Throw away your runners-up medals

Last night, for about 45 minutes, Liverpool FC looked like they might just win the Europa League final against Sevilla after a world-class goal by Daniel Sturridge put them ahead. Then, as soon as the second half started, Sevilla came back with a real intention to make the game theirs and scored. The Liverpool players’ shoulders dropped: they conceded, conceded again and again.

Earlier, on BT Sport, ex-Liverpool Spice Boy and excellent commentator, Steve McManaman stated that runners-up medals were no good for his team. He said he would feel like throwing away a runners-up medal, in their position. Second place is no good to anyone: while the victors celebrate, the second placers slope off dejectedly to the dressing room to contemplate on where it all went wrong.

Even the Mr Machiavelli of football, Jose Mourinho, once  threw his Community Shield runners-up medal to a young Arsenal fan after losing at Wembley, saying ‘It’s the medal for the loser, it’s a good memory for him.’

During the game, Liverpool manager Klopp gave it his best shot, changing the team and trying to make it more aggressive as the players lost shape and heart. He persisted until the last moment to inspire his players and give the fans confidence that something might change. It didn’t.

Adam Lallana receives some passionate instructions from Klopp after Sevilla had taken the lead

Jurgen Klopp was frustrated after the game had finished, but he refused to accept that the defeat at Basel defined either him or his team’s future. He said in his post-match interview:

There are more important things in life than football. I don’t think God had a plan with me to go to the final and always have a knock. I’ve had a lot of luck in my life as I sit here as manager of Liverpool. I don’t think I am a unlucky person or life has not been good to me.

Klopp will go on to greater things with Liverpool. We’ve all been in Klopp’s position. At this point, as a runner-up, it is about self- belief and resilience: that is what decides whether we win next time. And I admire Klopp, who took several minutes to feel stunned and disappointed before he came back with his brave words, which were as much  for the team and the fans as about his own situation.

We have all been runners-up; we have all lost finals when we thought we should have won. One mark short of a distinction, one place from first, one moment from the sale we should have made or the prize we should have won or the accolade which should rightly have been ours. It happens, all the time and our second place is someone else’s moment of glory. It is their turn to enjoy the limelight and the fruits of hard work. Ours will come.

Good for Klopp, who promised fans that he would learn from the second place situation. He could have whinged about the referee, a disallowed goal, time-wasting opponents, but he chose not to, and quite rightly: his defeat is not just about dignity and fair play, but also about the determination to learn from loss and come back prepared to win next time.

Our successes and even our striving for success are a small part of who we are. Yes, luck plays a part, as does subjectivity, but we must refuse to be to judged or to judge ourselves only by our triumphs.

Behind any success story, and a lot of second places, is a great deal of hard work and, if we are to be praised for anything, it should be our determination, our resilience and our refusal to give up in the face of what may feel disappointing, unfair or simply failure on our part to be good enough. Images of smiling victors hide the hard graft which has preceded the success.This is also true of the runners-up. We all know people who have achieved last place and that, in itself, is a huge victory. How many people have retaken exams just to scrape that vital pass grade? How many people have struggled in shattered and bedraggled at the end of a marathon, sat up all night to finish an essay or starved themselves all week to lose a pound in weight?  Let’s not forget that these are triumphs too: first place is not always the goal, nor is it always the measure of high achievement.

So Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC and the rest of us will pick ourselves up every time and go back to the drawing board and start planning again for the future. Analysing what could have been better without too much blame and recrimination is important, although I’d be surprised if Alberto Moreno wasn’t moved on at the end of this season, as he simply doesn’t step up in the big games or fulfil the essential breadth of his defensive role.

After analysis comes planning and then action. The bitter taste of second place and the scent of winning make it likely that Klopp will pull out all the stops next season. He promised as much to the fans.

‘We will carry on, I will carry on. I will try with all I have to reach the next final, even when you know you can lose it.We are disappointed and frustrated 100 per cent but tomorrow or later in the week we will see it a little bit more clearly and we will use this experience, that is what we have to do.’

Great attitude, Jurgen! I couldn’t agree more. Ignore the critics and the fans of teams who didn’t get as far as the final and think it’s ok to mock the runners-up. The defeat was yesterday. Tomorrow, there will be success and in between will be a lot more hard work, planning and practice.

