For all that’s been written about the culture of hypermasculinity in dressing rooms, footballers are a surprisingly affectionate bunch. When they score a goal, they hug. When they win, they hug. When they draw, they hug. When they lose, they hug (but quickly and with minimal fuss). Toxic masculinity is a scourge, in sport and in society at large, but the normalization of hugging is a sign of hope that our collective pain can one day be healed.
Nowhere is the hugging revolution strongest than at Liverpool. Jürgen Klopp’s tenure at Liverpool has been notable in most of the same ways as his time at Borussia Dortmund; he’s animated on the touchline, he defends his players from media criticism like a mother hen, he doesn’t seem to care much about gossip and rumors, and he makes a point of favoring the work of team-building rather than managing the egos of world-class stars (which is its own challenge). And, of course, he’s a hugger.
After Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Chelsea on Friday, Klopp spoke at length about the sense of unity and camaraderie in the squad. He emphasized that the players are congealing into a cohesive unit, and that, whatever the result, they and the coaching staff are in it together.
He was also asked about his propensity for hugging, after reporters noted he sought out every single player after the final whistle for a bear hug. His response:
“It’s not too important. I enjoy it more! This is what makes it more enjoyable for the players. Having something like this in the dressing room and seeing the players there all smiling but tired… that’s really nice! We had a few wonderful performances tonight individually, but they led to a really nice team performance. Together.”
There are some, fans and media alike, who might think Klopp’s lovey-dovey approach to team-building is a bit silly. Maybe even doomed to failure. But there are too many managers in this business— coughcoughMourinhocoughcough— who operate on the principle that it is better to be feared than to be loved. Klopp serves as a stark counterpoint to that idea. Which, ultimately, makes him more well-suited to Liverpool than those critics would care to admit.