On Sunday, Liverpool played a football game. They won it, bringing the club their ninth League Cup title and Jürgen Klopp his fifth trophy as Liverpool manager. While the game played out, Russia continued to wage an unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine.
The contrast of sport set against the backdrop of far more serious real world events in ways that are almost impossible to ignore has become something that many people will have grown accustomed to after two years of pandemic.
Still, a land war undertaken by a nuclear power for nebulous reasons with the city where Liverpool played a Champions League final in 2018 under attack ratcheted up the inherent tension in that dynamic, and despite perhaps not having an obvious direct connection to the situation, Klopp was asked about it.
“It’s beyond my understanding,” the Liverpool manager, who has often shown himself willing to discuss matters beyond the world of sport, said. “I am 54, nearly 55, and it is beyond my understanding how one person can put the world in such a situation, and especially obviously the people in Ukraine.
“I know so many Ukrainian people and Russian people as well. It’s obviously not about the people, it’s the war of one really bad man, and we have to show solidarity. How it always is in dark times, you need moments where you can think about something else and I’m happy we could deliver that tonight”
Distraction, something else to think about for even a time when events seem impossible to grapple with, can be necessary—and that’s just as much the case for Klopp, who says there are players he has managed who he expects are now actively involved in war in Ukraine.
“It is a really tough one to take,” he added. “Three days ago, since then we are all constantly on the phone. Former players of mine are probably now in the war.
“So it’s how I said, we have to show—but with sensibility—we have to show solidarity and it looks like we’re doing that. It looks like we cannot stop [Vladimir Putin], but at least we can cause him more problems than he may have expected, and maybe that helps the people in Ukraine.”
Russia has argued an attack on Ukraine was necessary due to violence against ethnic Russians in the east, a claim widely considered overstated. It also ignores Russia’s role fermenting instability in the region following 2014’s Revolution of Dignity, with Putin seeking to undermine the desire of the Ukrainian people to determine their own futures and align themselves away from Russia and towards the rest of Europe.
There have also been widely derided claims of ‘denazification’ used by Russia’s president as well some in the west on both the far right and far left. As is often the case, there’s some foundational truth to the claims, and to call Ukraine’s history of ethnically-fuelled nationalism problematic would be an understatement.
Yet recent polls have found, as perhaps befitting a nation with a Jewish president elected with 73% of the vote, that modern Ukraine has the lowest regional incidence of antisemitism with 83% of the populace holding a positive opinion of Jews and just 5% saying they would prefer to not live amongst them. For Russia, the second number stands at 14%.
Russian attempts to further paint the conflict as being the latest example of Europe’s western powers and America seeking to expand their sphere of influence have sought to recast historically Russian-allied Serbia, who before the dissolution of Yugoslavia and under the rule Slobodan Milošević were perpetrators of the largest ethnic cleansing campaign the continent has seen since World War Two, as victim of NATO aggression in the 1990s.
The main takeaway of all of this, perhaps, is that we could really do with a few more people like Jürgen Klopp in the world and a few less like Vladimir Putin. But then that’s not exactly a revelation if you’re a Liverpool fan.