I am a great believer in positive thinking and making things happen. It’s about marginal gains, careful analysis, thinking outside the box, reflection on the past but not taking it with you as a burden of blame and shame.

I love Hamlet’s words. I’ve taken them out of context deliberately, but they apply here.

If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.

Thanks for a great season, Jurgen. I’m looking forward to the next one. I believe we can do it. Watch this space..

Klopp became angrier and more frustrated in the second half as Liverpool fell apart in the Basle

What if Jeremy Corbyn were more like Jürgen Klopp?

Jürgen Klopp came to Liverpool six months ago, inheriting a tired team who played slack and lacklustre football. He has brought with him a reputation, a rock star charisma, a keen and articulate intelligence and a unique sense of humour and mischief which would quickly endear him to fans. More importantly, he has brought the scent of success with him. We believe he can change things, a little at first this season, leading to the big impact all fans crave for in the future.

Klopp is changing the way his team play, imposing a demanding tactical remit. We now have more intense football which presses high up the pitch, more committed players who believe they can score goals: this is a great change from the stagnant play and the stale atmosphere in Anfield which was sadly becoming routine under Brendan Rodgers.

We hope for new signings next season, but Klopp has made a difference already, with current players such as Adam Lallana,  Mamadou Sako and Dejan Lovren noticeably upping their game. Improvements have also been made by many other players, Can, Allen, Firmino and Origi being a few names who have achieved far better form under Klopp than Rodgers.

Klopp has been honest about the team’s initial inconsistent form. He has been straight with his fans after defeats; he is always passionate and angry and committed to what we all want – results and change and the chance to have our blood pressure raised during every game with the ever-present belief that we can win.

The atmosphere has altered around Anfield. The Kop bounces and rocks; the fans have sensed the commitment and the desire which Klopp exhibits and it has affected his players and all of us who watch the games. He is infectious in his determination and desire, and every game is a game we believe we can win, whether a league match or European clash.

We believe he can do it. His fresh approach, energy, enthusiasm and passion have given us something we can believe in.

And then there is Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn was elected last September. Ed Miliband resigned in May after Labour had lost the last election, the majority of the voting population having decided he was not as strong a leader or as safe a bet as David Cameron.

So, little known MP Corbyn won the leadership race with nearly 59.5% of first-preference votes. He began his leadership by apologising for the Iraq war, holding a pally rally in London and promising to fight for the downtrodden. Many party supporters were hopeful; many new members signed up, desperate for victory. Then came the gifts to the Tory media: the no-tie incident, the National Anthem incident, the scepticism he expressed about the shoot-to-kill with regard to armed terrorists and, more recently, the disappearing tax return straight after he had called for Cameron to publish his details.

Rigid, awkward and with no visible signs of charisma, Corbyn is no Jürgen Klopp. Whereas Klopp inspires trust and motivates his team, Corbyn has allowed Labour to fragment. Klopp could win us cups; he is a contender for the top places: Corbyn is considered unelectable by many of his own party.

Klopp has brought a visible ferocity and  energy to Liverpool, making each fixture intense and vital. Corbyn, however, is a complete contrast. Watch him in news and interview programmes. He often mutters in a monotone, offering the same bland platitudes which might have just about held up in the 1970s and 80s.

Klopp has an in-your-face, gegenpressing, immediate ball recovery  style, a polar opposite to Corbyn’s laid-back pusillanimous rhetoric.Corbyn comes across as dull and disinterested during Prime Minister’s Questions, too. It is difficult to see how voters might invest in our new leader against the smooth or chummy styles of Cameron and Johnson. Corbyn chooses dry, tame questions, often clearly vicarious, as he has crowdsourced them. This may be, in his defence, that he wants to take the pantomime out of Parliament and this is, of course, laudable. But unless he can make his opponent acquiesce, and Cameron seldom does, he is giving the Tories a free opportunity to knock the stuffing out
of Labour and to demonstrate to voters which party has the strength and power to be the next government at the expense of Labour.

Klopp’s tactics involve pressing his opponent, never giving an inch: while remaining witty and fun. Klopp is gritty and determined. Corbyn gives more than an inch at PMQ and Cameron and his cronies take a mile!

