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Kloppite

David Segar

Pitch Publishing, 2017

Softback, 288pp, £12.99

 

There’s always a danger with a book that looks at an evolving situation that, upon publication, it is already out of date, overtaken by events. However, in this case - a narrative of Jurgen Klopp’s first two seasons at Liverpool – there is much that appears either unchanged or in a state of continuity. So, this narrative of his tenure at Anfield is timely and pertinent, with many of the questions as well as the optimism still holding good.

The success and dominance of Liverpool in the 70s and 80s has become something of a millstone around the necks of managers since. Yes, there have been intermittent achievements and trophies with Houllier and Benitez both winning European tournaments, but if anything these have served to underline the fact that there has been no consistent challenge in the league or elsewhere. Despite Brendan Rogers winning Manager of the Year in 2014 after the club’s second place, he was sacked after not winning any major trophy in three years.

The appointment of Klopp seemed to have an inevitability about it. He had guided a team from mid-table to Bundesliga titles, had revelled in and harnessed the fanatical support in Dortmund, and shown passion and an understanding of the link between fans and the club. His positive style of play -gegenpressing- was one which seemed to be suited to the traditions of Liverpool, and he had said that a job in England outside for a club that wasn’t fulfilling its potential would appeal. Plus, of course, a name that is heaven sent for headline (or book) writers when talking of Liverpool.

There was certainly a widespread optimism that Klopp was the man to turn the club into a major force again. For those that didn’t share it, the man himself said one of his tasks was to turn doubters into believers. The author, a committed supporter, doesn’t let his narrative become a rose tinted one. Nor does he express frustration at any perceived lack of progress in the first couple of seasons. There’s a recognition that Liverpool doesn’t have the big money that competitors can draw on and that maybe the club was a bit further back than was apparently the case. The second-place finish in 2014, for instance, owed much to them having the outstanding talent of Luis Suarez at the time. Without him the sum of the parts wasn’t possibly as good as others had.

Klopp is recognised as an outstanding coach; transformation of players such as Henderson and Milner into new roles and the development of Lallana are given as examples. Yet, at the same time as being successful at getting more from some players there’s a nagging doubt that tactically Klopp has not yet imposed himself in the English game. At Dortmund there was a feeling that other clubs learned to cope with his tactics and that’s a criticism that’s growing here. Maybe it’s too early to fully appraise his player recruitment but this season (and last) the defensive squad seemed lightweight. The author looks at both the ups and downs of the Klopp reign, it’s an honest and detailed story of one of the most charismatic and interesting managers in the country. When appointed he talked of three years as a measure for achievement. Now, after two, it’s an appropriate time to assess whether the believers have grown in number or not.

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It’s Not All About The Old Firm

Scott Burns

Pitch Publishing, updated edition 2017,

Softback, 449pp, £12.99

 

How many successful clubs are there in Scotland? Presently there is just one that dominates football there and in a manner that is probably not matched in any other European country, certainly not over a period of years. For decades, however, the pre-eminence was shared between Celtic and Rangers, the Old Firm.  Located in the most populous city, with an historic reach that’s rooted in cultural and religious loyalties, they have accrued more silverware, supporters and publicity than, probably, the rest of Scottish clubs put together. But there is much more to Scottish football and every so often the giants’ stranglehold has been loosened.  Scott Burns has produced an impressive volume that chronicles the “uprisings” of the past 30 years or so by teams from other parts of the country and gives hope that they can continue.

 

The first Scottish league championship was shared; between Dumbarton and Rangers in 1891. Indeed, it was Dumbarton who won it outright the following season and it wasn’t until the next year that Celtic first lifted the trophy. Similarly with Scottish FA Cup. In its first 18 seasons (starting 1874) neither of the Old Firm won it. Honours went to Queens Park, Third Lanark, Vale of Leven, Dumbarton, Renton, Hibs and Hearts.  So it was from the 1890s that the Glasgow big two began their rise to pre-eminence and, to many outsiders, it has generally appeared to have been the case ever since (Rangers’ recent troubles set aside). Closer inspection obviously shows that it hasn’t always been a shoo in for them and the great Hibs team of the 1940s and 50s almost rocked the boat, with isolated success for other clubs perforating the litany of Old Firm success.

 

This book is really about the last 30 years or so. The author describes the winning achievements of Aberdeen and Dundee United. The “New Firm” he calls the teams of Alex Ferguson and Jim McLean with their feats both domestically and in Europe, and nearly half the chapters are concerned with these two clubs. There’s much more however and the glories, albeit temporary in many cases, of Hearts, St Mirren, Ross County, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Motherwell, Raith, Kilmarnock, Livingston, Hibs and St Johnstone are all chronicled. Based on over 100 interviews, the vast majority with ex-players, it is vibrant with passionate memories and there’s an ever-present sense of pride and affection that not only has the duopoly been breached but that each individual club has achieved something, regardless of the Old Firm having their noses put out of joint.

 

For supporters of any club outside the elite in whatever country the ambition for glory is a driving force. There must be the hope, if not the expectation, that their day will come. Even if it’s not your club that wins, the fact that another that is in similar circumstances does do so usually provides some satisfaction. So, this book, whilst of specific relevance to those following the clubs that are highlighted, is of value and interest to supporters anywhere who still dream of knocking the big guns off their perch.

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