Jürgen Klopp has made a habit of pissing off the English football establishment; not because he says things that are outrageous or insulting, but because he has this horrible tendency to make sense of ridiculous situations. Take, for example, the competing schedules among England’s three football entities: the FA, the Football League, and the Premier League.
When the EPL finally conceded to logic (and the plaintive wailing of the English media, convinced that the more rigorous schedule of the EPL was making it more difficult for the English national team in international events and English clubs in the European tournaments) and added a winter break like every other major footballing nation has, it stressed to the clubs that the break should be just that: a break, and not an excuse to schedule friendlies or engage in training camps or things like that. It’s supposed to be down time from the constant grind of football, especially for those clubs involved in the aforementioned European contests, and for those players who often have little time off in summer because of those international events. So, Klopp had been telling the team since the start of the season that they weren’t going to be playing any games in the first week of February.
[Laughs in the FA.]
Of course, since the archaic Football Association is still insisting on idiotic replays, it conveniently scheduled the fourth round replays for that break in the EPL’s schedule. Klopp, having already encountered the Football League’s idiocy in December, when it refused to reschedule a League Cup quarterfinal, despite it conflicting with the far more interesting FIFA Club World Cup, stood the same ground now that he stood then: He played the U23s, since all of the senior players were on the break that he told them they’d be having. Cue the outrage…
“Klopp is disrespecting the tournament!” “Klopp is being lazy!” “Klopp is denying money to cash-strapped smaller clubs!”
When various other managers were baited with questions by insipid media types, eager to get ammo from Klopp’s peers, they were met with a unanimous response: “He can pick whomever he damn well pleases.” Brendan Rodgers, Pep Guardiola, Dean Smith, and even Sam Ricketts of Shrewsbury Town each said that our manager was perfectly within his rights to play whatever team he wanted, whenever he wanted, and they supported him, period. Guardiola even got (quite rightfully) indignant at the idea that the team that a manager picked should somehow be influenced by someone else, since “that’s our job.” But all of them understood Klopp’s desire to rotate and take advantage of the break because all of them, to one degree or another, are under the same ridiculous demands for MORE FOOTBALL. Klopp and Guardiola have been two of the loudest voices about the fact that there’s TOO MUCH FOOTBALL, which ties in nicely to all three of the bullshit complaints listed above. So, let’s take a look, shall we?
- “Klopp is disrespecting the tournament!” First off, every top division manager “disrespects” the FA Cup, because no one really cares about it anymore. I mean, they do, to one extent or another. If they’re a Dean Smith, whose only hope of winning a trophy is to win that one (or the League Cup, this year), then they put some effort in. But most will start the early rounds with a lot of rotation because no one wants to risk losing a league game because they played the starters in the FA Cup. Why? Because the FA Cup doesn’t mean anything anymore. Man City got paid £5.3 million for winning it last year. Southampton got paid £101.2 million for finishing 17th in the Premier League. <mic drop> Also, winning the FA Cup means Europa League qualification. Since the winner is usually already in the Champions League, that means jack-all, especially since the big clubs are beginning to depend on the cash that comes with the CL and Europa is a huge step down, financially (see: Arsenal.)
- “Klopp is being lazy!” Heh. Yeah. Are you saying that from your ergonomic office chair in your position as a trusty middle manager somewhere? Something tells me that, despite the vast difference in income between you and an EPL midfielder, your job doesn’t come with quite the amount of mental and physical stress encountered by your average footballer, when your every motion is on display for millions of people to see (and criticize) and any one of them could be the one mistake that leads to a goal that sees your club relegated and you and your family on your way to scenic Trabzon for your next contract. Keep in mind that other sports either don’t play as crowded a schedule as football or, if they do, have far more liberal substitution rules. Clubs trying to win at the level of Liverpool means players trying to play perfectly every three or four days. That’s a grind. Doing that for ten months without any significant time off is grueling for players and managers. Plus, if Klopp was fielding the U23 team, it was probably a better idea to send the U23 coach, which is not Klopp.
