Commentary

Klopp cannot fan the flames of home support at Anfield alone

Juergen Klopp said he felt alone when he saw fans leaving 12 minutes before the end of the game with Crystal Palace. But he put the onus on his players to ensure that their performance prompts no such action.
Juergen Klopp said he felt alone when he saw fans leaving 12 minutes before the end of the game with Crystal Palace. But he put the onus on his players to ensure that their performance prompts no such action.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

Shortly after taking over at Liverpool, Juergen Klopp was asked by a foreign journalist if he had come to English football to right its wrongs, prompting images of a Germanic messiah handing out cheap tickets and serving up free beer after momentous victories.

On Sunday, Klopp lost a football match but afterwards held up a mirror to an element of fan culture that was totally alien to him.

No sooner had Scott Dann's header hit the back of the net to put Crystal Palace 2-1 up at Anfield than numerous Liverpool supporters began streaming away from the ground.

Aghast at what was happening around him, the Liverpool manager momentarily turned his back to the pitch while the game was going on and watched the exodus as it took place, his demeanour betraying his bewilderment.

Afterwards, he explained his feelings, admitting that those who had left had made him feel "pretty alone", particularly as there were still 12 minutes remaining, including stoppage time.

European football folklore might decree that Anfield is a cauldron of passion, the home of the 12th man where fans support their team even when a cause has already been lost, but the match-day experience continues to fly in the face of that reputation.

If it was a criticism of the Liverpool fans, then Klopp's subsequent backtracking ensured that it did not become a confrontational one. "I don't want to argue," he said. "We (the team) are responsible for ensuring that nobody can leave the stadium a minute before the last whistle because everything can happen."

By shifting the issue on to his players, Klopp neatly defused a situation when perhaps he should not have done. At some point, someone in a position of power at Liverpool has to ask the question that is posed in song by opposition fans on a regular basis: "Where's your famous atmosphere?"

European football folklore might decree that Anfield is a cauldron of passion, the home of the 12th man where fans support their team even when a cause has already been lost, but the match-day experience continues to fly in the face of that reputation.

In fairness, the early exodus is as much a part of Anfield's fabric as You'll Never Walk Alone. It has been going on for decades, with supporters leaving early for a variety of reasons, including getting to pubs before they get crowded, escaping carparks before they become too busy and getting to the Mersey Tunnel or the M62 before the roads that lead to them become clogged up.

Some leave before the final whistle simply out of habit. It has been happening at Anfield - and stadiums around England - for as long as anyone can remember, but it is anathema to Klopp, who arrives from a culture at Borussia Dortmund where supporter and team are as one.

It is here that the idea that he is the perfect fit for Liverpool falls down. Liverpool are not the English Dortmund. They could be, if the will existed in the corridors of power at Anfield and in Boston, but it does not and that means Klopp is playing the role of conductor without an orchestra.

It may not have been in keeping with the Remembrance Day spirit but the Palace fans had a point when they chanted that the commemorative silence was supposed to last for only a minute.

Liverpool, a club with the second-most expensive "cheap" tickets in the country, are losing sight of the identity that made them what they are. As yet, the best suggestion that the club's principal owner, John W. Henry, has come up with to solve the problem is to host screenings of away games for local schoolchildren.

At the same time as work on a new stand featuring more than 4,000 new corporate seats is being completed, it would be easy to argue that Henry doesn't quite understand the issue at hand, even if his idea was sparked by good intentions.

The opposite could be said of the Fenway Sports Group's choice of Klopp as Brendan Rodgers' successor, an inspired decision that brought one of world football's most revered coaches to Anfield.

As Alex Ferguson pointed out through teeth so gritted he probably needed fillings afterwards, Klopp has the potential to revitalise Liverpool and the ability to make them a force to be reckoned with once more.

But he can't do it alone.

It is unlikely that they will be able to stop the traditional walkout but they might come up with ways of ensuring that fans are supportive for as long as they are in the ground.

Klopp might have been too polite and too respectful of his new employers to point it out but many of the solutions to Liverpool's identity crisis are to be found in Germany, a place where fan culture remains a priority for clubs who recognise its importance in what they are trying to achieve.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline 'Klopp cannot fan the flames of home support at Anfield alone'. Print Edition | Subscribe