The push back against a Super League has started

Liverpool midfielder James Milner (Sky Sports)

Jurgen Klopp was irritated to be asked if he still held an opinion he voiced two years ago but the important element was that he did. “No, I don’t think it is a great idea,” he said and while he railed at Liverpool’s critics, from Gary Neville’s punditry to Leeds United’s choice of T-shirt to the Daily Mail’s headlines, and did not go as far as some would have wanted, it was a seismic statement. It made him the first manager of a supposed Super League club to speak out against it.

But Klopp’s tetchiness was a sign that fewer than 36 hours at the heart of football’s nuclear war has taken a toll. Klopp and his players are caught in the crossfire; through no fault of their own. Anger is directed at them, but they are the visible representatives of Liverpool. “A fantastic club,” said Klopp, but it is one that has been toxified by the actions of their owners.

The reception at Elland Road and in the city centre was an indication of the strength of feeling. “When we came here, Leeds supporters were shouting at us, when we had a walk in the city, people were shouting at us,” said Klopp. “Don’t forget we have nothing to do with it. We still have to play football. It is really not OK. I coach a football team. If people want to criticise me, completely fine. But other things, it is not OK. Our owners made a decision but that is one part of the club. The whole club is bigger than any of us.”

And yet the game is bigger than Liverpool, which Fenway Sports Group ought to remember. It is inescapable that they have tried to use a pandemic to ram through a measure that rides roughshod over fans’ wishes. Had there been 35,000 Leeds supporters at Elland Road, even more people would have been shouting at them. At the moment, fans have fewer ways to make their voices heard, but Klopp was annoyed that Liverpool supporters removed flags from the Kop.

“My problem is that the banners are there for the team,” he said. More than most in the modern game, he is a manager who forged a bond between players and supporters; it was a mutually beneficial relationship as they fed off each other, but now they have been divided.

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Klopp can be a skilled salesman for FSG, projecting values they don’t share, and can be diplomatic enough to not criticise his employers. “Really good people,” he said; it is a verdict ever fewer share. But he has been put in an impossible position but this is a battle for football’s soul. Klopp can be amongst the most soulful of managers, a man who sees something romantic in collective effort and working for the working people. He savours wins because his teams sweat for them, because they mean something.

He loves competition and the European Super League is anti-competitive. When he took over Borussia Dortmund, few would have invited them into a Super League. Klopp led them to a Champions League final. The culmination of his career was winning the competition in 2019, the greatest game the 4-0 win over Barcelona.

Klopp knows the Super League is wrong. As he said before kick-off: “I have no issues with the Champions League, I like the competitive factor of football. I like that West Ham have the chance to play Champions League football next season.”

His vice-captain grew up a Leeds fan. James Milner was on their books when Leeds were Champions League semi-finalists; he debuted 18 months after that and finally became a Champions League winner almost 17 years later. “What has made it special what we have done over the last few years is we have earned the right to win the Champions League and earned the right to win the Premier League,” he said.

One of the game’s most grounded and admirable characters had a blunt verdict on the Super League. “I don’t like it and I hope it doesn’t happen,” Milner said. FSG have not consulted their manager or their senior professional, let alone their opposition, but coaches and players have a part to play in saving the game and this represented the right sort of start.

“For me playing in a league you can’t get relegated or promoted… it is not football,” said Leeds’ top scorer, Patrick Bamford. His manager’s rhetoric can be impenetrable. Not this time; an idealist may not be a man of the people, in the way Klopp is, but he spoke up for them.

“Even if there are owners, the real owners of football are the ones who love the badge and without them football will disappear,” said Marcelo Bielsa. His polemic was part analysis of the world of big business – “it shouldn’t surprise us, this is the way the economy works in the world” – but his message boiled down to his first few words. “Of course it causes harm to football,” he said.

Klopp, Milner, Bielsa and Bamford are all against it. They know the Super League is not a great idea. And now it is up to other footballers and football managers to follow their lead.

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Published: 2021-04-20 08:54:46

Tags: #push #Super #League #started

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