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Everything’s the Best: The (Cruyff) Return

Thinking today about Cruyff Turns and redemption narratives.

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Liverpool FC v Burnley FC - Premier League
I mean, he was obviously about to Cruyff Turn him, right?
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

One of my favorite arcs on The Office (US) is the pair of episodes, Traveling Salesmen and The Return. In the pair of shows, Dwight Schrute temporarily leaves The Office after Andy Bernard is able to play on the lingering tension between Michael Scott and Dwight by using a clandestine trip to New York as the impetus. Dwight ends up taking a job at Staples where he, unsurprisingly, sells printers with panache but is also a little too intense (isn’t he always?) for that place. Eventually, Michael learns a version of the truth and brings Dwight back.

Now, I’m not saying that Adam Lallana is Dwight Schrute. And I’m not even sure who among Liverpool’s squad is Andy Bernard (though, I mean, if there’s someone who’d refer to themselves as The Nard Dog, it’d have to be Alberto Moreno, right?). But there was a moment of Schrute-ian redemption on display this weekend as LFC managed to stay in the thick of the title race.

I don’t imagine that Lallana is as abrasive as Dwight - I think that sadly goes to either Virgil Van Dijk or Jordan Henderson who spend like 90% of any match yelling at people - but there is most certainly an intensity to his style of play. Sure, Adam Lallana may cut a slight frame and he isn’t exactly the most athletic player at present, but he is dogged and determined and regularly puts in a hard shift. Much like the winner of Dunder Mifflin’s Northeast Regional Salesman of the Year award, Adam Lallana doesn’t really know what the word “quit” means.

It is this exact trait that Jurgen Klopp highlighted in his post-match comments. Pointing to the second goal in which an Adam Lallana block on the counter press turned into the chance that Sadio Mane converted for the go-ahead goal. It was, in a microcosm, the perfect example of Lallana’s effervescent and aggressive work throughout the match. The man buzzed around the pitch, tracking back runners, effectively winning balls off of larger opponents, and making a true menace of himself in the opposing half with dizzying footwork and raking passes. It was a complete performance.

And yet, perhaps we’d all written him off too soon. Sure, it’s Burnley and, yes, their style of play lends itself to a team like Liverpool and a player like Lallana to play on the front foot. Burnley are committed to getting forward, so space and openings are going to exist for good counter-pressing teams and players to exploit. It does seem a bit inevitable.

But it also still requires for that player to be able to slot in and do the job on that given day. And considering that I was one of the many who read the team sheet and found myself squinting at the lack of The Admiral’s inclusion (my new nickname of Navy Keith, which is, itself, kind of a nickname) into the starting line up, it was not an outcome that was much expected.

There’s a lot, I think, to explain the heat around the concerns at that lineup, but the chief one is that Naby Keita has yet to completely bed in despite showing flashes of being a special player. It is in keeping with Klopp’s tenure at Liverpool, of course, that everyone wanting to break into the team would necessarily require time to prove they have adapted to the intricacies of his system. Andrew Robertson spent some time on the bench early in his LFC career. As has Georginio, Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Alexander Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Xherdan Shaqiri. All of these players are of quality and, Robertson, Wijnaldum, and Fabinho especially, are broadly seen as important pieces to the Liverpool project. Keita will get his chance.

But this is not about the emergence of the new star who is still finding their way - this isn’t the Erin Hannon story. It’s the story of a returning warrior. Wizened. Experienced. Still able to get the result. And maybe - just maybe - still capable of adding more things to the list that make up the second appendix to his very detailed resume.

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