Klopp and Dyche?
Or Johnson and Jenrick?
Though there are occasionally some wonderful historical features on sport further into the paper, nobody would subscribe to The New European on account of the football coverage, though the latest edition has one of the best profiles of Jürgen Klopp I have ever read, by Liverpudlian Tony Evans. It justifies the £3 cover price alone. For non-subscribing cheapskates among you, here it is. Long, but strong. Frau Klopp sounds great too. Behind every strong man and all that …
Even in lockdown, football has never been far from the centre of the national conversation. Early in the crisis we had the debate about whether top players should take a pay cut. We wondered whether the once moderately sensible Matt Hancock was imbibing sufficient quantities of the Johnson populism drug to suggest they should? You bet he was.
Would bankers, hedge funders, billionaires who sidle up to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick and secure preferential treatment saving them millions of ‘doe’ (sic) that would otherwise go to support the poorest children in the poorest part of the country, face the same pressure? Not so much. Why go for a hard target you might actually bump into at a Tory fundraiser when you have the easy target of mainly working class young men who happen to have become very wealthy very young on account of being very good at football?
Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford had the best possible ‘show not tell’ response, helping to shame a heartless government into doing something that a government with a heart would have done without the need for the shame, and thereby helping ensure hungry kids get fed. (Watch the detail, Marcus, watch them try to slither away from promises.)
When we did get football back into our lives, it was via the Germans showing us how it was done. They are currently doing the same with competitive cricket … yes, cricket, I kid you not. Take a look at the date on the cutting – May 16!
Then, when my own team Burnley were back in action, there was as much focus on a plane flying overhead with a ‘white lives matter Burnley’ banner than there was on the football.
Burnley are lucky to have a captain as bright as Ben Mee, and a manager as savvy as Sean Dyche, and both handled the situation faultlessly. But it underlined a strange modern phenomenon – the tendency to treat politicians like celebrities and celebrities like politicians. Had this not been so, I doubt Boris Johnson or Donald Trump would ever have risen quite as high as they have. Have I Got News For You? has an important slot in the Johnson CV, his ‘he makes me laugh’ shtick a not insignificant factor in persuading those Tory MPs who knew he would be a disaster as PM nonetheless to back him.
I have never quite bought the line that footballers are role models simply because they are footballers. They can be inspirations in that they show that by working hard and having good values they can make the most of their talents and make a contribution to a greater good. In an ideal world children would be looking at their parents for that kind of role modelling.
But at the end of the day, if I may employ a football favourite, they are footballers. Why do we expect them to have the moral standards of an Archbishop, the political judgement of a (pre-Trump, preferably) President, and the diplomatic sensitivities of an Ambassador? The role model line is essentially an excuse to give newspapers spurious ‘public interest’ justification for stories about footballers’ off-field misconduct. The newspapers who are fondest of this approach tend to be the ones which most strongly support Boris Johnson, whose private life they have often viewed as a no-go area, even when knowing he was up to stuff that would have been all over front page and back, had he been Raheem Sterling, Wayne Rooney or Joey Barton.
One of the reasons Germany is viewed globally as a more serious country right now is because it does have serious political leadership. Angela Merkel gave an interview recently to a group of European journalists, including from the Guardian. It was noteworthy for two things from my perspective. Just one question on Brexit, briefly despatched, with the observation – I paraphrase – the Brits have made their bed and they need to lie in it. Secondly, the full transcript showed that the whole interview consisted of Merkel answering serious questions about a wide range of subjects in a way that was informed, informative and devoid of the platitudes and glib one liners that have come to characterise the communications of our own government.
At UK government level we have a vacuum in serious political leadership. This has enormous consequences. Take the ‘commonsense’ phenomenon. Doubtless in the nightly taxpayer-funded focus groups plenty of people have been complaining about the lockdown and saying the government should let people use their commonsense. Everyone likes to think they have commonsense. And Johnson likes to play back to people what they want to hear.
What could be more commonsensical, as the government eases the lockdown, than a day trip to the seaside, or a night out for a beer with friends? If that commonsense is simultaneously shared by many thousands of others on South Coast beaches or in Soho pubs, however, then we have a problem.
But when Matt Hancock says he will not hesitate to act, including by the shutting of beaches, a country tired of his presentation of a shitshow as a success, pays little heed. So Boris Johnson steps in and says that people should not take ‘liabilities’, but even as the word leaves his lips and heads towards the ears of the nation, the thing between our ears immediately summons up an image of Dominic Cummings and his eye test test drive and so the instinct – and we remember from the Cummings saga how important instincts are, do we not? – is to say ‘do one, Johnson.’
I was reading Bild Zeitung the morning after Johnson’s plea for beach calm, mainly to see how the German media was covering Liverpool’s Premier League triumph the same day. Extensively, is the answer. Jürgen Klopp was everywhere.
