Saturday, December 26, 2015

That's Not How Football Works!



Like any Liverpool fan, I was elated by the appointment of Jürgen Klopp as manager in early October. Having been a longtime fan of the Bundesliga, and of Klopp's Borussia Dortmund team, I was giddy with anticipation. And while the style of football has already begun to live up to high expectations, the real treat has been listening to the man discuss his philosophy as a manager.

I've seen exquisitely talented players, exciting teams, and thrilling games as an LFC fan. The current signs of renewal at pitch level, while certainly welcome, isn't completely novel. What has been a delightful surprise is the way he's dealt with the typical breathless and brainless manner of the English media — their ubiquitous tropes, their fatuous clichés, their shallow obsession with titillating gossip, their self-serving narratives with unwarranted sweeping conclusions, and, of course, their relentless, frenetic hype.

In this extended interview with Sky Sports, we have almost a "greatest hits" compilation of the themes he's been expressing since his arrival. In vain, he once again tries to make clear that superstar players do not appear, fully developed, from a vacuum — they are made through training, management, and above all else, time and patience. Football, like life itself, he keeps reiterating, is mostly about hard work with a little bit of luck, but journalists, like impatient children, want something more glorious and glamorous. The press desperately wants to hear stories of superstar players being bought for ridiculous prices, but he keeps reminding them that today's superstars were yesterday's squad players struggling for playing time (while being dismissed by an attention-deficient media as expensive flops or has-beens). In response to a generic question about what would constitute a success for Liverpool this season, Klopp reminds him that even successes, such as Liverpool winning the Carling Cup in 2012, are treated with bored indifference (whereas an early exit from the tournament would have been gleefully pounced upon). Arsenal have won the FA Cup for two years straight, but, as he points out, the dominant media narrative is to scorn them as perennial failures for not having won the league in over ten years. Nothing is ever good enough by these standards, and the only thing that seems to matter to journalists and fans alike is affecting a smug, knowing, jaded posture — "Oh, isn't it all just so obvious."

"Why should the world be like this?" Klopp asks this about the callous disregard the media have for players who have — in their eyes — outlived their novelty or usefulness. When you demand that I should buy these four players who will supposedly help me win the league for sure, he says, you're overlooking that four other players will lose their jobs as a result. What happens to them? Do we care? Do we blithely assume that they will do fine somewhere else, in some faraway league we're not interested in, where all the losers and second-rate players go? Do we secretly resent all of them anyway for being young, beautiful, rich athletes and take a small measure of delighted revenge upon them by gloating over their fall from grace? What a petty, sad way of going about "enjoying" your favorite game. Why should the world be like this? Klopp is far too savvy to ask this out of innocence; it comes from his self-assurance. What matters most, he dares to say, is treating people like human beings and having fun without concern for what others will say about it. The fact that this is absolutely heretical to a class of noxious, superficial people who care about nothing but money, status and gossip makes it all the sweeter.

I had always daydreamed about a manager who could win big games and titles for LFC, of course. But a manager who could puncture the fraudulent bubble economy of media self-worth by speaking plain common-sense truth? I never imagined such a thing was possible, so much so that I didn't even know I wanted it until I saw it happening.