Spectator sport

Klopp’s childlike enthusiasm – and incalculable savviness

4 July 2020

9:00 AM

4 July 2020

9:00 AM

Where were we? Oh yes, Liverpool were running away with the Premier League and a mere three months later have sealed the deal. For Liverpool fans it must have seemed like the longest drum roll in history. A week ago the drum roll ended in an explosion of joy — too literal an explosion for some tastes — for those who worship at the temple of Anfield. Liverpool were champions of England for the first time in 30 years — and the wait for the first English manager to win the Premier League was extended for another year.

That last fact must be one of the sorriest statistics in English sport, which is to take nothing away from Jurgen Klopp’s achievement. Klopp’s front of childlike enthusiasm and charm screens a manager of incalculable savviness — both in matters of man management and playing winning football.

Why hasn’t an English manager picked off the Premier League title after all these years? First, this period has coincided with an era of outstanding non-English managers — Ferguson, Wenger, Mourinho, Klopp, Nuno Espirito Santo et al. And second, top clubs have developed a mindset that foreign is best and haven’t dared to promote home-growns such as Sean Dyche of Burnley or Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe.

It’s one reason I can’t help hoping that Chelsea’s so-called ‘experiment’ with Frank Lampard proves a success. He is increasingly mature as a manager, has taken Chelsea to an FA Cup semi-final, and they are firmly placed in the top four of the Premier League. Oh, and by beating Manchester City 2-1, Lampard’s team also handed the title to Liverpool.

In a minor verbal skirmish with Raheem Stirling over the dearth of black coaches, Lampard was admirably adroit and firm about his own credentials. He’s always been one of the smartest, most articulate men in football, and is now developing great emotional intelligence as well as the subtle instincts of a good politician.

With extra steel too: in the Cup match against Leicester this week, his anger at his team’s dismal play was audible round the King Power and heralded a massive half-time shellacking. He pulled off three of his best young players — Billy Gilmour, Reece James and Mason Mount — while taking great trouble to big them up after the game. The club are poised to sign Timo Werner, the brilliant RB Leipzig striker, in a £54 million deal, as well as the thrilling Ajax winger Hakim Ziyech for £36 million. Things are looking very good for Chelsea and their young manager, and there can’t be many Englishmen who don’t wish Lamps a fair wind.

It was all about the ball, was it, the crisis in cricket, perhaps the most socially distanced sport in the country? We’re told vectors of disease circulate round the old cherry. So club cricket is banned, and down in the Ageas Bowl on the south coast, the England Test party are sealed in their bio-bubble. All of them tested negative and, being under 40, have a Covid mortality rate of 0.000001 (approx). Still it’s that devilish ball: who knew? It’s a ticking time bomb of evil, as mysterious as the universe: Duke’s or Kookaburra; raised seam or not; red, white or pink; shined or spat on.

It’ll be Ben Stokes skippering England in the first Test against the West Indies, all thanks to Mrs Joe Root and the arrival of her second child. We couldn’t love the teak-hard Stokesie more, but admit to a light tremor at the thought of making your very best all-rounder captain. Poor old Botham took over the job for the 1981 Ashes, racked up scores of 1, 0 and 0, promptly got sacked, and then proceeded to save the series with some of the most astounding performances in cricket. But good luck Ben — and Mrs Root.

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