Plenty on Liverpool/Klopp, but great things on statistics, eyes, Allardyce and smaller nations
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Liverpool feels different now
Over the last few years since the ill fated ownership of Gillett and Hicks Liverpool football club has been a poisonous place. I say this as a match going scouser.
The players and managers have been given abuse far beyond what they deserved (even Rafa at the end of his tenure came in for a lot of unfair stick and Rodgers had always divided the fans, only Kenny was spared because, well it’s Kenny Dalglish), different factions of the fanbase turned on each other, the owners and their wives were given a lot of sh*t (albeit on twitter but abuse nevertheless).
The transfer committee were also in line for some vitriol, which was so misguided as most people didn’t have a f****n clue what they were doing, who they were buying etc… even the local journos who had information about the club were in for a good dollop of s**t being flung their way. It was embarrassing. A lot of it was the basement dweller twitter arseholes but you’d hear it in the stands and it’d make me cringe.
This was alleviated somewhat in the 13/14 season when we came together for a brilliant season to witness some of the best football I’ve ever witnessed. Alas it was short-lived and after a stuttering start to last season the factions were back to posturing and everyone who’d had a brief respite from the abuse were back to being on the back foot again. It’s been a pretty bad place to be overall for the last decade, the rise of social media only giving further voice and a soapbox stand for the utter d**kheads (thankfully a small minority) to spout the verbal diarrhoea that gives other teams fans a stick to beat us with.
I say all this because for the first time I can remember in a long time the Liverpool fans are together. The owners are being thanked, the different factions are united and the good feeling around not just the club but the whole city is unbelievable. Everywhere I’ve been people are talking excitedly, everyone I speak to are over the moon, genuinely excited and much more happy as Liverpool fans than I’ve ever seen them, and all because of one man. Juergen Klopp.
It’s baffling that one man can be named as manager of the club and the poison I’ve seen eat away at it for a decade can be flushed out before a game has even been played under his stewardship. The hope and genuine excitement of this man is a breath of fresh air and I hope it can breathe new life into the club.
Whatever Klopp does (and I really do feel it can be something special) or doesn’t do, at least he brought the club and it’s fans closer together and more united than I’ve seen since Istanbul. It’s turned hatred into love and doubters into believers. He hasn’t even played a game yet and already I thank him. Thanks Kloppo, make us dream again.
Klopp will need time. Lots of time
In 2008, I worked in Dortmund for a few months and went to a fair few games in what was, I believe, Klopp’s first year in charge. They were diabolical. I have a vivid memory of the centre half being on the ball in acres of space and watching the two midfield players literally ignore him, turn around and jog up the pitch with absolutely no attempt to get on the ball and play football whatsoever. Hoof. At that point I turned round to my mate and declared that the manager had no idea what he was doing, hey what do I know. Klopp of course, went on to bring in fantastic footballers and slowly but surely changed the way the side played football. Looking back on it, at that point in time i’m assuming he didn’t think the key midfield players had the technical quality to play how he wanted them to. I think they finished around 7th.
Anyway the point of the story was to illustrate that it took Jurgen Klopp time to get his side together because trust me they were seriously s**t. He did not revolutionise Dortmund through great coaching straight away but through signing great players. That is not a dig at him at all, it is in fact a great compliment.
The most important quality I believe a manager can have is to spot and sign the right player and that is the thing that really let Rodgers down. There are only 4 or 5 in the world that seem to get it right most of the time. Wenger, Mourinho, Guardiola, Ferguson all have this gift. I’m not talking about one off superstar signings but the ability over years and years to sign the right players to produce effective football. It separates the good from the great and Klopp looks like he might end up in that bracket, it will take him a few transfer windows to bring in the players he wants, but my hunch is that Liverpool will end up with some decent players.
Having said that, bloody hell the Liverpool gig is a hard one. There are 4 clubs in England that are comfortably bigger than Liverpool in literally every aspect. Worldwide fanbase, trophies won in the last 25 years and most importantly revenue. Thats not to mock Liverpool, it is just a fact and the gap is getting bigger. Signing quality players is far more difficult if you are certain to lose out if one of four other teams in your league go in for the player you want. It means you have to gamble, and very often it doesn’t pay off. Top four for Liverpool would be a huge achievement and will probably need to mean that one of the other sides has some sort of spectacular breakdown.
