Tragedy and Comedy

I’m trying hard not to get too excited about the appointment of Jürgen Klopp as Liverpool manager. It’s not been easy though – part of me just wants to jump around punching the air. The main reason I didn’t do that when the news was finally confirmed is that I’ve seen too many false dawns. I’m also a bit unhappy with the timing of Rodgers’ dismissal – that’s the tragedy referred to in this post’s title. A tragedy for Rodgers, at least. Why let him spend big in the summer, only to jettison him eight games into the season?

A lot has been made of Liverpool’s ‘transfer committee’, but Rodgers was part of it, and it’s hard to believe he didn’t play a major part in this summer’s signings. He wasn’t given enough time to tell whether they would make the difference this season, though on the basis of the performances so far, the jury is still out. Those performances, though, are what ultimately led to his demise. There have been some encouraging signs recently, at least going forward, but since the home defeat to West Ham, the defence has looked shaky. Can Klopp turn this around? One important factor could be Klopp’s pulling power – I think players are far more likely to want to play for Liverpool under Klopp than for Rodgers. I’d love to see Mats Hummels at Anfield, but Klopp has said he’s not looking to sign any Dortmund players.

My main source of concern is the similarity between what happened at Liverpool after Suarez left, and what happened at Dortmund after Lewandowski moved to Bayern. The parallels are striking – both teams had finished runners-up in the league before losing their star striker in the summer. Both teams bought questionable replacements – Balotelli at Liverpool, Immobile at Dortmund – who failed to deliver (though Immobile managed 10 goals in 34 appearances compared to Balotelli’s miserable return of 4 goals in 28 games). Both teams failed to qualify for the Champions League, Liverpool finishing in 6th place, Dortmund in 7th.

My big hope is that Klopp can instil the kind of energy and belief in the players that were the hallmark of his Dortmund team – at least up until last season. I remember watching Dortmund in their 2011-2012 Champions League campaign, and being impressed with the way they fought to the end of every match. I also remember thinking they looked a little naive – something they dealt with in 2012-2013, when they reached the final. This year, regardless of which team Liverpool have put out, there’s been a lack of urgency, and it’s often looked like there was something missing. In theory, there’s not a lot of difference between Rodgers and Klopp in terms of footballing philosophy. They both like a high-tempo pressing game – the problem with Liverpool so far this season is that they haven’t been able to put it into practice.

Klopp spoke about turning the players from ‘doubters’ to ‘believers’ right at the beginning of his inaugural press conference, so it’s clear this is a priority for him. He also spoke about enjoying his work – something I’m not sure has been true for Rodgers lately. Of course, the comedy part of this post’s title refers to Klopp’s charisma, and the fact that a smile is rarely far from his face. His joke about being ‘the normal one’ when asked about Mourinho underlines one area where he won’t struggle to out-perform Rodgers, some of whose post-match conferences bordered on being outlandish. My favourite line from the press conference, though, was this: ”It’s not so important what people think when you come in, it’s much more important what people think when you leave”. I wonder what Brendan Rodgers feels about that.

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