- “Klopp is denying money to cash-strapped smaller clubs!” First off, it’s not Liverpool’s responsibility to subsidize smaller clubs. If the only way they’re making budget is hoping for a big game against a first division side, then they have bigger problems than not getting a replay. England has a smaller population than any of the other “big 5” soccer nations (Spain, Germany, Italy, France.) Yet, it has more professional clubs and tiers of football than any of them. People are wailing about clubs that have been around since the 19th century being forced to fold because they can’t compete anymore. Well… yeah. Sears Roebuck folded because it couldn’t compete anymore, either. That’s what happens. Not every football club is an edifice that should last down through the ages. Even the Parthenon is a ruin. If clubs can’t remain professional at the lower levels, that probably means that there’s too many of them or that they’re trying to compete at a level that the surrounding population simply can’t sustain. It happens. And, y’know, I’m a Marxist. I’m all about spreading the wealth down to the smaller guys. But doing it through maintaining an outdated knockout tournament makes about as much sense as giving everyone in League Two a dozen slot machines and hoping they hit it big every year.
But the thing that really pisses me off is all of these football pundits lamenting the loss of the “magical” Cup days of yore; as if their personal memories as a 10-year-old are somehow disenchanted by someone approaching this tournament from a pragmatic point of view (you know, the one that puts the health and welfare of his players before that of the rose-tinted view of sportswriters?) People go on and on about the “magic of the Cup.” Really?
Boy, howdy! Look how many people responded to the “magic of the Cup” at Derby! Thrilling! Why? Because nobody cares about it anymore. Derby and all of their fans just want to get back to the EPL. A lot of things in football aren’t like they used to be. Life is like that. Hey, I remember great Cup tournaments. We went toe-to-toe across Stanley Park with the Ev for two or three years in the 80s. Those were great. That doesn’t mean I feel like that’s a “magical” time of football. I mean, sure, I’d love to go back to the days when we were winning league titles and European Cups, too… Oh. Wait.
And, of course, the ultimate irony (not really irony) was that, since Klopp decided to field the U23s, LFC decided to lower the ticket prices. You know, so that THE FANS could maybe experience a little of that magic at a cost far less than what it usually is? That meant that Anfield sold out for this game that Klopp was disrespecting. It also meant a smaller gate for Shrewsbury, but that’d be OK, since they’d still get the TV share, right? Except that the FA, supremely petty as always, decided to pull the broadcast from all the regular outlets so no one could see it. Like everyone else, I ended up watching a couple of illegal streams or a Twitter feed from the couple regions in the world that were still getting the game. Because that makes sense, right? What better way to reinforce the “magic of the Cup” than to deny almost everyone the chance to see an exciting game between two more closely-matched sides in front of a packed house at Anfield? Brilliant! The English football establishment, everyone.
Oh, yeah. The game. It was actually pretty good. The kids excelled up and down the field, with Curtis Jones even doing a Rabona for a nice cross into the box and Neco Williams doing his best TAA impression, including the feed aimed at Harvey Elliott that ended up bouncing off Ro-Shaun Williams’ head and into the goal for the winning margin. (Ro-Shaun is a former ManU academy product…) The kids won that game every way you could win it outside of the scoreline, too; largely dominating possession, outshooting the Kates, 12-3, and taking 14(!) corners to their 3. There were several good chances that just didn’t quite make it and their keeper, Max O’Leary, has to be lauded for a couple nice saves he made on shots that did end up in his direction. Once again, it was Klopp football, top to bottom. Neil Critchley kept them in the 4-3-3 throughout and everyone did their job. Neco was MOTM, but Jones keeps reinforcing the idea that he should be a regular squad player; Sepp van den Berg looked miles ahead of where he was in the League Cup games earlier this season; and Pedro Chirivella again did marvelously at the 6. Something has clearly clicked into place for that guy and it was oddly encouraging to know that, after years hovering around the fringes, the club recently signed him to another contract.
Robot manager? One of the more entertaining stories around the game was the fact that James Milner, robot warrior decided that he was feeling good enough to train with the team yesterday and then asked Critchley if he could speak to them in the dressing room. He was a constant voice on the sideline, too, as Critchley mentions:
That’s a man dedicated to the club. He’s played more games for us now than any other club he’s been with. I could see him retiring here and getting into the coaching sphere quite easily. For the 500th time: Probably the best free transfer we’ve ever gotten.
OK. Enough ranting. I’m sure I’ll think of something for most of you to ignore over the coming Week Without A Santa Cl- uh, Football. It just hasn’t come to me yet.