Does the man make the club or does the team make the man?
“I am the normal one.” The statement enforced the image Jurgen Klopp has wanted the world to see of him since the day he took over at the Westfalenstadion: modest, honest, ideal and somewhat an underdog. It also had the Liverpool faithful at the edge of their seat, smiling wryly. They have secured the services of the most sought-after coach in world football – a man who can kick start the dying legacy of a great old club living on its past glory into new-world success. The small and precise declaration convinced the world that Klopp would change the Kop’s fortunes with his own method of robust passion, determined grit and subtle technicalities. It seems there is not much flair; there is more substance than there is style. These images proclaimed by Jurgen Klopp in his very first press conference has made the world take notice and convince itself that the man and his manners will make the club. But will he be able to do it all on his own? Can he do it all?
For Klopp to make an impact, it is imperative that he must have an atmosphere that allows him to work his magic. The Yellow Wall, no matter how packed it is, gave enough space and time for Klopp to read the situation, build a team that would suit his style of play and then deliver the results. The Kop will not allow that time. There is certainly no space. Liverpool is no Borussia Dortmund in the sense that the latter did not consider itself to be a great club that was long overdue silverware simply because they had been ‘there’ in the past. The Reds have placed upon him expectations that would be fair with Alan Hansen, Phil Neal, Ian Rush, Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and even Luis Suarez in the side; not Mignolet, Sakho, Moreno, Ings and Ibe. Whatever he may be, Klopp is not Harry Potter.
Of course he can buy players with tenfold the budget he had in Germany, but can he really poach the guys at Dortmund without cursing himself for not having reserved the choicest of words for Bayern when they snapped up Gotze and Lewandowski? Other players might not be ready to commit to the daunting aspect of the combination of the pace of the Premier League and Klopp’s exhaustive tactics.
It is going to be difficult even for a man like Klopp who thrives on getting the best out of his players – that is what he did at Dortmund - because he doesn’t have a Reus, Gundogan, Kagawa, Gotze and certainly no Hummels and Lewandowski(who were made by the trainer therefore were ready to die for him) in England. They were forced to train everyday like military dogs and the culture in England doesn’t allow coaches to do that. The egos of the players are bigger than the interest of the team and if a player doesn’t want to train, it is only at Chelsea under Mourinho that he will be benched. Players in England, especially English players who make the bulk of the Liverpool squad, are pampered and over-hyped to no end. They are overpriced, overpaid and overrated. Klopp though will certainly bring his ideologies to the club, but he will be going against the system and only Mourinho and Sir Alex were able to successfully do that while keeping their jobs.
The players who played at their own leisure under Brendan Rodgers might not be willing to accept or may fail to adapt toKlopp’s high pressing, intense, energetic football. It will surely drain the life out of the players over an entire season especially in England where every match is supposed to be a top match and every opponent a credible one. Klopp’sDortmund could keep it relatively easy on every match day except 2 in the season, against Bayern Munich where they had to be at their mental and physical peak to come out victorious. Here, in England, Liverpool will have to do that against at least 6-7 teams. They have to contend not only with the likes of United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal but their current position in the table means the games against West Ham, Leicester and even the likes of Crystal Palace and Southampton will be big affairs. It is another matter that the Bayern team was better than most ‘top’ Premier League teams combined, but the amount of games where the team has to be hundred percent increases manifold.
Add to that, again, the unrealistic expectations piled up by the Liverpool board (which highlights the fact that Americans don’t really know a lot about football) of success in Europe will mean almost every match day will be tense and intense and again, many of his players might not be able to commit toKlopp’s tactics. Klopp, too, will certainly not relent and go easy for his nature will not allow him to allow the situation to be in the driving seat. He will want Liverpool to play like Dortmund – whose one good season in Europe clouded the very obvious shortcomings of the side in the rest of the seven. The ‘heavy metal’ football certainly does not permit a side to go after two or three trophies a season. The one season where Dortmund got to the final of the Champions League, they finished a mammoth 20 points behind Bayern in the league and crashed out in the quarter final of the cup. That Liverpool has to play four competitions doesn’t ease the difficulties, without doubt.
