Living in the Shadow - From Rodgers to Klopp
The problem with history is that we always look back to it – and it claims we cannot surpass it.
As with history, so with football.
Teams that are “used to winning” don’t always win; and a crisis begins where people start losing faith in their “special club”, doubting they could ever win anything again.
After the Thatcher years. the Labour Party panicked. Throwing away Clause 4; the philosophy underpinning decades of progress and resistance for the 99%, they signed-up to the devastating embrace of the private sector, running public services on huge contracts at our expense. Fighting illegal wars, demonising entire communities and pitching its tent in the infamous “centre-ground.”
When Brendan Rodgers came to Liverpool he brought with him his Clause 4. It was a manifesto that led to the implementation of “death by football” – a philosophy he believed in passionately, that brought success to his former club, Swansea, and one that, if executed well-enough, could see clubs transform into the kind of tiki-taka-tantalisers Premier League rivals would envy. After a successful Premier League season with “Swansealona”, Rodgers was offered the Liverpool hot-seat.
Fast-forward 18 months and Rodgers has torn-up his manifesto and replaced it with something arguably better: total destruction – 5-0, 5-1, 5-3, 4-0, 3-0, 6-3: we annihilated teams between January and May in the spring of 2014. This New Labour phase of football was effective. It was popular. The media loved it. But it masked the real issues within our club. It relied on the genius of a few players. It was unsustainable. It elevated Rodgers to a place of godliness that simply wasn’t justified… And then, we crashed.
After tearing-apart the principles that earned him the job in the first-place, Rodgers proceeded to rip this one up too; satisfying his own ego and delusions of his capabilities as manager.
His meteoric rise to Premier League Manager of the Year led to serious issues, seemingly nominating himself as simultaneous Scout of the Year and Tactical Genius of the World.
“My biggest mentor is myself” – BR
Brendan made a lot of outlandish quotes during his Liverpool tenure. Some of them good – some of them not so good. The above is, quite obviously, in the latter category.
And, yet, beyond the David Brent comparisons there is a serious issue: it’s simply not true.
Throughout his Liverpool reign there was a definitive sense of Rodgers trying to replicate his mentor, Jose Mourinho. A young Padawan learning from his Jedi Master:
“I probably wouldn’t be sitting here now if it wasn’t for him,” and “when I speak about Jose, I think of him as a friend.” – BR
The power-grab Rodgers made after the 13/14 season was reminiscent of Jose not just in the form of a new lucrative, long-term contract but, seemingly, in the amount of say he had over transfer targets.
Rodgers’ refusal to work under a Director of Football was always telling and, whilst many of us didn’t mind at first, it soon became obvious why giving Rodgers any say over transfer targets was a terrible idea.
Huge overspends on average players (or worse) built the squad for the 14/15 season; a year-long disaster that continued well into the Autumn of this year.
I have written on the psychological deficiencies of Rodgers in a bit more detail here, but there was always one, overriding factor to his demise… and that was his idolisation of Mourinho.
Living in the shadow of the Dark Lord has always been the root of Rodgers’ fundamental mismatch with LFC.
The time-wasting displayed by Chelsea during the 13/14 campaign was not sporting. It was cheating. To see a haggard Jose Mourinho screaming and beating his chest in celebration was enough to make anyone feel physically sick. But not Rodgers.
After the game, Rodgers praised him. In what could have been the most momentous match in our club’s history, Rodgers couldn’t escape the influence Mourinho still, somehow, possessed over him.
For all the talk of “being his own man”, Rodgers has never shown it. His aim has always been a “more aggressive, more attacking” version of Mourinho and that’s why, fundamentally, he failed.
Always caught between the “weight of the shirt” and his own delusions of grandeur; Brendan was a head-case begging for either total control or the sack. Ultimately, it was the latter.
Living in the shadow of Mourinho isn’t the only thing that has caused us problems, however. We, as a club, have been living in the shadow of the past for too long.
The lack of authenticity in our club has been apparent for a long time – it just took someone who was equally inauthentic to bring it out.
The biggest advantage Klopp brings to the club is a change in mentality: “From doubter, to believer.”
The lack of importance Klopp has placed on the past has been liberating; allowing us to move forward in a deeply authentic and new way.
To return to a political analogy: the difficulty we’ve had until now is that, just as Cameron can get away with being to the right of Thatcher simply because he isn’t her, so too for Liverpool: we struggle to be seen for who we are because of who we were.
This is not so much a reflection on our past as a refusal to stop the past reflecting on us.
We have to break the link between our history and our present and, judging by our performance on Saturday, Klopp’s foundations have already been laid for this leap forward.
We may not have won our first game in in the Klopp-era. We may not have played Tottenham off the park for the full, 90 minutes. But there is one thing we did do: We entered the present. We took off our back-packs. And we pitched our tent in the middle of the aggressive unknown.
We will no longer fear the past. We will relish the future. The age of pretense is over. Jurgen, not Brendan, is the saviour of Liverpool Football Club – and I, for one, am incredibly excited to be part of it.