Champions League: Rooted in responsibility to club legacy, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool relish opportunity in Napoli challenge

Former Manchester United right-back Gary Neville suggested on national television that for Liverpool, the Champions League, or more specifically their involvement in the elite European competition, will be a distraction from their run as challengers for the domestic title. In a build-up to the Napoli match, the pundit opined that Liverpool may actually prefer being knocked out to aid their domestic dalliance with destiny.

Liverpool’s sentinel-in-chief Virgil van Dijk had the appropriate response: “I don’t think he understands. I don’t think (those who say this) are Liverpool fans.”

File image of Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. Reuters

File image of Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. Reuters

Van Dijk, like everyone else in this team, gets it. Liverpool fans can proudly say for the first time in a long while that they finally have a team that gets what it means to represent the club.

The bricks that make up Anfield and the founding character laid by Shankly and Paisley and then built on by Joe Fagan, Kenny Dalglish, Rafa Benitez, provide the perfect acoustic setting for the rendition of Jurgen Klopp’s vision. The Liverpool team, the way it plays, is as much an extension of the city’s spirit as well as Jurgen’s philosophies.

The stage

“I know it will be difficult,” their manager said about the challenge, “but I cannot help think about it without a smile on my face.” Imagine approaching on of the toughest challenges of your professional career with an attitude like that.

Klopp comes from a community-inclined upbringing as a countryside Swabian against the backdrop of the Black Forest: where duty to oneself, family and the community fall on the same to-do list every day of the week and doubly on the weekends. The disillusionment of domestic life was faced with wide eyes and grins protruding. Growing up with and alongside nature, provided ample context and scale of what it meant being human for philosophers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Little surprise that one word that was repeated on multiple occasions in the pre-match press conference was “responsibility.”

Including this, Klopp’s philosophical tent stands on the tenet of self-empowerment. James Milner was quoted earlier in the year saying that Liverpool have a collective who are willing to, figuratively, run through a brick wall, for the gregarious German manager. Jurgen Klopp’s positivism and belief in improvement has turned around the careers of Divock Origi (twice), Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, Andy Robertson, James Milner, among others. It’s not difficult to understand why.

Camus’ brand of existentialism was often misconstrued as a philosophy of the defeatist, when in fact should have been seen as the opposite. Emerson’s approach to the daunting questions and challenges are “not met with a sense of anguish, but a feeling of exuberance, of feeling on top of things.” This is something the Swabian is a shining beacon of.

When Thoreau and Klopp talk about responsibility, it is not an abstract concept.

Klopp believes that he and this team have the responsibility to not only themselves, but their teammates, the fans, but also to the occasion. The players turning up for Liverpool on Tuesday night have in each of their way escaped from being “social constructions” of various forces that could have undermined and impeded their development as footballers and as individuals; but they find themselves there despite the odds stacked against them in their respective journeys. “Be brave, be confident and don’t hide from any situation. Show yourself,” is the battle cry from Klopp. The message is simple, and the message is resonating all around the fields of Anfield Road.

You’ll know when the switch flips. The sound of 40,000 affirmations shake your knees to its very marrow. In your mind, the first few seconds of You’ll Never Walk Alone is like a soft but resounding wave crashing on top of your head. The experience detunes your ideas of philosophy, idea of religiousness, and of community before bringing it into a sharp, rarified focus. When the song ends and you come up for air, you’re never the same Liverpool fan.

Anfield on a European night is about doggone defiance. It’ll be one of those nights where for those present the membrane of what’s probable stretches to accommodate magic in a floodlit stadium. When the anthem ends and the whistle blows, a sense of terror of what may happen is almost immediately overpowered by a sense of sheer joy of what may happen. For Klopp and the players, this is about much more than a match, it’s a two-sided conversation.

When Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli team take on to the field, the sound from the stand will come rushing at their confidence like a well-aimed half-brick. It’ll be up to Liverpool’s players to respond to the crescendo and hit their ports like a flaming galleon lined with powder kegs.

“I am really looking forward to it. It is really difficult, but it’s cool too!” said Klopp ahead of the match. His concerns are not unfounded. Napoli travel to Anfield perched at the top of the table in Champions League Group C; are second in the Serie A; and put four goals past Frosinone this weekend. The scorer of two goals in that fixture, Napoli’s forward Arkadiusz Milik boasts the best goals/minute ratio in the league, leading both Cristiano Ronaldo and Krzysztof Piatek.

Playing with a five-man defence, the team from Naples have found both balance and structure under Ancelotti. Nikola Maksimovic is expected to play the auxiliary wing-back/right-centre-back. Liverpool fans would hope to see Rui on the left wing-back position instead of Faouzi Ghoulam. Insigne’s Italian malandro needs to be nullified by Virgil Van Dijk.

Ancelotti admitted pre-match that Napoli will look to control possession and dampen the momentum. Liverpool need to give themselves the best possible chance of midfield dominance: a midfield containing Wijnaldum, Shaqiri, Keita and Fabinho should provide that.

“Napoli are good in possession, counter-attack as well, typical Italian team good at defending. It’s a big challenge but if something special is possible it is here and that is why we should try.” Concluded Klopp with that, but not before saying, “Every challenge is an opportunity.”

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Updated Date: Dec 11, 2018 14:53:38 IST

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