Jurgen Klopp wants to put aside Liverpool’s history, and his new players will too
Briefly, Jurgen Klopp seemed to be channelling George Clooney’s character from Up In The Air.
“It’s not allowed to take the history in the backpack,” he said at his unveiling at Anfield last week.
They were wise words but Liverpool and history are inseparable. As a new chapter begins at White Hart Lane on Saturday, Liverpool may have historic reasons to wish the previous one had not quite ended. The sacked Brendan Rodgers’s results tailed off against others, but he won his last five games against Tottenham, scoring 18 goals.
Yet the excitement about Klopp’s appointment is not about statistics, impressive as his record at Borussia Dortmund is. It derives from a feeling, that the German is right for Liverpool and they for him, that he can regenerate slumbering giants with an oversized personality and an all-action alchemy.
His opening press conference, with its blend of honesty and humour, modesty and motivating statements, fuelled Merseyside’s newest craze, “Kloppmania”. By describing himself as “not a dreamer but a romantic”, he seemed to sum up the sentiments of a fan base with a pronounced sentimental streak.
It was the ideal introduction. Six days on came the rallying cry. Klopp has a gift for Churchillian rhetoric, a capacity to strive for solidarity and look to individuals to surpass anything they have done before.
“I want to see more bravery. I want to see fun in their eyes,” Klopp said on Thursday. “We have to open our chests, let’s run and fight, attack together and defend together. We need the braveness to make faults. This is the braveness you need in football.”
Bravery and fearlessness, fun and fight, collective endeavour and chest-baring bravado: it promises to be quite a concoction. With every sentence Klopp seems to elevate expectations, but Merseyside has its downbeat realists as well as its giddy optimists.
“I’ve met two types of people since coming,” Klopp grinned. “One says: ‘We’ll win the league’. The other says ‘What have you done?’ We need balance.” In the short-term, anyway, the latter argument has more cogency.
Liverpool’s squad is unbalanced, the legacy of Rodgers and the transfer committee. They have the manager, but not the side. Yet the teamsheet at White Hart Lane will be scrutinised, perhaps more than any at a Liverpool game since the 2005 Uefa Champions League final, for the first indications of who fits into his philosophy.
The squad contains too few fit survivors of the starting 11 that played high-speed counter-attacking football when they almost won the title 17 months ago under Rodgers.
Are those accustomed to a gentler pace ready to adopt Klopp’s exhausting ethos? Can the slowing Lucas Leiva play “full-throttle” football?
Will James Milner, the man who has run more miles than any other Premier League player this season, become the personification of “gegenpressing”? Can Rodgers’s 3-4-1-2 system be ripped up and seamlessly replaced by a Klopp-esque 4-2-3-1 with a squad that only contains one natural winger, in Jordon Ibe?
The probability is that it will take time and the German may sense more similarities with his two Bundesliga-winning Borussia Dortmund teams in the home side’s colours on Saturday. Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is a kindred spirit, a fellow believer in a pressing game played by youthful, hungry players.
If Klopp is to have an immediate impact, it may be the more product of force of personality, not tactical nous. If his buoyancy proves infectious, perhaps Liverpool will be sufficiently galvanised that they stop losing leads. If he calls Simon Mignolet a “great goalkeeper”, as he has, perhaps he will start to perform like one.
Because his new charges have been weighed down by history: not so much the quarter of a century Liverpool have endured without winning the league title, but their personal pasts, of a troubled 16 months when signings have struggled, individuals have regressed and the team has relapsed. Klopp’s arrival means they have a leader ready to carry the load, with a smile, a sound bite and a sense he can be the catalyst for change.
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Updated: October 15, 2015 04:00 AM