It is hardly contentious to state that some Premier League managers get an easier ride from the press than others.
Frank Lampard’s recent outburst towards a section of online media that had been critical of him and his team was presumably down to the immense pressure he was under but even so, it was nothing short of hilarious. Lampard has been a favoured son of the press for years, to such an extent that when he was sacked last week Henry Winter likened it to killing Bambi.
The former Chelsea boss – along with his uncle Harry – epitomized the chummy relationship that can build up between a manager and the press pack, with the latter getting a giddy buzz from being on first name terms and having them on speed-dial.
One sure-fire way to get positive write-ups if taking the managerial reins is to have hacks believe you’d willingly go for a pint with them on a night off.
Another way to ensure glowing reviews is to bully them. This was Sir Alex Ferguson’s modus operandi for the entirety of his career in the dug-out and bluntly it worked a treat. The press corps were far too scared of incurring his wrath to hold him to the same degree of scrutiny as his rivals and it helped too of course that Manchester United were so consistently successful.
A third way of getting positive PR has come to the fore in modern times, as managers become ever more nuanced and engaging, and that is to regularly provide interesting copy. Understandably, this gets you into the media’s good books through sheer force of gratitude and the inverse of this also explains why some gaffers get a raw deal in comparison to others.
Some Manchester City supporters, for example, believe their manager Pep Guardiola is only afforded begrudging respect in the broadsheets and beyond but in truth that’s largely because the Catalan is so guarded during pressers. He is distant and therefore the coverage he receives has a detached tone and does anyone seriously believe that journalists wouldn’t give their right arm to be bezzie mates with Pep, exploring the mind of one of the most fascinating coaches around?
The ‘good copy’ angle also leads us to Jurgen Klopp, who can always be relied on to respond in a manner that gets the press scribbling furiously into their notebooks. Sometimes he illuminates. Other times he defers to humour. On occasion, he bites with a hard opinion. But however he answers it’s usually gold and this is partly why the German is so universally liked by the media who dutifully lap up his every utterance.
The other reason for his popularity is his personality because unquestionably us Brits are routinely seduced by eccentricity. We are drawn to it. It’s our national soft spot. After all, why else would we appoint an inept and deceitful sociopath to be our Prime Minister if not for the fact that he bumbles along, quoting Greek mythologies with a shocking mess of hair?
Everything about Klopp is larger than life. His movements are almost cartoonish. There’s his gleaming teeth and demonic eyes. There’s his loud, sudden and, on occasion, disturbing cackle. He is Steve Martin’s wild and crazy guy who has been dragged through a club shop backwards so it follows that he gets column inches aplenty when his admirable success is coupled to that.
And if that is where this story ends then it would be hard not to simply shrug and say fair play. After all, every component makes sense, with a likeable eccentric who offers up quotable copy enjoying sustained success at his club. When all these things are combined it is only natural that he is furnished with favourable content and who could possibly have a problem with that? Except, sadly, we have only just begun to scratch the surface.
Firstly, he is not ‘universally liked’ as described earlier. That was an understatement so severe it borders on a lie. More accurately, Klopp is adored by the press. He is pandered to and excused. He is courted by a roomful of fluttering eyelashes who hang on his every word like smitten disciples and should he ever act atrociously they are only too willing to paint him in the best possible light. That amounts to client journalism.
Take his decision to boycott the FA Cup last year, allowing his players to fly off on holiday instead of participating in a replay against Shrewsbury while the club’s under-23s took to the pitch with their coach Neil Critchley in temporary charge. Any other manager would have been hung, drawn and quartered for this fragrant disregard, especially a foreign coach who was so blatantly showing disrespect to our venerated competition.
Only Klopp wasn’t. At all. Instead, the reportage was muted and solely factual while elsewhere others ran to his defence. ‘Jurgen Klopp doing right by Liverpool with FA Cup boycott’ said Yahoo. ‘Why Jurgen Klopp is right to stick up two fingers to FA Cup replay,’ gushed TalkSport. The BBC’s match report meanwhile was at pains to highlight why the German had taken a great big dump on a highly revered 149-year-old tournament. It’s because Liverpool were ‘fighting on three fronts’ apparently: a perfectly normal occurrence for any leading club.
Imagine for a moment that it had been Pep Guardiola who had shown such disdain for a national institution. Imagine the outrage and the over-the-top condemnation. That disparity has very little to do with the Catalan’s reserve compared to Klopp’s gregarious nature. It has very little to do with offering up great copy or otherwise.
A couple of years back a journalist -an actual professional journalist – asked the Liverpool manager in a pre-match presser if he was aware that everybody loved him. Seriously. That happened. It was sickening sycophancy that made the recipient uncomfortable, with Klopp – to his credit – pointing out that maybe he’s not on rival fans’ Christmas card lists. Even so, that’s what we’re dealing with here: a blind devotion not witnessed since the days when Good Ol’ ‘Arry used to pal it up with the tabloid guys, only on another level altogether.
