Something’s been missing

Ok so in case it isn’t obvious already, I’m a Liverpool FC fan – I have been since I knew what a football was. There is a sense of anticipation currently surrounding the club that I haven’t witnessed in a long time. This Saturday, Liverpool will be visiting White Hart Lane, the home of Tottenham Hotspur. No big deal under normal circumstances, but these aren’t normal circumstances. This will be Jürgen Klopp’s first game in charge.

I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a new Liverpool manager. Roy Hodgson? Brendan Rodgers? Meh. I know Kenny Dalglish came in-between (arguably the club’s greatest ever player and previously one of it’s greatest managers) but, at the risk of incurring the wrath of die-hard fans of old, he seemed more than a little out of touch this time and an interim solution at best. It was probably Rafael Benitez that last gave me any serious degree of optimism.

In my opinion, Hodgson and Rodgers are both decent, honest, hard-working men – I felt for Rodgers after his dismissal last week; especially as it seemed to come minutes after the final whistle at Everton. But how often did we see them lose their temper with a journalist or receive a touchline ban? Not very, from what I recall. Now Klopp, that’s a different matter. I recently read about his accumulation of €58,000 in fines for bust-ups with match officials in Germany. Right or wrong, THAT’S what fans want to see when the chips are down. Love them or loathe them, but Alex Ferguson knew it, Brian Clough knew it, and of course, José Mourinho knows it.

Many people (Liverpool fans particularly of course) will be familiar with Rodgers’ usual type of salute after his team had just scored – often a solitary fist pump into the air. Some probably felt it was nonchalance, others (mainly non-Liverpool fans) might have suspected arrogance. Whatever the truth, when things were going well this made him look calm, in control and self-assured – the 2013/14 season for example. However, when results started to go the other way, it became all too easy to interpret his muted reactions differently. Did he really know what he was doing? Slowly but surely it began to look like uncertainty. Inertia. Perhaps, dare I say it, even apathy. He never seemed furious or jubilant in post-match interviews. Everything always seemed to be A-OK according to him. But clearly it hasn’t been OK for some time. There have of course been other factors involved – ineffective transfer policies, injury problems and more – but that’s for a different post.

 

Successful emotion, emotional success

There are countless examples of leaders effectively displaying their emotions to influence and gain following. I will steer clear of the obvious ones such as Martin Luther King – appropriate as they are, I have no desire to come across like David Brent.

So, to remain as concise as possible, I’ll keep it in a sporting context. We see it a lot in rugby. Paul O’Connell’s famous “manic aggression” team talk. That video makes me want to walk out onto a rugby pitch despite the fact that I’ve never played the game in my life. On a much more recent note, Ian Madigan’s tears after Ireland’s magnificent World Cup win against France the other day summed up the feelings of a nation. Katie Taylor’s Olympic gold medal victory (did I also mention I’m Irish?). Patriotism and Liverpool bias aside, we all remember the moment when José Mourinho announced himself on the world stage as he ran the length of the pitch at Old Trafford in celebration. Costinha’s 90th minute goal had effectively put his Porto side into the Champions League quarter-finals at the expense of Manchester United. The fans lapped it up. Why? Because Mourinho’s explosive display of emotion was one the fans (and players, for that matter) could get behind. Those at Porto looked at their manager and saw somebody who desired victory just as much as they did. He was like them, and they were like him.

While on the importance of behaving in a way that fans can empathise with, emotion in defeat can also be extremely important because, equally, it shows people how much you care. I will cite a more obscure example here and mention Michael van Gerwen, currently the best professional darts player in the world. I have seen MVG (as he is known) openly break down in tears on stage right after a defeat, and on more than one occasion. This is slightly different I know, because darts is an individual sport and not a team game – but, in the absence of teammates, getting fans behind you can still be critical. It’s plain for everyone to see how much defeat hurts MVG. That is the mindset of a champion.

 

Let me clear – I don’t like him. But what a coach.

 

OK Klopp, but is emotion enough?

Clearly not. In the context of football management, without the necessary tactical nous you are going to get found out very quickly. Emotion on its own might be entertaining at times, but a lack of results certainly won’t keep fans’ pulses racing (Paolo Di Canio, anyone?). The same is true of any other form of leadership – if you are lacking in expertise in your field, your displays of emotion will have the opposite effect and cause others to see you as simply being full of hot air. Emotion is important yes, but only if backed up with the requisite ability.

I will close by once again indulging my Liverpool bias. Looking at Herr Klopp’s impressive CV, he definitely has the track record with which to justify his larger-than-life antics on and off the pitch. He definitely knows he has charisma, and undoubtedly leverages that to his advantage. But make no mistake – this guy knows how to form strong bonds with his players and, as a result, knows how to make them want to put their bodies on the line for him. Whether or not he lives up to the initial media love affair, only time will tell. To me, he certainly seems to have the right ingredients.

The reign of Klopp kicks off at 12:45 this Saturday.

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