Jurgen Klopp: Maybe Ruthless Bastardry Is Not Necessary

We're always told that nice guys come last - especially in football. But Jurgen Klopp is a man you could take home to meet your surprised but charmed parents...

Last Updated: 07/11/13 at 09:23 Post Comment

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When it comes to the tricky art of football management, who more qualified to turn to than The Right Honourable Melvyn Bragg, Baron Bragg of Wigton in the County of Cumbria, FRS, FBA, FRSA, FRSL, FRTS - there can't be many people who have more letters after their name than in it - and, most relevantly for our purposes here, AF. That's 'Arsenal fan'. In 2008, the much be-lettered Baron said:

"I rate [Arsene] Wenger - he's a very polite, well-mannered man, not forceful, but sometimes you have to be a bit of a ruthless bastard."

For when it comes to the tricky art of football management, nothing seems so out of place as niceness. This is a profession traditionally dominated by, or at least heavily seasoned with, bastardry. 'Refused to let sentiment cloud his judgement', 'Able to take the hard decisions', 'Not here to be anyone's friend' - all these various managerial virtues also imply that the manager, as a person, is perhaps a bit of a dick.

This isn't a huge surprise. Nice guys finish last, after all (though depending on whereabouts in the football firmament a manager finds himself, 'last' can mean anything from 'in actual last place' to 'fourth, but only after something of a struggle to qualify for the Champions League'). If you're going to have the cheek to be be a decent and pleasant human being, then you should expect to find yourself overtaken, undermined and sidelined by all manner of ruthless chicanery. This is how an unfair world keeps itself in unfair order: amicability on the one side of the coin, success on the other. And all managers, almost by definition, want success.

Wenger, of course, is a generally pleasant man, but is also capable of refreshing if occasional waspishness. However, his opponent last night, Jurgen Klopp, is perhaps the most curious manager of them all. Unfailingly avuncular and charming in interviews, endearingly scruffy and tousled on the touchline, and overseeing a style of football that appeals both to the modern technocrat, what with its astoundingly tumescent verticality, and the more traditional spectator, what with all the running and the goals.

Further to that, and more importantly, it seems obvious that his growing collection of long-named players - Weidenfeller; Lewandowski; Mkhitaryan; B³aszczykowski; Aubameyang; Grosskreutz; Papastathopoulos; and so on - is a subtle protest against the deleterious effect that Twitter's 140-character tyranny is having on early 21st-century cultural discourse. Perhaps.

In fact, the only not-nice thing he's ever done, as far as exceptionally time- and effort-limited research has been bothered to discover, is have a shout at a referee a few weeks back. Even then he somehow managed to fold that into his all-encompassing niceness, though that may have less to do with his subsequent disarming honesty in admitting he'd been a berk, and more to do with the fact that everybody likes to shout at referees, because they're referees.

He is, all things told, as nice as nice can possibly be, the kind of manager you'd be happy to take home to and introduce to your parents, though that might be a slightly peculiar thing to do unless there was some specific reason.

"Hello, Mr Klopp. A pleasure. Er...why are you here?"

"No idea, madam. I was cycling down the road when your son here jumped out of a bush, bundled me into the back of a van and drove me to your family home. May I say, by the way, what a lovely job you've done with the place. I do like these curtains."

"Oh, why thank you Mr Klopp!"

In essence, and at least from an outsider's view, Klopp is too nice. Either his team should be slightly less good than they are, which they're not, or he should be slightly less nice than he is, which he isn't. That he manages to be this nice and this good and not even particularly annoying is, all things considered, something of a miracle, and forces us to jump to one of two conclusions.

The first option is that something deep and dark and sinister is going on. Klopp isn't Herr Nice Guy at all, but is instead the central figure in a dastardly plot designed to destroy the morale of the Premier League and establish the Bundesliga as the greatest league in Europe. Decent results and stylish performances against the league's richest and - last night's hilarious smash-and-grab aside - smuggest clubs are only one part of this cultural war against the richest and smuggest league in the world. There's everything else: from safe standing and a febrile atmosphere, through genuine fan ownership and apparently uncynical affection, and on to season tickets that begin cheaper than a first-class stamp.

In essence, Dortmund are a sly, deliberate, and knowing parody of everything that English football used to be, and desperately needs to pretend to continue to be for marketing reasons. #YouAreFootball, and all that nonsense. Why else would Klopp have said, with that knowing smile, that he considered his side's football to be English football? He must know, as a student of the game, that England abolished football that fun right around the time Claude Makelele invented the defensive midfielder. He must know, the smiling swine, as he drips his chirpy lemon juice into the open wound that is the Premier League.

The second is simultaneously more pleasant and more depressing. Perhaps Melvyn Bragg, for all that he gives off the strong impression of knowing everything about everything, was just wrong. Perhaps ruthless bastardry isn't necessary, it's just rarely absent. Perhaps it's not that nice guys lose more often by their very nature. It's just that, what with the world being a largely dreadful place, and football being a largely dreadful carbuncle on that largely dreadful place, there just aren't too many of them knocking about in the first place.

Andi Thomas - you can follow him on Twitter, you know, and you can read more of his work at SBNation

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