I am not suggesting that, since Klopp is the ‘rock star’ of football management, Corbyn should be the Labour Party’s Lemmy Kilminster. But he has too much of the opposite: his calmness makes him look weak, his monotone renders him diffident. All of this makes him fair game and he pales into insignificance next to the more charismatic characters of Cameron and Johnson.And, sadly, if the Bullingdon Club charisma is winning votes, then Corbyn needs to promote a better, more plausible version of political energy  which demonstrates a self-belief and is infectious to voters, inspiring their confidence.

Jürgen Klopp will, despite any minor setbacks, take Liverpool forward towards league and cup victory. He is consolidating what he has this season and from next September, we are confident of a Champions League spot: we hope for even more victories and we believe that we can win trophies and top the League.

I  wish Jeremy Corbyn could offer me similar hope. He seems a nice, sincere guy. His road trip with Diane Abbott on a motorbike in the 1970s makes him sound like a dude and he obviously has a heart, but that will not win him elections. He is too frequently the butt of media jokes: people are talking about him in parody terms – the Jeremy Corbyn musical is an example of this –  and I see no evidence that he is uniting the party, demanding with belief and charisma that Labour moves forward  and putting in a few shrewd and effective tackles against the opposition.

To continue with the language of football, I don’t want to see Labour at the bottom of the League table; the penalty is too great. But is Corbyn able to take a leaf from Klopp’s book of management and up his game, to score the winning goal for us? I  fear that we have no really good substitutes on the bench and, in the long run, the next big title clash between Labour and the Tories will result in a hard-to-take defeat which can only suggest another season of bitter relegation.

I really hope I’m wrong.

Football- what is there not to like?

I have two wonderful friends who both hate football. They hate it with a vengeance. They are both brilliant musicians – I am not sure if that is a relevant factor – as if, in some way, being a specific kind of underpaid genius is a fair reason which justifies their sustained disdain for all things football.

Friend one is a classical pianist and to hear him play his beautiful music makes you want to cry or laugh or both (Even Lionel Messi doesn’t do that!).

He says of football: ‘I don’t really see the point. They’re overpaid and it’s boring.’

Friend two is a virtuoso bassist who has played with the best and, for all his talent, he lives on a minimum wage. Music is a passion and a lifestyle but it doesn’t bring in the pennies. He says of football. ‘I hate it. I just fucking hate it.’

I had a friend, many years ago, with whom I used to go to watch the home games. He would leave a blood trail if our team lost; he’d punch a wall and his fist would bleed as he walked away sobbing. In bars at night he’d smash glasses and lose his temper and threaten to hit people, simply because a player hadn’t performed well or scored. You can see why we’re no longer friends. (In his defence, he was a great guy, sober – full of fun. But what a tragedy, a lifestyle of misery or happiness, based on the lottery which is a football result!)

I could go on and on about why I love football. To me it is like theatre- the curtain goes up, the whistle blows, the intrigue develops. There are goodies and baddies, highs and lows, slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. There are injustices and tragedies- there are comedies and just desserts, then an interval and you come back again for another 45 minutes until the cathartic 90th minute, plus extra time, when the climax is achieved and you know for sure whether you have watched a comedy of errors or a revenger’s tragedy.

There are the evil enemies and those players we respect – there are the martyrs, the buffoons, the casualties, the knights errant and the heroes. And it’s only for 90 minutes and then you start to plan for the next game, seek out the next fixture, analyse the stats so that you can hope for a run of form on the next Saturday match day. There is the transfer market – we might buy a hero who will score for us, or solve the hole in our defence. We might lose our super sexy striker, although I live in hope that Sturridge will stay and one day Suarez will come back. If love is the drug, then it’s love of the beautiful game which keeps us hooked and waiting avidly for the next score.

I even quote Camus a lot to justify my love of football, but not to the two friends I mentioned at the beginning. I don’t mention football at all to them. But Albert Camus said:

‘Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football.’

Of course, Camus meant women too. And he’s right. Loyalty, camaraderie, courage, collaboration, winning, losing, desire, daring to hope, breaking the rules. Oh, those golden moments: Stevie G being sent off against Manchester United forty-seven seconds after he was brought on; recently returned Sturridge setting the team up to blast six goals against Villa. Then there was that memorable night in Istanbul… stuff that dreams are made on!