Essentially my message to fans is this. You have probably got the right man in charge but you are still going to probably end up fifth for the next couple of years. Calm your balls and pray that Mourinho has royally f**ked it.
Tom, LVG could easily balls this up as well, Goldenballs
Klopp and basketball
Liverpool fan here trying to keep his feet on the ground. It’s the hope that kills and, as a scouser, I’ve lived through far too many false dawns to be comfortable throwing my weight fully into this latest hysteria.
One that dawned on me, while reading through the press this morning though, was the approach to football that Klopp seems to be calling for. As an Englishman/Welshman/Indian (!?) living in Los Angeles, I’ve become more acquainted with college sports than I ever thought I would be. As a result, I’ve noticed certain parallels between Herr Klopp and the greatest college basketball coach of all time, John Wooden [10 NCAA basketball titles with UCLA in 12 years]. If you would indulge me…
Wooden was not a light man, and certainly not prone to the jocular way in which Klopp seems to conduct himself, but one of the things that Wooden frequently put forth in numerous books, lectures, etc. was his emphasis on focusing on the little things about basketball; getting those little things right, playing the right way, and deriving delight from the correct execution of a plan, above and beyond the actual victories themselves. This was a man who, on the first day of every pre-season training camp, would literally teach his elite players the correct way to put on their socks and lace up their shoes before playing.
Now, obviously, Wooden won a lot of matches in his time but he and his players (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton to name but two) repeatedly state that he never sent them out to win. He never focused on them having to win this match or the other. The pre-game talk, the half time talk, the focus on training, etc. was always to get the small things right, to behave in a certain way, and to enjoy that in and of itself. His belief was that, if the players’ focus was on these things rather than the pressures of “having” to win a certain game, the victories would surely follow. He was proved right time and again. Ten titles later, Wooden left UCLA with a basketball legacy that has yet to be surpassed.
I hear this same approach in Klopp’s words. Focus on pressing, focus on effort, focus on pleasing the fans, etc. I don’t hear him focusing on beating Tottenham per se (granted he’s been here all of 24 hours) but get the little things right, enjoy it, play for the fans and for yourselves and success will come.
I f*cking love this. I love my club but the weight of expectation is always too high at Liverpool; the weight of our history always too much to bear. As a result, the margins are always too thin between success and failure, jubilation and despair. From Istanbul to out of a job a few years later. From 2nd place in 2013 to losing 6-1 to Stoke the next year. From a ~20 year period of dominance to a ~20 year period in the wilderness.
Above all else, this makes me think that Jurgen might really have something different to bring to Liverpool and the Premier League that no other manager has. Press the ball, play hard, forget about everything else for 90mins. God willing he walks away from Liverpool some time in the 2020s with a few trophies in the cabinet to remember him by.
Matt (they call them parentheses over here), LA
Allardyce and Sunderland: A perfect fit
As a Sunderland fan, I constantly hear that my team offer nothing to the Premier League, we deserve to go down, we are a shambles etc etc. It’s hard to argue. We don’t play attractive football and constantly (successfully) battle relegation.
It sounds weird but personally all I want as a fan is to have a couple of nice, boring seasons in mid-table. Achieve 40+ plus points and never have to worry about going down. I think we’ve finally got our man.
The puzzle broke up under Bruce and since then every manager has had a good start followed by a dreadful insipid run where relegation looked a near-certainty, before swiftly leaving. It’s not good for stability and hard to get any solid platform in which to build.
Unlike our neighbours, we don’t have a sense of entitlement. We have no right to be in this league and until we improve we may lose that right.
But under Allardyce it’s clear to see what Sunderland will become. Efficient, hard working, difficult to beat and a bit ugly. It might not be pretty but I can see it working.
A couple of seasons of calm and then we can look at expanding and attracting a better quality of player. Then doing the opposite of all the things I said at the top of the e-mail.
Allardyce is known for stable if uninspiring football. He gets the best out of a limited set of players and plays to the strength of the team. He’s very English in his approach and this will suit us down to the ground.
Boring is usually a word with negative connotations but it’s what Sunderland fans are striving for at this minute. Welcome BSA.
