A Liverpool Schooling

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No writing on Liverpool Football Club today should begin without a tribute to the club legend that was Ronnie Moran, who passed away peacefully this morning. As part of Liverpool’s coaching staff in the truly glorious days of the club, Moran won 11 league titles, 4 European Cups, 4 FA Cups, 5 League Cups, 2 UEFA Cups and a Super Cup, to add to the 2 Division 1 titles, a Division 2 title and an FA Cup he also won as a player for the Redmen.

Now, that remarkable sentence pretty much renders anything else that might be said about ‘Bugsy’ utterly redundant, but let me add this one simple observation as a measure of the esteem in which I have always held the man. When Liverpool were great, Ronnie was there – a vital intrinsic link to the old days and a rich seam of precious ore running through the years from Shankly to Dalglish. A founding member of the famous Boot Room, they didn’t call him Mr. Liverpool for nothing.

The words of former players were particularly revealing. Jamie Carragher, John Barnes and Jan Molby all spoke of the formative influence Moran had on their Liverpool careers. The dressing room was a classroom in which to learn the Liverpool way of doing things and Ronnie was a strict but avuncular master. Each year, as the players returned for pre-season, he would throw a cardboard box, filled with the league medals inevitably won the previous campaign, on a table, and say, “if you deserve one, take one.” That was the culture of the club and Ronnie Moran embodied it.

When one considers Molby’s tale about being told by Moran to “fuck off” and “earn” a massage when he first arrived at the club, it is fair to say that the way in which the current generation of players are treated is a tad more indulgent. One immediately thinks of Yaya Touré and his birthday cake tantrum. The very best managers of the modern era seem to require the capacity to cajole and provoke in equal measure. Like a stern-but-fair teacher, they must encourage, accept no nonsense and inspire in equal measure.

On a jolly to promote a pre-season competition in America, the injured Ilkay Gundogan seemed to give credence to this theory when he spoke about his experience working with Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp. He was struck by the things the two men had in common. As a teacher of young men myself, the characteristics he mentions are ones I’ve found to be entirely necessary for the job.

“I see a lot of similarities, to be honest, between both [coaches],” Gundogan told ESPN FC. “Both have the ability to be a good friend to a player, with the way they speak to the players. They are both sympathetic. But they know the right moment when to be serious. For us players, that is a very important factor. Of course, what we do is what we love — we want to enjoy it, we want to have as much fun as possible. But we have to be serious and it is difficult to find the right balance. Both have that ability.”

Currently, Klopp is taking a few of his charges on a tour of his own. The disparate group of injury victims, veterans, kids and internationally unloved players have taken a plane to Tenerife on the club’s dime and the manager is keen to stress the benefits of such a trip without overtly stating that it will result in any tangible results on the field of play. It seems to be all about fostering the right atmosphere, you see, with the bearded Swabian as an unwitting travel rep, overseeing a family-friendly jaunt.

“We believe in things like this, we believe in atmosphere and that’s what we try to create,” said Klopp. “Having families here helps the players. [Also] Mrs Klavan is here with her two boys, while Raggy is with his national team, and that’s really nice. It’s not easy to have a completely normal private life as the family of a professional football player but it’s important that the girls know each other and we try to do things like this as often as possible so they all feel comfortable. If you [the players] feel comfortable, it’s more likely that you can perform.”

Now, obviously, the greatest thing to have happened on Planet Liverpool in recent memory is the discovery that Klavan’s nickname is ‘Raggy.’ I am simply beside myself with glee at this. Scooby Doo references will be incoming, rest assured. ‘Raggy!’ Marvellous. Whilst Mrs. Klavan and her nippers are pestering Uncle Jürgen for extra pool floats and the like, the man in question is off to earn his 117th cap for Estonia, with the record of 157, set by one Martin Reim, very much within the reach of the 31-year-old. So, is that the goal, ‘Raggy?’

“In a perfect world, no, because I’m hoping that in our national team – I’m 31 now – there will come a time that they’ll push me out, that I’m going to get in the way,” he told Liverpool’s official website. “Hopefully, the younger players will see this as extra motivation to kick me out!”

Well, okay then – there’s a man who is clearly, in the words of the modern cliché, ready to concentrate on club football. Unlike, Harry Wilson, Liverpool’s young striking prodigy, who had boarded the Klopp Tours plane with his flip-flops only to receive a late text message informing him he’d been called up for the senior Wesh squad alongside Ben Woodburn. The manager takes up the tale

“He came onto the plane and said ‘I’ve got a message, obviously I’m called up.’ ‘Is it serious?’ ‘I think so.’ ‘OK, call the number!’” recounted Klopp. “He called the number and I said ‘Is it serious?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘OK, then you have to buy him a washbag because we cannot get his suitcase out of the plane anymore!’ He was very happy, you could see it. That’s nice. Now Harry and Ben are together, that’s a good thing and will help both – and hopefully at the end Wales too.”

Heaven knows what Bugsy Moran would have made of all this palaver but no doubt, as a man who influenced the lives and careers of so many young players, he’d approve of Klopp’s humorous demeanour and tough-but-fair approach. Rest In Peace, Ronnie, Mr. Liverpool.

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