As Americans, our growing, yet seemingly sudden love affair with “soccer” (called from here on “football”, for aesthetic reasons) is often times seen as something from a monster story by the more “traditional” fans; our passion, love and desire for our newly adopted teams grafted onto this sporting body and jolted to life by some arbitrary happening. Like a man choosing his soul-mate by picking a name at random in the phone book, so is the life of the American football fan as seen from the European perspective. We choose our teams, seemingly at random, which often times can disconnect us from our counterparts across the pond whose teams unmercifully chose them.
For me, however, it was a slightly different experience. I grew up in the American South, where world football is on par with ballet and Chinese checkers in terms of cultural importance, but six years ago I became fixated with the game and was soon after drawn to and ruthlessly captured by this club running around in stark red uni’s, with a bird on their chest and hope in their hearts. Now at the time, this was 2010, and as you might remember, there was nothing particularly appealing about the club. They had just escaped entering administration, thanks to fellow Americans and all around terrible people, They That Shall Not Be Named. Rafa had just left, meaning I missed out of experiencing the best football in the last two decades and the Uncle Woy Era was well under way on Anfield Road. Then came the tumultuous, yet at times, darkly comical transition between Uncle Roy and club legend Kenny Daglish, who for his part was a nice introduction for me into the team’s rich history, though for the life of me, to this day, I can’t understand a word he says. You might recall, however, these were those heady days of, then, 50 year old dock worker look-a-like Charlie Adam scowling up and down the pitch, of Stewart “What-am-I-doing-here” Downing, and of full-time H&M mannequin/part-time athlete impersonator Andy Carroll wildly hacking at the ground and pretending to play something that we were promised resembled football, but yet I saw it through, sure that at the end of these storms, there would be a golden sky.
I remember shortly after pledging my life-long allegiance to the Redmen, I read an article by an American journalist about how, due to FSG’s holding of the club, LFC was poised to become “America’s English Football Team”. There were stories about excitement in the air and Liverpool kits were being sold at Boston Red Sox games, but there was just one problem, the product on the field didn’t meet the hype and Liverpool have since won just one trophy (that’s 1, as in more than 0, less than 2) in the years I’ve been following the club, which have largely coincided with FSG’s tenure. The vacuum left by LFC’s failings has since been filled in this country by the likes of Manchester United, the newly successful (see “rich”) Manchester City and the ever-present Arsenal, but there has yet to be one club to catch this new wave of American enthusiasm full on and capture the hearts and minds of the people.
That is, until now. Like a hero emerging from the wilderness, who came swaggering in to England, Herr Jürgen Klopp. Looking more like the protagonist of a Clint Eastwood western, he’s kicked open the door to the saloon and unsettled the place with his steely stare and unnervingly charming laugh. In America, there’s a stereotype of England as being too “buttoned-up” and uptight. Many of us cringe when we hear the standard FA approved post-match press conferences and roll our eyes when a manager softly pumps his fist after and extra-time wonder goal. America loves characters and for my money there is no larger or more likeable character in the whole of world football than Jurgen Klopp and now we have him at our club.
With charisma to spare and a laugh that can crack even the most cynical Scouse curmudgeon, Klopp undoubtedly has the character to break into these golden shores, but the one thing Americans like more than big personalities (and pizza) are winners and Klopp ticks that box too. He’s part psychologist/part physio/ part motivational speaker/ part tactician and all passion. He said in his first few interviews that he believed in the side he had at hand and didn’t think it needed an overhaul. Gone are the days of “rebuilding” the team every window, which Rodgers contended up until the bitter end. Klopp has revitalised an inconsistent Lallana, a moribund Lucas, and instilled a wolverine-like aggression into a newly rampaging Emre Can (or maybe just playing him in the right position). Even our little Divock, Klopp boosted up with praise and encouragement, showing belief in him until he finally knocked home his first club goal, not to mention first hat-trick, in the last game, looking more the part of a Belgian-baby Sturridge, than the woeful failure we had slotted him as a few weeks ago. Firmino, of whom the word “bust” was thrown around softly under the old regime, is now coming into his own and looks primed to challenge the formally undisputed Coutinho for title of “Liverpool’s Most Exciting Player”. Even Dejan Lovren is starting to look like he’s seen a football before, reminding us again that in one man’s hand a hammer just make holes, in another’s it can build cities and Klopp is constructing ancient Rome under our noses.
So now is the time for FSG to charge into American markets, lead full bore by their German Spartacus. It will be and always should be about the club first and Klopp understands there is no one bigger than the badge on the shirt, but what Klopp can do, however, by virtue of his charm and media savvy, is make the club more accessible to the average American fan. No more hopeless dribble about how “we gave it our all” and “showed great character” in a 3-0 home loss, no more canned responses about how the club is doing and the outlook of the next game. Now are the times, of wise-cracking interviews and full on sprints down the touchline after the game winning goal. Now are the times, of big bear hugs and fatherly face slaps. Now is the time to win. Klopp is the footballing mad-hatter that Americans have been craving and FSG would do well to make him the poster boy of their future forays into this brave, new world of global football.
So where does this leave us American Reds? After many years of toiling, of waking up at the crack of dawn to watch Rickie Lambert on a spotty internet feed lead the line, or becoming so disinterested in the football being played that the most genuinely interesting question was, “who’s really in control here: Kenny or his winter coat?”. After years of whiny Woys and deluded Brendans, after slipping captains, flailing tactics, and transfers as inexplicable as the Superlambanana (that’s right Scousers, I know about your Lambanana), we finally have a man we can believe in, a man for all seasons, a man with vision, able to inject excitement and belief into the club so thoroughly that it can be felt like electricity thousands of miles away, but most importantly, we finally have a winner. This is the time, you global Reds, especially those in my country, to stand up and be counted, to hold your head up high and walk on. Because from now on, we shouldn’t, won’t and can’t walk alone, Jurgen just won’t let that happen. What a time to be alive.