Liverpool battled to a hard-fought 2-2 draw against West Bromwich Albion this weekend, securing the point with a last-gasp, 95th-minute equalizer through Divock Origi’s deflected strike. But oddly enough, the match has subsequently received less press for the Reds’ last-minute heroics than for their manager Jurgen Klopp’s post-game celebration.
Linking hands in a gesture common in Germany’s Bundesliga, but rarely seen in England’s top flight, Klopp led his players in saluting the Kop for their support throughout the match—dismal as it often was.
Although, at the time, the fans loved it, the media has been less kind. In his falsely dichotomous, if tongue-in-cheek column about the Premier League’s “Heroes and Villains” Iain Macintosh thumped Klopp into the latter category. Qualifying it with a preface of faint praise, he admonished the German manager that “You do not gleefully salute [Anfield] when you salvage a point against West Bromwich bloody Albion.”
Similarly, in a longer piece also for ESPN, Tony Evans wondered if Klopp’s applauding the crowd might backfire by leaving his players jaded, frustrated by the notion of celebrating dropped points, In that light, Evans asks, “What in the world was Klopp thinking?”
Let’s be honest: drawing at home against a club sitting in the bottom half of the league table is not exactly delectable fare for the Anfield faithful. It was not a result the fans, players or the manager hoped for at the beginning of the match. But Klopp’s gesture was not about the match, not about what happened between the players on the pitch, it was about the support they received from the stands.
And if the result was frustrating, disappointing, infuriating even, then isn’t that all the more reason to applaud the crowd for sticking it out and cheering their boys’ late goal regardless? Aren’t moments like this—a last-ditch, stoppage time goal in a tight match presumed to be a slice of cake—the reason we love the game to begin with?
In addition to parsing the fact that Klopp’s applause was for the fans, rather than the result, it’s also important to note his reaction to Tony Pulis at game’s end. After Pulis’ trademark tactics of bus parking and long balling, Klopp was clearly frustrated. Add to that some aggressive challenges—one of which saw Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren taken off on a stretcher—and it’s no surprise that the characteristically fiery Klopp was riled up at the equalizing moment in the 95th minute. The Reds boss snubbed his counterpart after the final whistle, and even, at least initially, wagged his finger in the face of West Brom’s assistant coach Mark O’Connor.
As a fan, after seeing your team dominate possession yet fail to win, seeing the opposition harry your players all the way to the infirmary with Pulis’ tactics, wouldn’t you rather the manager applaud you for ponying up to buy a seat and showing up in support of your team than shake hands with the man who led the opposition? Perhaps I’m unduly partisan, but were I wearing red at Anfield this weekend, I know I would.
In his critique of Klopp’s actions, the ever-thoughtful Evans suggested that, while the fans might eat it up, the manager should have considered the mentality of his players, and been wary of alienating the dressing room. After all, Evans points out, “The best way to win over a stadium full of supporters is not to flatter them after a disappointing performance but win for them.” And, truly, it’s tough to do that with a group of guys jaded by falsely applauding a single point.
Evans point is well taken, but perhaps misses the one Klopp himself would be most keen to highlight. Players come and go—but the fans in the stands are present for years and decades on end. In five, 10, 20 years, will those who were singing in the stands at Anfield this weekend tell their children of how they witnessed the very first ‘Klopp Kop salute’? Who knows, but they’ll certainly be hoping so.
And Jurgen will be counting on it.
This is a manager who has spent his entire career with just two clubs before Liverpool. Not just his career as a manager—his playing and managerial careers combined. Jurgen Klopp played more than 300 matches for one, FSV Mainz 05 during the 1990’s, and then, in 2001, took over as the club’s manager upon his retirement as a player. He would remain with Mainz for seven years, until he joined Borussia Dortmund in 2008.
After winning unprecedented glory with Dortmund—including back-to-back Bundesliga titles and, along with the second crown, the first league & cup double in club history—Klopp stepped down at the end of last season. With the years he put in at both clubs, Klopp developed a rapport with the fans unlikely seen between any other club and its manager in England today, with the possible exception of Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger.
That Klopp saluted Anfield doesn’t mean draws against lower table teams are the sum of his ambition at Anfield, it means he’s keen to establish that rapport sooner, rather than later. And again, his salute may have been catalyzed by Origi’s late equalizer, but it was essentially about what happened around the pitch rather than on it. After the match, Klopp addressed the media, touching on the crowd’s support and his salute to them directly.
“It was the best atmosphere since I’ve been here,” said Klopp. “I enjoyed the atmosphere with my whole body. Maybe the crowd were disappointed but they didn’t let us feel that. We were all in the game.”
Klopp knows what he’s doing. Between the training ground, the dressing room, and everywhere in-between, before Liverpool’s next match, Klopp will have literally hours on end to converse with his players, addressing them individually and en masse, with multiple opportunities to convey the rationale behind everything from his team selection and tactics (which are more important, it should be said) to applauding the home crowd in their last fixture. With the fans, he has somewhat less direct means, and fewer opportunities of establishing solidarity—and in a fever pitched moment, he seized one this weekend.
This crowd is comprised by women and men who stand together to sing You’ll Never Walk Alone. Do we really think his gesture didn’t resonate with them? And in the end, shouldn’t we trust Klopp’s ability to manage his players, whatever the risk of ‘backfire’ from this incident?
Belief is often touted as a cornerstone of winning teams, a spectral dressing room quality that, in a league campaign, can be the difference between the glorious and the gruesome (cf. Chelsea and Jose Mourinho’s recent damning comments about his players’ lack thereof). It’s clear that Klopp believes he will be at Liverpool a long time, and with his track record at Dortmund, there’s little reason we should doubt his optimism that good things are on the horizon at Anfield.
I’m no Liverpool supporter, but I will say this; I believe in Jurgen Klopp.