What happens when coaches don’t stick to the narrative?
Jurgen has lost it. Pep is either miserably insufferable or insufferably miserable. Mou is Mou. We like Dyche at the moment because he made a silly joke, which, now mentioned, lots of people didn’t like,so maybe not. Wilder is Northern and mildly frightening so we keep him at arms’ length. We like Dean Smith and Graham Potter, mainly because they are non-threatening and new. Roy we don’t mess with, mainly due to his elder statesman role. We laugh at Steve Bruce even though maybe we really shouldn’t. We like Carlo because he’s Carlo (huggable). We’re sceptical about Tuchel because he’s not Frank. We’re sceptical about Ole because he’s Ole and we’re sceptical about Mikel because he’s incredibly handsome.
We like our managers a certain way, or better put, we like to be a certain way around managers.
The problems arise when coaches no longer follow the narrative, and Klopp is currently one of those coaches.
Remember smiling Jurgen? Those shining pearls, essentially a by-word for friendliness. That laugh, a roar of joy in your face. Those fist pumping, chest beating moments, where, if for some unfortunate reason you weren’t a Liverpool fan and thus Klopp wasn’t your ‘O Captain! My Captain!’, you sure as hell wanted him to be. Well, now, his chest breathes a heavy vexation and his fists twist in deep perplexion. And if the 5live ‘live’ post match interview did one thing other than make you cringe, it clarified that Jurgen has ‘lost it’.
We want funny Jurgen. We care not that this man has given himself to coaching the way a monk does to silence. It is his craft. It is what defines him. Just as it does with Guardiola and Mourinho. If they are not successful coaches then what are they? (Mourinho might well be asking himself that already)
We care not that this Liverpool team has blown most others away for the past three seasons. That each season, they have built upon their previous achievements and refused to stand still, exchanging heavyweight blows with Man City in a manner not experienced since the Wenger and Fergie days of yore (two other managers we sometimes did and didn’t like.). That these managers have the incredulity to care so much about their jobs that sometimes they neither want to nor are capable of micro-analysing the failings of successes of their teams’ performance, is beyond the pale. That their overriding trait is that of a winner seems to be selectively lost at vital points by us all.
We also forget these men are all mental. Mental enough to learn Bavarian German before taking a new role and speaking in it in your first press conference. Mental enough to hide in laundry bins. Mental enough to take a team to Madrid and smash Real to pieces all whilst laughing maniacally on the touchline. Mental enough to lose out on the Premier League title by a single point and rather than crumble, fade or be asset stripped; win the European Cup and the title in the following seasons.
The mitigating factors affecting Liverpool’s ability to retain the title are clear to see, it’s just perhaps they are simply not controversial enough. And quite frankly, sympathy is in short supply for some reason. There’s a song by Morrissey (yes, I know, me too) called ‘We hate it when our friends become successful,’. A song so very, perfectly British. We loathe long-term success and are envious and suspicious of those who achieve it; waiting in the shadows for our moment to jump out and plunge the sharpened shiv of “Ahhhhhh told you so!” into the soft underbelly of those foolish enough to aim high.
This feels like a very British trait. To build them up only to knock them down. We are the voices in the crowd, baying to be told how the magic trick works, only we don’t get told because that’s not how magic tricks work; so rather than accepting, we wait after the show to accost the weary magician, sharpened shiv in hand…demanding answers. Perhaps it’s a long term hangover of the Empire. That looming aegis waved over our heads, those exotic trinkets to which we were, in equal measures, bewitched, amused and dubious.
Jurgen Klopp would desperately like to figure out what isn’t working for his team at the moment. You can literally see it etched across his face. Perhaps it’s the mandatory press conferences these guys are forced to give nowadays, all in some vague attempt to gloss over the very fact that for some, its entertainment. Entertainment to be washed down with some VAR controversy and a 606 chaser. Yet for others, for the very creators of the spectacle we witness, it is their life’s work. And perhaps it is the moral duty of the audience to acknowledge and respect that from time to time.
One wonders what the cumulative effect of prodding Michelangelo each day for an update on how things were progressing with the Sistine Chapel would have gone. Questions would surely have been raised of whether he was a real ‘painting’ man, whether he had the backing of the board, the furrowing of eyebrows over his choice of palettes. Has he spent his money wisely? Do they really need another ceiling painted? No recognition for previous achievements, no awe for the sheer scope of what this man set out to do.
Klopp is currently reliving the football equivalent of ‘You’ve missed a bit there Mike.’
In this heightened time of emotion, maybe those of us who are fortunate enough to bear witness to acts of greatness in the face of adversity should recognise that ‘greatness’ is a term often bestowed and rarely sought by those given that mantle, and that these are mere mortals driven by a desire to succeed in something they have devoted their lives to.