At time of writing, nearly every reputable news source is reporting that the cooky, bespectacled, and inspirational German, Jürgen Klopp, is
slapping Ian Ayre once across the face in celebration of every zero in his offer sheet on the verge of being confirmed as Liverpool's successor for Brendan Rodgers. Done and dusted as this deal appears, there remains one other name being touted as an eminently agreeable fall back option: Carlo Ancelotti.
Suffice it to say, then, that no matter what happens over the remainder of the international break, the club is likely to end up in the best managerial hands its been in since the salad days of the Rafa Benitez era. With all due respect to Brendan Rodgers and none to Roy Hodgson. But what of the choice? On the field, off the field, in the press room, or in their stylings, these two guys are different. Very different. The same in how much excitement would be generated by either, but otherwise different.
To put it another way, this choice is between a fine set of holiday hams, folks. One has been cold-smoked for a few weeks, wild with flavor from enough juniper berries to make a plum blush, mixed with sea salt scraped from the slithering tongues of wild orcas (Note: No orcas were harmed in the writing of this piece). The other has been air-dried for nearly two years, slowly soaking in its subtle tones from such great sources as grandma's prize-winning herb garden and the atmosphere. From the Earth.
And yet the question remains: which holiday ham is the right ham for Liverpool?
Carlo Ancelotti - Analog: Yes
Not the synth gods who own lonely hearts, but yes as in whatever people say Ancelotti is tactically, yes that is what he can be, and yes that is what he has been. You don't win seventeen titles across two decades, twelve competitions, four languages, and seven clubs without demonstrating yourself to be tactically flexible.
Think about how different the game is between the first splash Ancelotti made--taking Parma to second--and the last one he made--winning the hallowed, historic 10th Champions League title for Real Madrid. The former occurred in the 1996-97 season, the latter was last year. Or, if you hate math, that's a timeline that starts with the Macarena, welcomes Google into being, and encompasses Jordan Rossiter's entire existence on this planet. Get. On. His. Level.
Back three? Yes. Back four? Yes. Slow burn possession? Why not. Double pivot? Si. Counter attack? Ciao, bella. Does it fit Liverpool's squad? So long as Liverpool employ professional footballers, yes, it does.
Jürgen Klopp - Analog: "Brendan Rodgers"
Wait, Brendan Rodgers? As in, the artist formerly known as manager of Liverpool Football Club? Stick with us. See, Brendan Rodgers--bless his heart--was absolutely brilliant in describing how his teams would play. And its within that catalog of conflated descriptions that one can actually happen upon the gangster lean of Jürgen Klopp's gegenpress.
Neurotic pressing makes you lose control, telepathic touches into open space, and finishing with a ruthlessness so cold they'll be asking for raw wool in next year's kits. Its a tactical package that is as simple as it is demanding. Don't give the opposition time to build their attack or to organize their defense. And finish. Finish them early, often, and decisively. Sounds like a lean, supercharged version of the 2013/14 season, doesn't it?
The finishing bit is critical. Because this system, combined with the more physical, frenetic pace of the Premier League, is absolutely going to be an issue for Klopp to sort through. It is going to take a physical toll on players over a season. Now, is something as awesome sounding as the gegenpress even capable of bending? Do we even care? Does it have applications for our love life and/or caffeine addiction? Circle one.
At brass tacks, this system should be appealing for two reasons. Firstly, it does fit with the pace and space dynamic of the English league. The dynamic that had Emre Can marveling at how much more difficult it was to cope in England than in Germany despite the latter's higher European ranking. It will be critical to Klopp's successes or failures. The good news is this league isn't replete with midfielders and defenders who are classy enough on the ball to consistently look beyond a cohesive press. And if you can skin that first possession-winning challenge, few leagues offer as much space as England's does. Bad news is the pace of the ball matters as much as the pace of the thought, and players with the high-level capacity for both don't grow on trees.
Klopp's system not only requires organized chaos to press and counter, it relies upon intelligent, slick movement with and without the ball to transition that turnover into attack. Guys like Mario Goetze, Robert Lewandoski, Shinji Kagawa, and some other dude Liverpool's owner may have once joked the club should go out and buy absolutely feasted on these flash-in-the-pan moments. Its as direct as football gets, but it isn't lump it to the big fella to knock down direct. More like greased lightning illuminating a field before the thunderclap catches up direct. Very akin to what Luis Enrique has gotten his talented pieces to buy in to at Barcelona. Which brings us to the second rub: talented pieces.
You can practically see Emre Can sliding into a stunned Michael Carrick, Roberto Firmino gliding into possession, then steering it into Philippe Coutinho's visionary one time for Daniel Sturridge to pass into the net. Its not beyond our lads to play that way. Its not rocket science to play that way. But you definitely have to be inspired and confident to play with that sort of decisiveness. Liverpool are a lot of things at the moment, but inspired, confident, and decisive do not describe this squad.
Carlo Ancelotti - Analog: Bob Paisley
Did you miss the part about how Ancelotti has won nearly every competition he's been a part of as a manager? How is that still not convincing you--do you know how a scoreboard works? There are two managers who have won the European Cup thrice in their careers, one is Ancelotti and the other is a man you may have heard tell of around these parts: Bob Paisley.
Get on Carlo's level; why is your life so depressing and unsuccessful? No, you can't borrow his grandmother's balsamic an reggiano recipe, not that it would taste any good off those beige ceramics, peasant.
Jürgen Klopp - Analog: Rafa Benitez
You may say we're a dreamer, but we're not the only one. See, what Rafa Benitez did in taking first Valencia to a La Liga/UEFA Cup double, and then Liverpool to a fifth European Cup, established a precedent for guys like Klopp or Diego Simeone. Guys who crop up every once in a while with enough ferocious clarity in their method to land the punches they throw, regardless of how far above their weight class they aim.
The financial reality at Liverpool, or perhaps more accurately the financial reality for the top English clubs, is such that this only ends in joy if Liverpool shock the world. Fanciful, maybe, but if the romance of that idea doesn't get your blood thrumming and your knees weak, then we have a broad selection of cold, plastic clubs to offer you, friend.
Carlo Ancelotti - Analog: Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade
HOO-AHH! Carlo Ancelotti, gotta love him. Who created this guy? Fowler must have been a fuckin' genius.
Jürgen Klopp - Analog: Cousin Itt
Just go with Itt, who are we kidding.
In truth, it's not that hard a sell for either of these guys, certainly not as hard as neither would be. Regardless of who it will be, he better have his powder dry. Liverpool's team is far from the finished product. But that's as it should be. Because the beauty of this game is not found in trophy cabinets and bank accounts awaiting further padding. Its in dreary, muddy struggles; in hoarse generations of fanaticism; in blackened concrete ports echoing foghorns through a crisp dew of gameday morning. The beauty is the way, and the way is shared.
In the end, its this wanton, preternatural need for a league title that sets Liverpool's fanbase on fire. It is that need that waxes every line of You'll Never Walk Alone with equal parts panic and passion. It is that need that Brendan Rodgers failed to address. And it will chew up and spit out the next manager if he doesn't sate it. Liverpool are a club, a town, and a fanbase ready for the big kahuna. Frothing and writhing, we've paid our dues. Jürgen Klopp knows this. Carlo Ancelotti knows this. Batter up.