Is that the end – will we never see their likes again? Rest in pieces, British managers. You are never likely to manage another top club in your own top league. Clip-clop, clip-clop, here he comes. In English his surname means something – the sound of horses’ hooves in a corny Radio 4 Saturday drama – but in Germany, apparently, Klopp does not mean anything, apart from being a fairly common surname and the name of a castle.
With the arrival of Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool, taking over from Brendan Rodgers – the man once considered the best of the krop, I mean crop, of present-day British managers – the managers of all our top clubs are foreign. Man City, Man United and Arsenal, along with Chelsea (who are bound to get a grip soon), plus Everton, Spurs, Southampton and Leicester (who’ll probably finish in the top half) have all got foreign gaffers. Even West Ham, currently lurking in fourth spot, are managed by the ever-amusing, ever-smart former eccentric Slaven Bilic of Croatia.
If you want to find an English manager in England’s top league – and there are six still clinging on – you have to look at the bottom half of the table: Newcastle, Sunderland, Villa, Bournemouth, Swansea, or raise your eyes slightly higher to Palace, who are doing good under Alan Pardew.
But do you think he’ll get the Chelsea job if Mourinho gets the sack? José won’t go, of course. He has told us he won’t, and I believe every fib he utters, though he deserves a really good slap for the disgraceful way he treated Eva Carneiro, the Chelsea doctor. All non-Chelsea fans are loving his present predicament, not least because it’s a moral judgement on his behaviour.
But would Pardew go to Chelsea, or Garry Monk of Swansea – two excellent, English-raised managers? No chance. Top jobs are for top managers. Which, alas, excludes all Brits.
Klopp is a welcome addition to our game. He is very tall, a bit like a muscular version of the comedian Stephen Merchant, except for his teeth. Klopp’s teeth are enormous, like Ken Dodd’s rejects. They barely fit his mouth, which explains why he smiles so much. His English is excellent – yet earlier in his career, as a player and manager, he never played abroad. Shows how good the German education system must be.
He did a wonderful job with Borussia Dortmund, winning the Bundesliga twice, putting Bayern Munich in their place; but then last spring, before the season was over, he announced that he was leaving Dortmund and football to take a sabbatical. In recent years, I can think of only Pep Guardiola of Barça taking voluntary leave while still at the top. Usually the bodies of managers end up dumped overnight in the car park, still screaming: it’s not fair, the owner loves me dearly, he said so, the refs are all wankers, the fans are idiots, quick, where’s my lawyer.
Does it mean Klopp was stressed, with emotional or mental weaknesses? Behind the scenes, was there something happening we never knew about? Or is he a grown-up, sensible, mature human being? Unlikely. All managers are mad.
I always think one of the reasons we have so few top English-born managers or players is that they are so insular, they’ve not served abroad, experienced other cultures. They don’t know how football works in Europe, or the language, or the contacts. One of the many advantages foreign managers have when they come over here is that they know and can attract talent from Europe, perhaps players they managed earlier, even if they’re past their prime, such as Bastian Schweinsteiger at Man United.
But Klopp ruins this theory: his career was insular. And if it were true, Steve McClaren should have come back from Europe a better manager; and Dave Moyes, when he does return to our shores from Spain, will immediately get a top job. Har har.
Klopp, for the next few months, is football’s new messiah, an exotic figure who has Liverpool fans and TV cameras salivating. Shankly, arriving at Liverpool, was a relative unknown. So was Fergie at Man United. When Wenger got his job, even Arsenal fans said Arsène who? God knows, being a messiah can be a burden . . .
This article appears in the 21 Oct 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The 18th-century Prime Minister