The Liverpool manager is a huge figure in German life. I watched a German news bulletin the night before and in the ad break Klopp was the star of two commercials, one for a financial advisory company, the other for a beer. The Alcohol Concern ambassador in me went ‘tut tut’ but then the ad was so well done, and Klopp’s personality so strong within it, I give up mid-tut. He has so much capital left in the goodwill bank. After all, this is a man unafraid to call out Brexit for the unmitigated disaster that it is, clear he could not vote for a right-wing party, or for lower taxes, and who recently said that watching the German and UK governments’ handling of Covid has been like watching two different planets. (Ein Mann nach meinem eigenen Herz!)
Also in Bild was a picture that will be familiar to all of you, of a packed Bournemouth beach. The strapline: ‘Niemand hört mehr auf Boris Johnson’… Nobody listens to Boris Johnson any more.
It’s a problem. If there is a second wave, and there does have to be a second lockdown, Johnson has the opposite problem to Klopp, Dyche and Mee (I mean Ben Mee here, not me Mee). He is running low in the goodwill tank, and lower still in the credibility tank. His recent gaslighting on care homes has drained the tank still further, making obvious that he has moved from the ‘Covid indifference/so what it lots of old people die?’ phase to the ‘isn’t it time we started shifting the blame around?’
When Liverpool fans over-celebrated their team winning the Premier League, did you notice who was leading the condemnation, and the call for people to calm down? The police, the council and the football club. Government nowhere to be seen. Indeed, if Johnson had been the one calling for people to go home, the reactions of many in Liverpool, not least for historical reasons, would be to do the opposite.
Then Klopp himself wrote an open letter to the Liverpool Echo, rich in love for the city, respect for its history, admiration for his players, special mentions for Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard, and then this: ‘What I did not love – and I have to say this – was the scenes that took place at the Pier Head on Friday. I am a human being and your passion is also my passion but right now the most important thing is that we do not have these kind of public gatherings. We owe it to the most vulnerable in our community, to the health workers who have given so much and whom we have applauded, and to the police and local authorities who help us as a club, not to do this. Please – celebrate – but celebrate in a safe way and in private settings, whereby we do not risk spreading this awful disease further in our community.’ Leadership. Authenticity. It shines through.
Klopp was once asked whether he would consider going into politics. He said No. His reasoning. ‘I have too much common sense.’ When he was asked about why he opposed Brexit, he said: ‘Do we want a not-perfect situation alone or a not-perfect situation as a strong partner in a very strong unit? For me it’s only common sense, because history taught us that if you’re alone you are weaker than the unit.’
He clearly likes the common sense theme as much as Johnson does. The difference is that Klopp seems to have it, and understand how it works in others. He has basic leadership skills that Johnson lacks, the ability to build a strong team, the ability to unite, the ability to inspire, the ability to be truthful, the ability to have a clear strategy and stick to it, even when forced by a pandemic to adapt, the ability to achieve great things.
I will take him at face value when he says he would never go into politics, but meanwhile feel compelled to ask, of football fans and non-fans alike: right now, today, 2020, who would you rather have in charge of a big project that had implications for your future … Boris Johnson? Or Jürgen Klopp?
I missed football, or more specifically Burnley, more than anything else in lockdown, as I wrote here a few weeks ago. So tonight will be one of the best days of the summer so far, as I am doing the commentary at our game at West Ham for the club website, and so will be among the 300 people allowed into the Olympic Stadium, to be reminded of that time almost a decade ago when the UK felt good about itself. I will probably meet up with my pals Sean Dyche and Ian Woan, maybe share a cup of tea with Ashley Westwood, and share the commentary position with the fair and balanced Phil Bird.
It will be my first real game, in the flesh, since we drew 1-1 at home to Spurs on March 7, six days before I took myself into lockdown, in growing despair at the dithering and laziness of the clowns and charlatans in Downing Street. It won’t be the same, I know, but I am looking forward to it, and giving my own as ever fair and balanced account of the match, in which Burnley will either hammer the Hammers, or be desperately unlucky due to a ref has clearly been bunged by a porn baron.
And as I watch Sean Dyche on the touchline, as he continues to manage our depleted, injury-hit, lowest wage bill in the League squad to the fringes of European places once more, and then head home via the area where Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick insisted that the back of porn baron billionaire property developer Richard Desmond be scratched, I will ask myself this …
Klopp and Dyche v Johnson and Jenrick … who wins?
On honesty and integrity?
On being good in a crisis?
On being good on the media?
Doesn’t take long, does it?
FIVE-NIL … TO THE KLOPP AND DYCHE, FIVE-NIL … TO THE KLOPP AND DYCHE. FIVE-NIL TO THE KLOPP AND DYCHE
Repeat to fade … despair at politics … love football … it matters more than ever right now …
PS: Meanwhile,if you have gor this far, you may as well stay a little longer …
And my Kiwi friends in particular might enjoy this.