Daddy Cool - Klopp's Solid Liverpool Start
“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”
“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
Sigmund Freud, the only man whose slips are more famous than Gerrard’s
When noted head-shrinker, Sigismund Schlomo Freud, developed his theory of treating psychopathology by engaging in dialogue with his patients, the cocaine fancying Austrian quickly established himself as the father of psychoanalysis. This clinical method, which stressed the importance of the father in the development of the child, spawned a century of couch-loving Frasier Cranes and a bewildering menagerie of Jim Morrison-types who felt that the only way to self-understanding was through the metaphorical murder of the father and the even more distressing, ahem, union with the mother.
Siggy’s infamous Oedipus Complex theory may have been a touch histrionic but the ineluctable truth is that all of us, in some way or other, have daddy issues. You, dear reader, may simply be desperate to emulate your pater familias, so wonderful a role-model was the old codger; whereas you, equally dear reader, may be locked in a decades-long struggle to surpass the achievements which your old man has held tauntingly over you, like the vindictive, insecure old wretch he is. One way or the other, either by dint of his absence or his presence, we are all haunted or inspired by our own patriarch.
Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool’s new Kaiser, is no exception to this trend. In a recent piece, the Swabian spoke of the influence of his own papa, the redoubtable Norbert. Old Man Klopp, it seems, was a stereotypically difficult-to-please-type, who was never completely satisfied with his offspring’s efforts. This paternal insistence on improvement and perfection resonated with little Jürgy and drove him on to ever-greater achievements. Klopp Senior was an old-school dad and wanted to teach his son about life through utter humiliation and defeat.
“He was a sportsman through and through, a coach through and through,” Klopp told Die Zeit a couple of years ago. “He taught me football, tennis and skiing and he was ruthless. He would just take off on the piste, leaving me, a novice, to go after his red anorak. He never waited.” As a nipper, there was little fun for young Klopp, as Norbert would insist on dominion, even in father-son tennis matches. “He would reach the box when I was still at the half-way line,” recalled the bespectacled Black Forest native, “but he just didn’t care [about my feelings], he never allowed me to win.”
It will come as no surprise, in light of these revelations, that Klopp became such a high achiever. However, the almost universal esteem in which his players hold him reveals that his own paternal tendencies are possibly a bit more nurturing than his old man’s. Modern footballers, not the most emotionally robust creatures, do not tend to react well to overly harsh assessments. It is interesting to note his reaction to the performances of his new charges. He is very encouraging but not blindly so, reminding individuals of where they can improve.
“I am not sure how many games you saw like this from Adam Lallana,” he said. “I know him from Southampton and he can do 20-30% more. Coutinho – do you not think he can play better? Of course he can. Lucas – you don’t think he can play balls on the right and left side? Of course he can. Emre Can – learning between running and passing? He can learn. Milner – the complete football player, everything is there. We don’t have to sprinkle magical dust on them and say: ‘Now you can play football.’ They know how to play. We just have to create a situation where it is possible to do this. Pressure, yes, but it is not the biggest pressure – these guys are running for their lives.”
This is wonderful stuff, gentle criticism couched in positivity and encouragement. One gets the impression that, like Rafa Benitez, Klopp is all about the detail and nobody will escape his judgement. There was much to like about the way Liverpool played against Tottenham but it would be mightily unrealistic to expect more than a marked improvement in effort levels in the first game. That effort was duly put in and the boss declared himself “satisfied” with what he saw without being overly effusive (although part of me wishes he had said the team was outstanding – just for devilment). He, like us, could see the shortcomings — a lack of pace and invention, a final cutting edge and, well, Martin Skrtel.
“I didn’t have the biggest expectation for the game because we had only three days and Tottenham are a very strong and good tuned team, Klopp offered. “The start was brilliant – I imagine we surprised them a little bit. But the problem of the game was when we had the ball we were not cool enough. We did not use our skills, we were a little bit too hectic, eager. We didn’t see the right options. But we had our moments – a very good corner with the post. Some more situations where we could have been a little bit better but for today it’s really OK after three days [together].”
One senses that although he described the experience as “cool,” that first match will have left the manager with as many questions as answers. His assessment of Divock Origi as “a good technician” will have triggered nervous alarms in the Rodgers Out brigade but the young Belgian will have been heartened that although his gaffer could see he was “not full of experience,” he insisted that Liverpool fans “will have fun with this player for sure.”
That “fun” is what most of us have craved for quite some time – the simple joy of enjoying our football. It doesn’t have to be glorious immediately. Simply seeing a plan in action will suffice for now and Klopp certainly seems to wield a real authority. It was interesting to note the barely concealed irritation of the manager as he fielded cringey post-match questions about full-throttle football. The players, too, will already have discovered this authority, like Jordon Ibe, who got a ‘playful’ slap in the face as a rebuke for not making eye contact during a high five. For all the initial bonhomie, Papa Jürgen, it seems, will not suffer fools. Old Norbert would be proud.