Football/Soccer

Kenny Archer: More than Liverpool fans in love with Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and his team put smiles back on faces.

YOU'RE in love with him, aren't you?", asked my wife, with a mixture of accusation and resigned acceptance in her tone.

It was a rhetorical question; my goofy grin, looking like a lovesick teenager, had given me away. The goofy grin was an appropriate tell-tale sign in itself.

There was no point denying it. "I suppose I am a bit," I replied. "More of a man-crush, really."

The 'him' in question was Jurgen Klopp. That exchange didn't take place this week or even this year, but back at the time of his appointment as Liverpool manager in October 2015.

Soccer has become increasingly ruled by money, driven by rampant commercialism, and Liverpool Football Club is very much on that gravy train, albeit lagging behind others with bigger income streams and/or more generous backers. It can make cynics of the purest and the purist.

In October 2015 Liverpool fans would have been happy to get back into the Champions League in a few years' time, never mind reach the final already.

That's certainly what my head told me then, but Klopp put hope in hearts – and smiles on faces.

There's usually optimism when a new manager comes in to any club, of course. Usually. (Remembers Roy Hodgson. Shudders.)

My hopes were particularly high about the arrival of Klopp, though, because his Borussia Dortmund team had been renowned for playing attractive, attacking football.

Brendan Rodgers had certainly got Liverpool doing that in 2013-14, when they came close to ending the long wait for the league title, but the team had become turgid long before his inevitable departure.

Klopp also had an incredibly likeable aura about him, an infectious enthusiasm and passion for the game evident whenever he was interviewed, or when he was on the sideline during matches.

You couldn't help liking him.

Soccer supporting makes most of us into teenagers, or even younger, certainly as regards the level of debate with fans of other teams.

Mostly it barely rises above 'Your team smells' - 'No, your team stinks'.

Yet an indication of the Klopp effect is the number of Manchester United fans who have admitted, unprompted, that they prefer to watch Liverpool at present. Arguably that's not much of a compliment, but it's still quite an admission given the rivalry between those two sets of supporters.

Red Devils will still be dusting off their 'Ronaldo' shirts and roaring on Real Madrid on Saturday night, of course, quite understandably. But they would love to have the German in charge at Old Trafford.

Klopp has rekindled Liverpool's romanticism, has connected with the club's supporters.

Like Rafa Benitez, King Kenny Dalglish, Bill Shankly, all in their different ways, Klopp 'gets' the club, is in tune with the fans.

More importantly, he has delivered on that initial expectation. He quickly took Liverpool to two finals then, in his first full season, back into the Champions League.

This term he's completed the tricky balancing act of securing a top four place while also progressing in Europe.

'No trophies yet though!', some will cry.

It's easy to jibe at Klopp – 'Flop!' – and sneer at his recent losing record in finals.

It's not easy to do what he has done, though.

Sure, Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool are both big clubs, but taking them to Champions League deciders is still highly impressive.

His detractors tend not to mention that he also won the Bundesliga – twice – with Dortmund.

Those critics who claim that he's little more than a man-motivator, a cheerleader with only one way of playing, have been made to look increasingly blinkered or biased.

A major aspect of management is making the right decisions in the transfer market, blending new players in with those already at the club.

Klopp has bought most of the current first choice team – goalkeeper Lorus Karius, defenders Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson, midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, and forwards Sadio Mane and the magnificent Mo Salah. He's also brought through young right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Of the other likely starters on Saturday, his predecessor Rodgers wanted to off-load Jordan Henderson in part exchange for Clint Dempsey and didn't really rate the wonderful Roberto Firmino.

Klopp has made the Brazilian his representative on the pitch, a crazy presser who plays with a smile on his face.

Klopp has also restored the confidence of centre back Dejan Lovren and restored James Milner to the midfield, perhaps enforced by injuries, but showing a willingness to change his mind.

While his teams are mostly a joy to watch, he must also be a joy to play for. The 'arm around shoulder' attitude is evident and any criticism of players is private, not public, even when there's cause to complain.

As regards the charge of tactical naivety or limitation, Klopp has shown an ability to change, or at least adapt.

Some felt the departure of chief creator Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in January would be a body blow but the Reds have actually improved.

His absence has allowed for a more defensive, industrious type of player to come into the midfield three, which has helped reduce the number of goals conceded.

Another factor is that the defence for which I had often criticised him - fickle lover that I am - has been largely made over this season, with goalkeeper and three of the back four altered. It's still not brilliant, but it's better.

Anyway, Klopp still feels that the best form of defence is attack. Liverpool try to stop the opposition by taking the ball off them high up the pitch.

Their intensity and pace on the counter-attack usually make for thrilling viewing.

Klopp's teams embody the enthusiasm of youth in their approach to the game.

Real Madrid are rightly favourites this weekend, for many reasons.

Liverpool enjoyed some fortunate decisions in both their quarter-final and semi-final. They were still better than both Manchester City and Roma over those ties but made harder work than they should have after excellent first legs, which is a worry.

Real have come a more difficult route, inarguably, getting past Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, and Bayern Munich, although they weren't exactly impressive over the course of those matches.

The likelihood is that experienced and highly talented Real will complete a rare hat-trick of Champions League triumphs, but defeat won't diminish Liverpool fans' love for their boss.

Klopp has given them dreams and songs to sing around the field(s) of Anfield Road.

There's always a fear of opening yourself up to hurt when you give away your heart but with 'Kloppo' the love affair will continue whatever Saturday night's result.

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