THIS was supposed to be a column backing Jürgen Klopp’s contention that if his team is supposed to be on a league designated break, well then he was perfectly within his rights to put out whatever team he wants to fulfil the wishes of the Premier League and the welfare of his players to be rested.
But the more one observes the stances of the various participants involved in this dispute, the more you have to consider that the German may be on the wrong side of this argument.
Jürgen Klopp has been a breath of fresh air to the game. His positive philosophy and man-management has transformed the English game, made it a lot more entertaining and raised both the quality and endeavour of both his team and the sides opposing him.
As a Liverpool supporter; that he now looks like the man that is on the verge of delivering the holy grail of a league title to Anfield after 30 years in the wilderness, has already secured him a place in the pantheon of legendary managers, up there with Bill, Bob, and Rafa.
He is committed, brilliant, professional and warm but he is also human. His rant, after his side threw away a 2-0 lead to eventually draw 2-2 with League 1 side Shrewsbury Town, clearly showed that he is not just giggles and pearly white smiles, he can get annoyed, he can get angry, he can be frustrated, and he let that frustration show when he announced that neither he nor any of his first-team players would be present for the replay against The Shrews come February 4, bang in the middle of the Premier League’s first-ever winter break.
Klopp declared instead that Liverpool’s U23 coach Neil Critchley would be working the line with most of the club’s teenage talent doing the job out on the field.
In Klopp’s defence, at that moment of the interview, he was no doubt as frustrated as he could be by the performance of his team as much as the prospect of a crucial replay at the point when his injury-ravaged side had a chance to recuperate ahead of the vital run of games in the push for Premier League and Champions League supremacy.
Klopp ventilated his irritation that it was ridiculous to be playing a replay in the country’s premier cup competition when the league, after many years of trying, were initiating their first attempt at a mid-winter break.
The organisers of the Premier League wrote to the league’s teams that the clubs should honour the break and not demean it by playing frivolous international friendlies or other competitive games.
As far as we know, all the clubs of the Premier League agreed to do just that and make it a proper break away from football. That Liverpool have to now play an FA Cup replay a few days into the break no doubt boggled the structured mind of the German that sees how illogical it is to play a competitive game when you are supposed to be on a break.
His argument was somewhat undermined though by the FA clarifying the fact that they too had sent a letter to all the clubs last April, that the fourth round replays would be played on the week starting February 3. And that was agreed to by all the clubs of the Premier League too.
It is no doubt frustrating to Klopp that one branch of the game’s governing bodies are at odds with the other but it is hardly unheard of. And it is what it is, whether if frustrates your hopes for recuperation or plans to assault the pinnacle of the league title.
The easiest way, of course, to have avoided this fixture tangle from a Liverpool point of view, would have been to win the game. With two goals in the bank, Liverpool have only themselves to blame that they now face a replay. Sure, the mainly reserve players showed their inexperience by getting caught out like that but that too happens, it was a risk Klopp was willing to take and it backfired. It was not Shrewsbury Town’s fault, nor the FA’s for that matter. It was bad luck and a miscalculation by Klopp and his team. So they have to pay the price. Simple as that.
Some pundits and a few opposing fans have taken this minor Klopp 'meltdown' to say, "the Klopp halo has slipped", or "he is showing his true self now." As if they defrocked some dirty secret on a saint. This is plainly bull, Klopp does not assume sainthood but does expect to get the most for the club in every possible confrontation. And I imagine the majority of fans from other clubs would take Klopp in a heartbeat to be at the helm of their club if they had the chance.
Any assertions that his decision to not play his first team is disrespectful to the prestige of the FA Cup is nonsense too. The FA Cup has not been respected by Premier or even Championship sides for nearly 30 years now.
Klopp is quite entitled to play whoever he wants in the replay. He could play the U12s if they were registered. Most people accept that there needs to be a major transformation in the two domestic cups’ schedule, in England and that clubs will rest key players rather than risk them when the Premier League and Champions League are still in the mix.
But the problem is, by him (Klopp) saying he would not be there either to coach the line smacks of pettiness and a childish tantrum. The fans accepted Klopp could not be on the line for the Carabao Cup when they were playing the Club World Cup in a different continent two days later, but being absent for an FA Cup replay, however irrelevant because you were supposed to be on holidays does the German’s reputation no favours.
The issue of cups versus league will run on and escalate some more before it is resolved. One suspects in favour of the side with the money and that’s the league. But until then I’m afraid Klopp has to put up with the illogical and even dangerous traffic jam of fixtures. And while it doesn’t suit Klopp’s plans, he has to realise that the FA Cup is not there for the benefit of the Premier League. It's there for of all clubs not just the top six in the Premier League. Technically, Shrewsbury Town have as much a say in the competition and how it’s run as Liverpool, as much as Macclesfield Town or Man United as much as Chelsea or Crawley Town.
Klopp is free to vent his understandable frustration but he has no more rights to dictate terms to the FA Cup as any other league or even non-league manager playing in the venerable cup. Klopp has doubled down and confirmed he will not be there on February 4, but maybe he should swallow the frustration and his pride and walk the line for the replay along with his youngsters.