Heart Of Football

Sport of a thousand emotions summed up in one perfect word

The owners might be having a ball, but how would we know?

As his team suffered the Friday night blues with a home defeat by Liverpool, the Chelsea paymaster Roman Abramovich cut a silent, brooding figure in the stand.

Liverpool's principal shareholder, John W. Henry, had more to say. One word more.

The Bostonian, whose company Fenway Sports Group invests in the Boston Globe, the Boston Red Sox, Roush Fenway motor racing, and Liverpool FC, reacted to the win in London with a Tweet.

"Huge!" it read.

The climb is under way, and for every pound sunk into bricks and mortar, the rebuilding of a team - an ethos - under Klopp is every bit as important.

Liverpool are on their way up.

If actions speak louder than words, at least the team managers give as good as their players. Liverpool's German coach Jurgen Klopp, famed for his all-action "gegenpressing" style, really gave it to every player.

He fist-pumped. He bear-hugged. He chest-bumped.

His satisfaction is communicated as physically as the "gegenpress" - the squeezing of life and movement out of opponents who must feel as if hands are tightening around their throats.

Huge in Bostonian terminology. Hell to play against, to use the word Klopp mentioned in the build-up to the game.

The one-liner is superfluous. One word suffices, and Klopp expounded another one when he leapt and punched the air after his captain Jordan Henderson curled in a goal from 30 metres out.

"Boom!" exclaimed Klopp. "Boom, boom, boom!"

The literature doesn't do justice to the act. Henderson, giving it everything in terms of diligence and marathon running, was actually shackled somewhat by a role that demanded of him the industry in front of his own defence - one of the roles that Steven Gerrard mastered at Liverpool.

But in the 36th minute, with Liverpool already a goal to the good from the unlikely boot of Dejan Lovren, the skipper of the Reds let fly from distance.

The ball rose, it curled, it arched over the left hand of Chelsea's 1.99m-tall goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. And it rippled the net just beneath the angle of the bar and the far post.

The violent beauty of a wonder goal, all in precisely 1.23 seconds from boot to net. The explosive joy of Herr Klopp contrasted to the deflated stare from Chelsea's head coach Antonio Conte.

Liverpool's 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge follows last Saturday's 4-1 sacking of the champions, Leicester City, at the newly expanded Anfield Stadium.

Henry was there for that one. He and his fellow Boston investors had promised six years ago when they bought out the previous American owners of Liverpool that they would get inside the skins of Liverpudlians, and give what it takes to give those fans back their club.

Six years of waiting. Twenty-six years actually, given that it is that long since the Reds won the last of their 18 English crowns, although the team under Rafa Benitez and powered by Gerrard did win that astonishing Champions League final against AC Milan in Istanbul in 2005.

The rebuilding of Anfield should not be underestimated. Last weekend's opening of the new main stand cost £115 million (S$204.6 million). And for that you can get Paul Pogba plus his wages for a couple of seasons.

The grandstand, built upwards and over the old stand like a towering hood, involves 1.8 million bricks and blocks, in excess of 5,000 tonnes of steel, 760 panes of glass and enough concrete to fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The statistics of a building are about as useful as those thrown at TV audiences during a Premier league contest. What matters is the effect (adding another 8,500 seats to boost Liverpool's stadium capacity to 54,000).

This still doesn't make it the equal of Manchester United's 75,635-seater Old Trafford. But patience, Liverpudlians. The climb is under way, and for every pound sunk into bricks and mortar, the rebuilding of a team - an ethos - under Klopp is every bit as important.

Liverpool are on their way up. Chelsea, four-time champion in the 13-year Abramovich era, are trying to forget how badly Jose Mourinho's second period ended. And in sore need of extra stadium seating because the ambitions far exceed the relatively modest 41,631 places at the aging Bridge.

But, Chelsea have a new manager just as active, as fiery, as intense on the touchline as Klopp.

Conte tasted defeat on Friday for the first time in the EPL. In his dark suit and his shiny black shoes he covered as much ground up and down the line as his full-backs. More, one would say, than Branislav Ivanovic has left in him.

The defenders particularly get to feel Conte's hot breath on them. "A lot of passion and intensity," confirms left-back Cesar Azpilicueta. "It's like he's playing in the games. He kicks every ball, he's running after it all the time. And he wants us players to feel the same."

Feel it, show it, run measure for measure with Klopp's Liverpool. Or else, one imagines, Conte will find players who can.

"We mustn't forget last season," the Italian said after Friday's defeat. "Last season was a bad season, I don't want to repeat last season."

He wouldn't be allowed it. Abramovich tolerates failure from no man, as his record of ownership shows and as even Mourinho found when last season ended abruptly for him at Christmas.

"We must feel the danger in every single minute," Conte emphasised. "If we want to win, we have to think like a great team."

He doesn't, yet, have the vocabulary or the team he intends to have at the Bridge.

Klopp has another word for what he wants opponents to feel against his emerging Reds. "Hell," he says. "In the first half, we played football like hell."

Another word for it would be Heaven. The movement, the pace, the running off the ball was reminiscent of Klopp's Borussia Dortmund. Except that it petered out, and there is a danger of burn out more in the English league than any other league on earth.

That, as Anfield swells, will be intriguing as the season lengthens.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 18, 2016, with the headline 'Sport of a thousand emotions summed up in one perfect word'. Print Edition | Subscribe