Why the Hell Would Liverpool Need a Director of Football?
Jürgen Klopp’s Reds are on a march to Wembley for a showdown with the uber rich Manchester City to challenge for the Capital One Cup. If you’ve somehow been cryogenically frozen for the past 6 months, or abducted by sexy aliens from Mars in the past 6 months, you would be euphoric about that first statement I’ve just made. But context can be an absolute bitch. Allow me to add some flavor and seasoning onto that context for you before it burns into wasted vapor.
Let’s face it, the League Cup isn’t exactly the most prestigious tournament in England, let alone in Europe. Winning it doesn’t get you a free pass to challenge in more prestigious tournaments nor would the winnings from it get you the funds to procure another Teixeira (I’m jumping the gun here at the time of writing, but what the hell…). But we exist only to win trophies, you say. I hear you. And I sort of agree with you but I would argue that the league is our bread and butter. There’s no point pigging out on the apricot jam if you don’t have the bread and butter. But we’re in no position to even dream about winning the league at this point, I hear you say. Again, I have to nod like an idiot and agree with you, somewhat. Why not aim for something to win if we have a good chance? Yes indeed. Why not? You can begin to tell from our dialogue in this paragraph that we, as a fan base, aren’t exactly emphatic about getting to the Capital One Cup final. Now, if we were cruising to being Top 4, and maybe even challenging for the league title, then you would say that being in the League Cup final would be such nice icing on the cake. A lovely distraction. Even better, it begets a winning mentality, so vital for our charge in the league. But alas, with us so stuck in the rut which is the middle of the league table, it’s another game for Klopp to be planning for.
Which brings me to another onion layer for that context I had mentioned. The winning mentality. We seem to exhibit the nature of being the epitome of nursing a glass jaw. We may have won the roller coaster of a game against Norwich, and won the penalties against Stoke City to get into the final, but our manner of winning both these games saw the nerves of the whole team frazzled after an early goal from our opponents. The glass jaw syndrome also presents another symptom so prevalent in both games. Us, bereft of ideas to breakdown and bully our opponents into submission, while having no confidence in our defence. Any set piece conceded from a foul to our opponents within our half and you automatically lose half of your remaining finger nails. So, getting to the League Cup final but playing like we were just lucky to get there adds another layer of context, and would contribute to why I’m not exactly and wholly enthused with playing Manchester City in Wembley.
Much has been debated about the crop of players that Klopp inherited, tightly coupled with the glass jaw. How the glass jaw came into being from the past regime, we are still at a loss, but the debate rages on regarding which players would Klopp persist with and which should be binned (a rather crude way of putting it, I might add). But the underlining question always resurfaces – Can Klopp be absolved from all blame with the mixed results we currently suffer or would all the blame fall at the feet at the underperforming players he inherited?
The trust that the players would inevitably, if not already, place upon the system and tactics that Klopp is trying to implement would soon replace the glass with steel. That is the hope, at least. Trust will only be built over time, it cannot be rushed. Trust will only be cemented with results. However, the glass jaw is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Klopp so eloquently puts it. How can trust be cemented with results if the results persist to be bad because of the glass jaw? Chicken and egg, you can see it.
But what if we do away with the current crop of players, so engrained with the glass jaw syndrome? What if we got players that our Football Manager skills and our YouTube scouting skills have deemed to be apt and better replacements, minus the emotional scars of the glass jaw syndrome? What if, indeed. The possibilities are endless. But more importantly, then all accountability would be Klopp’s, his players chosen by his trained eye. Then there won’t be confusion and the useless blame game would cease abruptly, at least for the previous regime. But Klopp deserves the kudos for understanding that time is of the essence, time is required for the players to acclimatise themselves to his system, his training and his tactics. He understands the human element in this, always the missing component in our distant analysis. He might be able to solve the chicken and egg conundrum I had posited earlier. Time, though, is a luxury we may not be able to afford.
But what happens when it doesn’t work out with Klopp? What happens if Klopp had exhausted all that he could offer, hopefully already taking Liverpool to heights we were used to a couple of decades ago, and a new manager would be needed for the next chapter? Is continuity something we can sacrifice after we’ve had some measured success? The answer should be a resounding NO. Continuity is as vital as blood to a human body. Without continuity, there can be no sustainable plan and objective for a club as great as ours. Great clubs plan for decades, not seasons.
Much like the much maligned and misunderstood Committee institutionalised by FSG to identify and recruit a certain breed of player to compliment the manager’s system, the club would also need to have a similar structure to recruit a certain breed of manager, for continuity’s sake. That structure could be the current board of directors, very much in their ivory towers, with not much inkling in football managers nor methodology aspired by the club. Or it could very well be a man ingrained in the football fraternity, aware of footballing identities that clubs possess, aware of how managers and their backroom staff operate at different clubs and at different levels of competition. A man able to identify if a manager has the personality that would fit the club’s identify of playing, with matching systems and ideas that won’t be different from his or her predecessor, for continuity’s sake.
The Director of Football or Sports (depending on how each club designates them) should have the responsibility and remit to mould an identity that the club thinks should be the way forward. The style of play, the attributes of players required for the style, the systems required for the style and type of players, the manager to bring in the tactics that bring the best out of the players. It all begins with how the club perceives itself to be in the next decade, with the highest success achievable as targets, complimented by the style of play that gives the club its identity. Then continuity is more a consequence of this vision rather than a forced control.
The next manager shouldn’t be worried about his inherited team because their predecessor would have bred the mentality, the style, and the identity that fits him like a glove. The blame game would only be at his feet and not his predecessor. The next Klopp shouldn’t be looking back at the previous regime for blame at all. The next Klopp should be chosen under the responsibility of a Director of Football. And that’s why the hell we should get a Director of Football sharpish.