If that is not galling enough, it’s only made significantly worse by the undeniable truth that the picture the media paint of Klopp – that he is a swell and thoroughly lovely fella – is not remotely correct, not even close. Because when things are going well for the German he is excellent company indeed: all laughs and jokes and showing magnanimity to his defeated opponents.
But when Liverpool lose his Jekyll and Hyde nature inevitably emerges, unnervingly so and strangely reminiscent of a pub psycho when you think about the brittle and unexpected suddenness of it. Go watch the clips on YouTube. Tell me it doesn’t remind you of a conversation you’ve definitely had at least once down the boozer with an unhinged lad who is looking to cause trouble while you try to deflect and wish you hadn’t gone out that night.
Klopp ‘turns’, lashing out at anyone or anything and this is fine when it’s Sean Dyche or when he moans about the scheduling of games. It’s actually quite comical too when he complains about a side daring to win at Anfield by deploying a style different to his own as he did when he claimed that Atletico Madrid ‘don’t play proper football’ last season.
But Klopp doesn’t just snipe about opposition managers or television companies or rival teams: all acceptable targets. What he prefers to do – and he’s done this too many times for it not to be considered a trait – is to take out his frustrations on an individual. To pick a fight with them. To embarrass them until he feels slightly better.
And that individual is almost always a journalist. Yup, that’s right, the very guys who rally to his cause. The fans in all but name. Klopp thinks nothing of biting the hand that feeds him puff pieces.
There is a clip online of the manager under pressure ahead of a Champions League clash. Jordan Henderson is speaking at a pre-match presser and a translator is passing on his comments to the international audience. Only the translator misinterprets a phrase and relays it slightly askew. It’s really nothing serious. Basic semantics.
Klopp, however, halts proceedings and reprimands the guy. In full view of everyone, he dresses down the guy in public, humiliating him in the process. Even the Liverpool boss eventually realized he had gone too far on that occasion. The following day he issued a fulsome apology.
Or what about the time he badgered a Sky interviewer into giving his opinion on a penalty awarded to Everton following a disappointing derby draw? The interviewer is very clearly reluctant to do so but eventually concedes that he viewed it as soft but givable. To which Klopp laughs abnormally and replies with, “Well we can stop the interview because I only want to talk to people who have a little understanding of football”.
When it’s mentioned that the experts in the studio – all of whom have vast footballing experience – also believe it was a spot-kick Klopp reverts to the trope of a spoilt brat. “I’m sorry. I’m wrong. You’re all right”. It is the language of a nine-year-old.
The willful antagonism after a defeat was again on display late last term when the Reds lost 4-0 to Manchester City. Geoff Shreeves serves Klopp up with an easy answer on a platter asking if Liverpool had some decent chances in the game’s early stages. They clearly did. Yet Klopp purposely chooses to misconstrue this soft-ball enquiry because he’s incredibly annoyed and he wants a suitable whipping boy. The ensuing dialogue is pure cringe, as a man flails to start a row and spectacularly misses.
He punches down; that’s what is so appalling. He punches down when things don’t go his way and when you’re talking about a powerful person from any walk of life doing that it’s the hallmark of an absolute louse.
What intrigues and depresses in equal moderation is that the media have noticed this deplorable habit. How could they not when it is so commonplace? And yet despite it being at the expense of their profession they go to great lengths to excuse him, their tongues hanging out, hoping that he might one day love them as they love him.
Across his six years in England there have been umpteen articles written describing Klopp as a ‘bad loser’ which is the most generous depiction of his behaviour. Generous in the extreme. Klopp incidentally, for his part quickly recognized that this angle minimized the damage to his reputation and jumped on board, admitting he was an ‘under-average loser’.
But is Chris Wilder not also a bad loser? Or Mourinho? Or Guardiola? Or any other Premier League manager for that matter? Yet do they hector and harangue journalists simply because their team has lost a game of football? Do they espouse conspiracy theories each and every time another team has scored more goals?
No, this goes far beyond mere tetchiness. It is unsavoury and is deserving of the strongest condemnation.
Last month Steve Nicol – a Liverpool legend no less – said on ESPN – “It’s the first time I can ever remember listening to him and thinking ‘right, I’ve had enough of that Jurgen’. When you keep criticizing things time after time it gets old and it gets annoying”. Anyone watching not of an Anfield persuasion probably stood up and cheered at hearing that. Finally…finally!….perhaps the media are catching on?
Catching on to the fact that their ridiculous and nauseating publicity machine has not fooled anyone; that they only look sycophantic and cowardly as a consequence. And that while Jurgen Klopp is an incredible manager, as a man he pales to that of his peers.