Spectator sport

Football’s new Special One

12 November 2016

9:00 AM

12 November 2016

9:00 AM

Jurgen or José: compare and contrast (and please write on as many sides of the paper as possible). Is there any more charismatic man in Britain right now than Jurgen Klopp? A real Special One and currently sitting on top of the Premier League. He gives good interview, loves his players, loves the fans (they love him back) and is gracious and cheerful in victory as well as the occasional defeat. He is building a Liverpool side that’s playing with buzz, flair and an exuberant joyfulness; a brilliant coach but one for whom football is still clearly a game. When I stood on the Kop in the early 1970s we watched a godlike set of players: Clemence, Lawler, Smith, Hughes, Heighway, Keegan, Toshack and on and on… the best team I have ever seen. But this current side play with such verve and fearlessness, they are almost there. And (whisper this) they may be more attractive to watch.

As Klopp said the other day: ‘We are Liverpool — we have to play in a certain way.’ That’s a man who gets it.

Meanwhile in Manchester, and seemingly in need of medical attention, is José Mourinho. Once as magnetic as Klopp, he now seems to have lost it entirely up in his eyrie in the Lowry hotel. Last season at Chelsea he picked feuds with anybody from his team doctor to most of his players. Eden Hazard, one of the best players in the Premier League, was a disaster under José. Now he’s showing what a magnificent footballer he really is.


Once maybe, years ago, players went along with José’s claim to be the special one and played their socks off for him. Now perhaps they see him as a bit of a jerk and are playing like jerks themselves. José is a man in the grip of a confrontational madness, full of self-regard and too little class. And deeply irritating.

Some misguided observers, not far from this space, may have recently given the impression that there were fears over the future of Test cricket. Sorry about that: it’s in the rudest of health. The England tests in Bangladesh were breathtaking and we were lucky to get away with a drawn series. The enthralling defeat in the second test was categorised as part of a ‘catalogue of shame’ by various blowhards, but how patronising that is. Bangladesh were astonishingly good, and it was shameful that some England players had chosen not to come. The Tigers have long been a very good white-ball side. Now they are becoming a significant Test-playing nation. And who wouldn’t welcome that?

Down under, the series between Australia and South Africa kicked off with a 177-run hammering for the Aussies in Perth. And this after they were 150-0 in their first innings and the Springboks had lost the best fast bowler in the world, Dale Steyn, to a broken shoulder. (They are already without one of the world’s best batsmen, as A.B. de Villiers is injured.) This is now a formidable South African team, and it’s especially pleasing, given the complaints about the quota system, that their young black players, Kagiso Rabada and Temba Bavuma, are doing so well. Rabada took 5-92 to wreck the Aussies’ second innings and Bavuma pulled off the best run-out I’ve ever seen, swooping in from cover, and twisting his body horizontally in mid-air to throw down the stumps, beating David Warner by inches. Look at it online: it is barely credible. The teams move on to Hobart now. Can’t wait, even if it is an overnighter on the sofa.

Good to see Geoff Boycott and one of his greatest fans, Theresa May, sharing the Taj Palace hotel in Delhi this week. Both are people keen to get their houses in order, Boycs quite literally as he has a feng shui expert up to his house now and again to make sure he’s sleeping in the best direction for his health. Seriously. And you’d hope that he’d be able to help the Prime Minister on how to deal with the trading corridor of uncertainty.

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