I have another friend who tells me that I like football so that I can look at the men’s legs. She so doesn’t understand. They aren’t men! They are combatants, athletes, warriors, protagonists, mascots, movers and martyrs. Actors in the sublime soap opera around which I plan my social life. I can’t go out for a Mother’s Day lunch on March 6th as we have a televised fixture at two o’clock!

Last Thursday, I watched the Europa game against Augsburg. I made every excuse in the fans’ book for the lacklustre performance: it’s very cold, we haven’t warmed up yet, so-and-so is still recovering from injury; we’ll be better in the second half, after Jurgen Klopp gives them hell at half time.

Yes, the game was certainly no classic; the players were somnambulant, so they were obviously saving themselves for the replay at Anfield this evening when there will be a corker of a match in front of home fans. Or they were holding something back because there will be a glut of goals – all ours – on Sunday in the cup final against City.

You see, there is this other thing about football fans like me. We are crazed optimists, believers in fate; we invest in the future; we live for happier times when goals will shower like sugar candy and we will bask in the sunshine glory of victory after victory. We are passive, hopeful fools who spend our entire lives BIRGing, (Basking in reflected glory – of others’ achievements).

So perhaps there is something to be admired, if not emulated, in the words of my two musician friends. They live in a world where they do not have the luxury of being overpaid for inconsistent or dull performances. They bash out brilliance for small change on a weekly basis and they are glad for the remuneration and a little recognition. Adulation isn’t a part of it. Yes, my muso friends, I concede – you are both right.

But on Thursday evening, I will hope for that great game in which we will battle well and emerge victorious; on Sunday I will be glued for goals, my eyes fixed fast on plasma.

So, to my talented friends who hate football, I urge you to look down for a moment from the heights of your unacknowledged  but unswerving genius, and spare a bit of pity for those of us who cannot hope to possess such skills in our fingertips as you have displayed with ease and enthusiasm for an entire lifetime.

The rest of us have turned our heads the wrong way; we look down at the feet, or at least the boots, of temporary, short lived, inconsistent, briefly flickering stars. We live in hope of the unlikely twist of fate: we thirst for that thrill which will probably not happen, at least not this season: perhaps we might buy a new team in the summer,  but for now, we can only stand and watch and worry and wait!

In anticipation of Stevie’s return

Steven Gerrard is something of a Hamlet figure to me: he possesses the Danish prince’s  intelligence and wit, albeit in his feet. He has a fatal flaw – he will never achieve his full potential: remember the slip at Chelsea. He is a hero figure: the night in Istanbul and the dynamism of his leadership will never be forgotten by fans.

He is tragic: his personal loss at Hillsborough embodies so many fans’ feelings of the injustice, which will never be forgotten. Now he has left the team he loved so well, and the fans who loved him, will the rest be silence? I hope not.

Jurgen Klopp has said that Gerrard will not return as a player. But Stevie G ‘s exit from Anfield and his journey to LA Galaxy is a little like Hamlet’s exile to England. We believe he will be back and picking over the bones of past defeats and he will look to lead the challenge for accolades, a foil in his hand, at whatever price.

steven_gerrard_3152793b

I have seen Gerrard in action. He is a playmaker, an inspiration, he can rally troops and  demand that others give their very best , as he demands of himself at all times. He plays with passion, which many may perceive as a weakness, but it makes for dynamic and heroic football on the field.

Camus said football was like theatre and Gerrard is our own tragic prince. Fans will recall his post-match huddle after the win against Manchester City, that season we so nearly won the title, in which his rhetoric was spot on. They will recall the time he stamped on Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera and was given a red card and how he regretted that his desperation to urge the team forward had resulted in a madness akin to Hamlet’s own blasted ecstasy. Gerrard is Liverpool’s own legend. ‘In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god!’

Gerrard certainly has a place in fans’ hearts. These fans will demand that he will have a place at Anfield and he will play a pivotal role in the club’s future and the club’s striving for success. Whether this role is as a player, a coach, an ambassador, a manager, only time will tell. As Hamlet suggests to Horatio, it will happen, but we do not know when.

We can be certain, however, that he has a major role to play in the future of the club. Maybe our success is inextricably linked to the return of the talisman. We await it eagerly. ‘If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.’