports-responsible people were there’ when the agreement was made to schedule the replays during the winter break. This further highlight the FA ineptitude, where they failed to discuss with the relevant parties involved in such games.

On his stance to sit out the replay, Klopp was quick to emphasise that it has nothing to do with him being ‘a revolution guy who wants to show the world how strong I can be or whatever’. Rather it’s his responsibilities to his players, where he has to make a decision for the whole group, coaches included, to observe the mid-season break. Otherwise, ‘nothing will change’ and the importance of the break will eventually dissipate. As a footnote, he mentioned that the U23s ‘need their coach and that’s Critch’ hence the decision to hand over managerial responsibilities to the U23 boss.

So how does one ensure that such a situation is avoided in the future? Like many of his peers, Klopp called for replays to be scrapped. While he understands the financial implications of that decision, Shrewsbury are in line to earn a further £180,000 were they to win the replay, he felt that replays are not the way forward. This is despite him reminding everyone that most of his life he has ‘worked and played for lower-league teams’.

Using Oxford as an example where they’ll be playing nine games in February, the gaffer again called attention to the ridiculous amount of games English teams, not just Premier League ones, had to play. He proceeded to suggest a penalty shootout where lower league teams still have a decent, if not better, shot at progressing.

On the other hand, BBC Sport pundit Gary Lineker called for the League Cup to be scrapped and to start FA Cup fixtures earlier. He then went on to suggest giving lower league sides the choice to play home or away, whereby an away game will be able to generate more ticket revenues and hence a bigger payday.

In conclusion, I feel that a stand has to be made and Klopp has made his. Though the initial handling of the situation could’ve been better, most fans would agree that it’s the correct one made. For far too long the health and fitness and players have been disregarded for the sake of financial gains, and it’s time to put a stop to it. And with Liverpool closing in on the Holy Grail, I’ll bet that 99 out of a 100 fans will gladly forsake the FA Cup for the league title.

Unfortunately, there’s no indication that the FA will scrap replays and this debate will inevitably resurface next season. But by making such a strong stand, Liverpool are taking a step in the right direction for, hopefully, more positive changes within the game.

Chin Yu Xun

Childhood fan from Singapore. Happy to connect with Reds all around the world.

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