Jack. (Got a good feeling about this one). Sunderland
Barkley: He’s doing just fine
Matt Stead lists the awards and honours achieved by Gascoigne and Rooney at the age of twenty two years. It is true that both accomplished quite a lot by then, certainly when compared to Ross Barkleys career to date.
However, it must be worth noting that Paul Gascoigne’s career and character imploded, maybe as a result of the intense pressure, scrutiny and simply the amount of football he played?
It has been mentioned on this site, by both journalists and readers, that Rooney too is no longer the explosive force he once was, his natural talent and flair diminished. Is it because he too has been overplayed, overused and subjected to the similar pressures, often the weight of a nation, that Gazza endured?
With everybody expecting a constant level of peak performances at such a young age, it is no surprise that first one and then the other suffered from burnout, injuries and fatigue. Describing a player’s inadequacies as a footballer is the football writers job, so it is understandable that Stead criticises Barkleys sloppiness in possession and poor decision making. It is certain that he is far from the finished article.
Yet those comparing him to Rooney and Gascoigne should wonder if not matching their dizzying heights by the age of twenty two is perhaps, a good thing? We might get to see Barkley peak at a more natural age, blossoming in his mid to late twenties as opposed to fading away before thirty. It’s already happening to Cesc Fabregas.
There may be a lack of shiny trophies on Barkley’s mantlepiece so far, but there’s mileage in his legs.
Hurray for smaller countries
Fantastic, well done Northern Ireland and Wales, it has been long overdue. But big congratulations also and welcome to the new boys, Iceland, and now Albania. What a party the latter must have had yesterday.
There will no doubt be some silly moaners, spoilsports saying their presence in an expanded tournament demeans it and reduces quality. But all I can say is, just imagine that you were from one of the aforementioned countries and surely you’d change your mind.
And a long shot, but still potentially a place for Cyprus. Come on!
Mike Woolrich, LFC
A long one on stats and football
Reading Daniel Storey’s article on Sunday got me thinking that it is sometimes too easy to view a situation and impose on it a dichotomy that doesn’t exist. I don’t think it is right to say that there is some inherent conflict between those who interpret football by numbers and those who view it as a more emotional affair. I would argue that statistics have now to an extent come to permeate the views of ‘traditionalists’. Nowadays, pub chat on the subject of football often involves some discussion of statistics, whether it’s the fact that your team didn’t score despite having 60 corners, or that you somehow won 1-0 despite having a single shot to the opposition’s 20. On my team’s online forum, player ratings out of 10 are routinely provided by posters after each match. Furthermore, whilst I would personally see myself as a traditionalist, I will often look beyond the goals scored column and dabble in the possession/shots on target statistics on my phone app to get a better idea of how my team are doing.
To a large extent, statistics help us to understand the game a bit better, and as a result can inform our emotional response to it. However, the fact is that statistical approaches are not unquestionable, and there is something unique about football that statistics will simply never be able to take away. When I think of my own most memorable moments as a football fan, statistics simply aren’t important. The last minute winners in barely-deserved victories, the ‘where did that come from?’ thrashing of a bitter rival during an otherwise poor period of form, the cup upset against a former European champion. I defy anyone to honestly say they have been too bothered about statistics when encountering such a scenario. As much as statistics have become more central in the football fan’s understanding of the game, that is all that has happened. Thousands of people can still be seen jumping around like mentalists when their teams score meaningful goals, and that is something that I hope never changes.
In terms of how statistics are used by clubs, I would say most fans are happy that sophisticated methods are used for things like player recruitment. And, indeed, the success and failure of statistical methods will always be a talking point. Southampton fans probably have fewer objections than those at Brentford. However, maybe Brentford fans’ ire wasn’t purely an attack on statistics, but rather complete aggravation at the fact that, having got into the second tier after so many years, they finally had a dynamic and exhilarating team that they could truly be proud of, only for the carpet to be swept underneath them for no good reason. I even remember seeing an interview with their chairman last year after it was announced Warburton was to leave at the end of that season, and when he was asked whether he thought the decision would harm Brentford’s chances of going up that year, he clearly couldn’t actually answer the question. The quest for statistical success had made the immediate reality much more trivial than it should have been.
