News to some, Jürgen Klopp is not, primarily, a stand-up comedian. First and foremost, he is a sales man for car manufacturer Opel, specialising in TV advertisement, of course. British consumers will likely know Opel under its knock-off brand name Fox' Hole, whose cars have come impressively close to the orignals in shitty looks and nowadays mimic the perilous driving experience to a T.
However, there is not always a new model to be presented to longing customers and even when there is, TV commercials are now shot in a matter of days. It is therefore fair to say that Jürgen Klopp has quite a bit of time on his hands. A few years ago, to get out of the house more and to avoid putting a strain on his marriage, Klopp decided to get into coaching. Merely meant to be a hobby at first, it became quite serious when in 2008 Klopp took charge of Borussia Dortmund, pride of German football and preserver of beauty and innocence in the game. Visibly tired of his continued success, he decided to leave his post early in 2015, looking for a job of a more voluntary nature. He did not have to wait long. In the same year, the peculiar Northern England club Liverpooler F.C. went looking for a new exercise instructor. Klopp was happy to help and remains their coach to this day.
Although the level of play is considerably lower than it was at Dortmund, there have occasionally been rumblings whether Klopp is the right man for Liverpool. Where his down-to-earth personality and hyper-energetic demeanour are a perfect fit, it is his style of football which is questioned on being suitable for Liverpool or, in fact, any club in the Premier League. With Liverpool going on a bit of a not-winning streak lately, some of this criticism has resurfaced. So, let's see what's what.
Klopp likes his teams to play Vollgasfussball (transl.: full throttle football). On the one hand, this means to play fast and direct by means of vertical passes while in possession. However, most importantly, it describes the actions taken while not in possession and especially right after the ball is lost. Klopp wants his players to swarm and overwhelm the opposing player with the ball on his foot, forcing him into making a mistake and giving the ball right back. For that to work, Klopp's entire squad has to move towards the ball at a high pace to shut down any easy passing options. When the ball is successfully recovered, a quick through-ball catches the opposition off guard, overwhelmed by too many adjustments in too short time (switching from defending to attacking when the ball is won from Klopp's side and back to defending when it is turned over again). The beauty of this tactic is that it turns a lost ball into an opportunity and puts constant, unrelenting pressure on the opposition. However, Vollgasfussball is extremely physically demanding as, in theory, the entire 90 minutes are being played at maximum pace. Without adequate rest periods in between games, it can wear players out. Critics of Klopp have pointed to the Premier League schedule as the most brutal in football. To start with, the Premier League has 20 teams and plays through the winter. The Bundesliga, in comparison, only holds 18 teams and there is a four week break over Christmas for teams to re-group and players to heal and rest up. Then there are all those cup competitions, international and domestic. While the Champions League is certainly where it is at, there are some for which no one cares other than the team who happens to win it that year. Do you really need the FA Cup and the EFL Cup? And who gives a quivering fart about the Community Shield? While you are at it, why not introduce the Skittles Diabetes Challenge Trophy for 2018, surely there must be a couple of Mondays still free in the calendar? But jokes aside, it appears critics have a point, Klopp's style of football may not be the best fit for the Premier League.
The sheer volume of matches to be played by England's top-tier teams leaves players not just physically exhausted but also emotionally drained. However, this is an area in which Klopp usually excels. The man is a great motivator who can really fire up his squad, as evidenced by his record against the toughest competition in the league. So far this season, Liverpool has beaten Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Everton and Tottenham (... twice now!). They had another draw against Tottenham, one more against Chelsea and shared the points both times playing Manchester United. Overall, when going up against the best in the league, Klopp's boys are fantastic, outperforming teams which are better position by position. On the flip side, Liverpool lost games against Bournemouth, Swansea and Hull. And after struggling against mighty Plymouth Argyle, they were knocked out of the FA Cup by the Wolverhampton Wonderers. Those latest performances in the FA Cup and the semi final loss to Southampton in the EFL Cup seem to suggest that even a motivational wizard may not be enough to get football millionarios jacked up for an FA Cup repeat match in Plymouth on a Wednesday night in January. Nonetheless, pundits took aim at Klopp. With Captain Hindsight firmly in their corner, the likes of Gary Lineker and underwear model in denial Robbie Savage went after Klopp for not playing his first eleven. Lineker went as far as to say Klopp's line-up choices showed "a lack of knowledge of the depth in English football and respect." How about assuming Klopp has actual, inside knowledge of his own team and of who best to start in a certain game? How is that for respect?
Criticising Klopp for the one thing he can actually do to mitigate the physical punishment and mental drag of the English schedule is a bit ludicrous. And, by the way, it reeks of hypocrisy, too. Just imagine the following had happened; Klopp plays his starting eleven against the Wonderers, beats them convincingly just to then get slaughtered in the Premier League against top of the table Chelsea a few days later. Now imagine what the TV-experts would have had to say in such a scenario; how easy it is to see them fault Klopp for not resting his guys.
In conclusion then, it is important to remember how good a coach Klopp really is, especially when things are not going well. In general, clubs, pundits and fans are often too impatient with their respective coach and do not award the time to turn things around (... or to even get things going in the first place). Rendering a harsh judgment is easy and makes for good headlines. However, finding a better suited replacement after a rash decision is much harder. Just ask Maurizio Zamparini, owner and chairman of US Palermo, who kept firing and hiring coaches in such rapid order that at some point, in early 2016, his club was paying four former and active head coaches simultaneously.
The Naked German