There’s a maximum of nine games left before we discover whether Jurgen Klopp is the first coach to guide Liverpool to a Premier League title or if he’s a serial bottler in charge of a team full of bottlers. That’s what is on the line for the German and his team in the next two and a half months: legendary status or dismissive mockery.
There was a time – by which I mean a vast swathe of decades, from the sport’s inception to what we now refer to as the ‘modern era’ – where such a statement would have only been aired as satire, but then again probably not. Satire gets its kicks from highlighting the silliness contained within life’s intrinsic truths but at no period during those swatches of decades was such a complete absence of sense or nuance held true. Therefore the reasoning was so ludicrous as to have no place even in comedy. “If Bobby Moore doesn’t help England win the World Cup this Sunday afternoon he’s a choker”. Who would say that in 1966, even in jest? They would be considered a fool, plain and simple.
There was then a briefer time – let’s say a few years in to the Premier League leading up to the omnipotence of social media – where a statement like the one at the top of the page would have been put forward as an exaggeration in the form of a warning. A warning as to where we were heading by buying so wholesale into the hysteria and hype of moneyed football in the satellite age. It was an age where suddenly everything had to be one extreme or the other: glittering glory or doom or gloom. Shade didn’t sell subscriptions or newspapers. There was no razzmatazz in shade.
Now it stands alone: independent of lampoonery and without warning. Now it has become a perception in and of itself. Thought by many. Aired by many. Most scarily of all it is believed by many. There’s a maximum of nine games left before we discover whether Jurgen Klopp is the first coach to guide Liverpool to a Premier League title or if he’s a serial bottler in charge of a team full of bottlers.
Good lord how did we so dramatically misplace our bearings? How did it come to this, where we now reside exclusively in extremities; where nobody is allowed to simply lose anymore, they have to fail and fail hard. Worse yet, no player, manager or side is permitted to over-achieve or scale impressive heights without actually reaching the summit. Should that be the case they are chastised. They are rubbished and laughed at, accused of lacking substance.
It is all too easy to blame Twitter and Facebook but that’s because Twitter and Facebook are largely to blame. As football and society ‘evolved’ the tribalism of the terraces gave way to one big shouting contest online and the first pillar of communication that fell victim to this was balanced reasoning. It is worth remembering for all of our skewed interpretation of the bad old days when hooliganism was prevalent that people also discussed football in pubs. A lot. Long, rambling discourses between rival fans tool place where ground was ceded.
Only now the parameters have narrowed, echo chambers have formed, and limited characters do not afford caveats. More so, to be heard or noticed – which for some amounts to the same thing – it is necessary to be melodramatic. As an experiment, after reading this, tweet something perfectly fair about another club and see how many likes it gets. Maybe a handful if you’re lucky. Then put up a meme of Jurgen Klopp’s gurning face photoshopped onto Kevin Keegan’s tracksuited body during his famous meltdown. For half an hour at least you’ll feel almost famous.
The media too of course are hardly guiltless. As football became a constant juggernaut of 24/7 games it became imperative to create a hyper-reality where the narrative swung wildly from one extreme to the other, often within the space of a few short weeks. First a club is mired in crisis. Then the manager is a genius. Then it’s back to crisis only this time the manager’s job is on the line. In reality the team have lost three games on the bounce before finding a degree of form but by suffering injuries to key men they lose a tricky fixture to a side packed with millions of pounds worth of talent.
Add all of this to the aforementioned hype and hysteria of 21st century top flight football and perhaps it is unavoidable that we sometimes forget ourselves; forget our cognitive reasoning. It’s almost inevitable in fact that we get caught up in the madness.
To such an extent though? Well, to such an extent there is no excuse, because what we’re seeing at present is a Liverpool side derided as ‘bottlers’ for drawing away at Old Trafford and Goodison Park and for losing precisely once all season. It is a formidable run that has put them on course to complete the third best Premier League season since 1992 and the best Liverpool season in their illustrious history. If that makes Klopp a ‘bottler’ what does that say about Shankly or Paisley?
It only gets more bizarre too, because the consequence of this ridiculous and unjust judgement is a comparison that royally fries the brain. Should Liverpool finish as runners-up this May they will be widely panned; a nation’s punchline. Manchester United meanwhile – a club that has spent a colossal amount in recent years and began the campaign with serious title aspirations – will be championed for coming fourth. It is therefore better in many ways to fail miserably then turn your ship around than consistently excel and come within touching distance of making history.
This stupefying paradox also holds true of cup competitions. Exit in the early rounds and you face an evening’s worth of mockery. Lose in the final and that laughter lasts the entire summer.
Spurs know this all too well. In the past five seasons they have accrued a higher average league position than all their rivals bar Manchester City. They are presently on course to attain enough points to have won the Premier League in twelve of its previous incarnations. Yet they recently lost to Burnley which means they will not be crowned on this occasion. Ergo they are serial bottlers and nothing more.
It is a charge that undermines and belittles and in Tottenham’s case persists, beginning in earnest in 2015/16 when Leicester pulled off their remarkable fairy tale. Mauricio Pochettino’s men ran them close throughout but in losing ground late on they were damned as ‘bottlers’. City, United, Liverpool, and Chelsea meanwhile – who all fell away insipidly in the spring – got off scot-free.
There’s a maximum of nine games left before we discover whether Jurgen Klopp is the first coach to guide Liverpool to a Premier League title. That gives the sane and reasonable among us two and a half months to speak up at every opportunity and counter the insanity that is all around. To remind those too caught up in point scoring and tribalism that no matter what happens the Reds have had a phenomenal year. A year envied by others. If only you could bottle it.