In this day, where the level of ambition and funding is generally greater in most football clubs, fans are more hungry for success than they have been in the past. To varying degrees, clubs are hopeful of boarding the gravy train that is the PL at some point for some of those delicious parachute payments. This is why successes and failures are more keenly felt and, as a result, the position of a football manager is more fragile than it used to be.
Statistics have assumed a more prominent position, and have come to inform our views on the game we love. However, football is a game of moments. Unforgettable moments that for some reason still make your spine tingle decades later. These moments don’t always equate to lasting success, and for many, that is a long-term reality. As concrete as statistics might seem, they will never extract the romance from the beautiful game.
Ed, Oxford (BHAFC)
Statistics help shape opinions
Daniel Storey is of course 100% correct in his article about the war between stats and eyes. Clubs use both and need both, and that’s the end of it. But the game is for the fans, and so the real question is whether statistics enhance any given fan’s appreciation of the game. Every fan will answer this differently, but for me the answer is a resounding yes.
Here’s one very simple example. Having watched all of Bournemouth’s games this year, I thought their defense was pretty shaky (although Sylvain Distin has helped out the last few weeks), and that Artur Boruc, one silly mistake aside, had done a decent job in goal.
Then I looked at some stats, and found to my surprise that based on shots on target allowed and the places from which the shots were taken, Bournemouth are actually doing quite well. It’s Boruc, at the moment, who is saving significantly fewer shots than he should.
So now when I follow Bournemouth, I have an extra piece of information that can help me appreciate their play. Multiply that by a thousand or so, and I have that much more helpful info. And it doesn’t detract one iota from the beauty and the poetry of the game. It’s that simple.
Peter G, Pennsylvania, USA
(I fully agree with this – Daniel)
Angry with ‘diver’ Lewandowski
I am one of the few true die hard Irish soccer fans remaining. A majority of Ireland was watching sports yesterday but despite beating the world champions on Thursday the amount of people that left the pubs after the rugby and before the football was frightening.
Then I watched the Ireland football game and realised why. I am proud to be an Ireland supporter this morning. They tried their best and it wasn’t good enough but thats all you can ask of them. But at a moment when people were finally paying attention to Irish football, what they saw was Robert Lewandowski throwing himself all over the pitch, adhering to the negative stereotypes that people have about football!
Lewandowski was not the reason why Ireland lost last night, but his performance was more suited to the ballet than a football pitch! It’s disheartening to learn that since he’s been training with Robben, he hasn’t only learned how to finish like a top striker but also how to act like an Oscar winner!
Seán (COYBIG in the qualifiers!) Dublin
*I don’t get to many top top football grounds, but I was at Old Trafford for the Super League Grand Final on Saturday. It struck me that we were packed in like sardines – is this normal for this sort of ground, or do some grounds offer more space in the nosebleed sections than others?
*We were “treated” to DJ Spoony playing the pre-game warm up music. At one point he tried to get people to sing along to “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. At Old Trafford. It got universally booed, as did all references to Manchester United.
*Congratulations to Wales and Northern Ireland for qualifying for their first tournaments since 1958 and 1986 respectively. For all that the qualifying groups were foregone conclusions for some of the better teams, the expansion of the tournament has galvanised the second-level European teams, who have had their best opportunity to qualify for a major tournament ever. The fact that Wales, Northern Ireland, and Iceland, for example, have made the most of that chance suggests the expansion was at least a qualified success.
When you add in the demise of the Netherlands, Republic of Ireland beating Germany to ensure a minimum of making the playoffs, the Faroe Islands taking points off Greece, and Poland being the highest goalscorers in the qualification process, it’s really been quite remarkable. The only thing close to boring was England winning every game so far, but even that’s a bit of a novelty.
*There is an obvious comparison to be made with the Rugby Union World Cup, where the group stage has just concluded. The general consensus seems to be that the tier 2 teams have provided much of the excitement so far, even though the tournament is weighted in favour of the elite sides, whose typically superior skill is reined in by their pragmatism.
I don’t intend this to be a “football is better than rugby blah blah blah”, it’s just an observation of how the two sports treat the sides just below the top level.
The literary Ed Quoththeraven, CPFC the Glaziers, Notts
..He’s a very naughty boy!