Congratulations, Liverpool FC. You’ve won the sweepstakes for the most coolest coach in world football, Jürgen Klopp. Enjoy your new toy. Don’t break him. God only knows how Klopp will fare on your island of cannibalizing media coverage and massive-money football, otherwise known as the United Kingdom. But this is your opportunity and problem now, Liverpool. Your new show begins on Saturday when Spurs play host to you and your new darling coach.
Will I be watching? Perhaps, but only because I count myself as a Spurs supporter. Mostly, I’ll be doing what I always do: paying attention to the Bundesliga. My sport-viewing bandwidth is limited and I’m all on the fußball. However, this upcoming Bundesliga matchday marks a clean narrative break: Klopp is gone. The premises are vacated. He won’t even be haunting Bundesliga matchdays from his stadium seat.
Sometimes, even the best things need to be exorcised.
Klopp leaving Germany physically and taking the Liverpool job closes his Bundesliga narrative arc. (At least this immensely successful iteration of it.) Because, even with Klopp stepping down at Dortmund and Thomas Tuchel taking over – for 15 competitive matches already – Klopp has still loomed over the Bundesliga, as he watched matches from the stands, and we entertained “Klopp to Bayern” rumors.
Now our Bundesliga narrative space is a bit tidier and a bit fresher. So what does this mean? Well, I can only speak for myself. It means that in modern football we are left with our clubs as the only non-transient thing. Of course, we sort of always already know this as football fans. In these giddy post-Bosman ruling days, the transfer market’s machinations turn players into something like single-entity units of accomplishment and meaning. So you learn not to inject too much emotional attachment to the players, or at least you try to learn this. But you mostly fall for the same damn trap every time. You want a real flesh and bones and human being to love. Don’t you? But we can’t have nice things. Because, hell, even Kevin Großkreutz moves on, Dortmund-skyline tattooed calf and all.
Because players come and go at increasingly rapid rates, coaches sometimes seem like the next surest thing we have of a real flesh and bones human being to love at our club. But only sometimes. Of course, the coach needs to stick around for a few seasons or return for another spell or two. Although the Bundesliga’s coach-sacking merry-go-round is as vicious as they come, the possibility for coaching longevity still exists. And because we want a real person at our club to love, is it any wonder that a charismatic figure like Klopp can take on such outsized devotion at Dortmund? In the absence of long-term stars, long-term coaches – by proxy it seems – become the objects of our devotion.
Klopp was an unquestioned fixture at BVB for me, even during last season’s confounding run of misery. I never imagined him leaving. After the departures of the likes of Sahin, Kagawa, Götze, and Lewandowski, Klopp remained. And I never considered otherwise. BVB was Kloppo.
Of course, he’s gone now. And no, I’m not delusional. I’m perfectly aware that Klopp has been gone since the end of the 2014-15 season when BVB lost the DFB Pokal final to Wolfsburg. And as I observed earlier, BVB has already played 15 competitive matches under Tuchel. But Klopp wasn’t really gone, given his almost spectral presence on our TV feeds from Bundesliga stands, watching the fußball. And in his club-less state, he was still a reference point in our Bundesliga discourses almost every matchday, as we wondered where he’d coach next – Bayern? ‘Gladbach? die Nationalmannschaft?
Klopp was not there, but there – certainly liminal or Geist-like stuff.
Yes, you can laugh at me and these surely inconsequential musings. But the truth is that I’m still possessive of Kloppo. At least this is what I learned when his Liverpool appointment was announced. Put another way, even after 15 matches into the Tuchel, I still haven’t gotten over losing Klopp.
And my wound defies logic. Tactically, I love what Tuchel is doing with die Schwarzgelben: the deft passing triangles, the overloading certain areas of the pitch, the new opportunities for Aubameyang to menace, and in general simply the patience in building up attacks. Through Tuchel’s tutelage, I’m learning about what’s possible with this group of remarkable players, whose footballing expression and potential had become – dare I utter the heresy? – flattened and restricted under the emerging staleness of Klopp’s burned out Gegen-Pressing system.
My wound defies logic because I know that Klopp’s tactical system had run its course at Dortmund, and the coach seemingly had no Plan B or Plan C when other Bundesliga coaches figured out how to play back, deep in defense and frustrate the hell out of Klopp’s XI. Klopp was a man with a plan, but only a single plan. (Voyeuristically, I’m curious to see if this system burnout happens at Liverpool too.)
But my wound is not nostalgia for Klopp’s increasingly flailing system. Hardly. Instead, my wound is about losing the man – the man I had taken for granted. The facial fireworks. The bear hugs. The bemused press conferences. The explosive body movements. The ball caps.
I mean, didn’t you feel like you were there on that touchline receiving his bear hug or smile? Klopp transubstantiated himself through the television. How else would I feel as if I knew him, a man I’ve never met, more than anyone else in world football?
Again, the truth of modern reality smacks me: I’m left with my club. Silly me for (again!) thinking otherwise. But how could I help it?
Liverpool, enjoy your new toy. I miss him.
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