Of course, Klopp will most probably be successful in imbibing his philosophy into the club, but one only has to glance at Dortmund in the latter half of his spell in the Ruhr Valley to realize the kind of breakdown a club can have after years of ‘Jurgen’ football. The jaded nature of their previously beautiful play meant they finished a bucket load of points behind Bayern in the league and invariably crashed out of the cup and Champions League in the later stages. Marco Reus was perpetually injured as were Hummels, Subotic,Schmelzer, Bender, Piszczek and Blaszczykowski. Gundoganhad a career threatening injury that kept him out for more than a year whereas the likes of Gotze, Lewandowski and Kagawa leapt at the first opportunity to get away from the hard-hitting training without having to create a scene at the training ground. If Liverpool starts losing the few good players that they have, Klopp will be in trouble.
These difficulties will surely have been considered by the hierarchy, but it is clear that the considerations have taken a back seat to the typical English mentality: an image has to be proclaimed that can draw the attention of the world. The more intrinsic effect of the image takes second place. Rodgers was not getting results; sack him instead of looking at the players and the overall transfer policy; go and get one of the best managers available because it guarantees whistles and cheers, not success and stability.
Well, Klopp will certainly at least win a couple of trophies, but the question is: can Liverpool afford just a hint of silverware in the immediate seasons and suffer a full breakdown in the bigger picture? Wouldn’t Liverpool be better off with someone like Carlo Ancelotti who works with an existent philosophy, tweaking and twisting it into his own method slowly and steadily – a method that has guaranteed success in Italy, Spain, Europe and even England itself? What is Liverpool’s need? Is it needing to shape the ingredients according to the mould OR is it trying to change the shape of the mould itself – which is what Klopp will lean towards? Add to that the fact that Klopp was just months into his ‘vacation break’ also puts more problems into the mix. He hasn’t had the time to rework his tactics and strategy that would be helpful for other clubs. His intention of leaving Dortmund to freshen up his mind would not have even be accomplished in the first place; he even himself admitted to it. Pep Guardiola had more than a year to rejuvenate himself and he still hasn’t found his Barcelona magic at Bayern.
Amidst Liverpool’s haphazardness, one also has to questionKlopp’s thinking. Could he have waited for the season to complete itself before signing a contract? He would certainly have had more time to assess his position and which club would be best for him. There are for sure many clubs with better squads than Liverpool who have shown a sign of needing or accepting the need for having a change at the helm at the end of the season. No matter how good Klopp is, he will need the best team he can get to reach newer highs.
His good work in Germany was complemented by the team he had at his disposal, which was, at the time, the best, youngest and most dynamic in the Bundesliga. Bayern with a deplorable Robben and the likes of Tymoschuk, Rafinha, LuizGustavo and Ivica Olic in the starting line up were certainly many paces behind the likes of Reus, Gundogan, Hummels,Gotze, Kagawa and Lewandowski. It was after the said TEAM disintegrated and Bayern started spending the finances at their disposal that Dortmund started going downhill. The players who swore by Klopp were replaced by players completely new to his style and commitment levels and he had not even half the results he had when he had the best players in his squad.
No doubt Klopp wants to experience the joy of building a team from scratch again but how long can he do the same thing without burning himself out over and over again? A trainer like Klopp deserves to have a readymade squad when he enters a ground for the first time; only then will his commitment have meaning, only then will his troubles have logic and only then will his efforts have results. He should have waited to see whether Pep extends his contract at Bayern or whether he signs a new one with City; or whether he extends a contract with Bayern and City still goes ahead and fires Pellegirini; or whether Dictator Perez shows patience with Rafa Benitez. Enrique’s situation at Barcelona, Allegri’sat Juventus, Van Gaal’s at United or even Mourinho’s at Chelsea would have been interesting for him. Wenger’s recent comments also hints to the fact that he may FINALLY be ready to hang up his boots. These clubs with the players they have will have certainly made more sense for Klopp; they would have been a perfect match in terms of results; not only in terms of image.
“I am the normal one.” The statement has enforced the image Liverpool wants the world to see in its match with Klopp. It has increased expectations and Liverpool is being seen as a changed club within days of the appointment. But only time will tell whether Klopp and his players can work under the increased burden of expectations they were never subject to – Klopp not in Germany and the team not under Rodgers. Only time will tell whether the trainer and the club were ‘made for each other’ or just ‘made’ to look such by the situation and timing of the connection. There are only two entities who can say at the end of it all whether it was a ‘perfect marriage’ where they built an atmosphere that bred success or whether it was a ‘crazy romance’ where both were left drained, impulsive, feeling abstract and gasping for breath. But it is clear that when Klopp leaves Anfield, the number of trophies added to the illustrious cabinet and the number of current players playing elsewhere will go further in answering the eternal question: does the man make the club or does the team make the man?
# Anirudh Balkrishna is a young football buff