Liverpool – humility and greatness

I shared a post – using Liverpool Football Club as an example – about how the benefits of good decisions compound over time a few months ago.

In it, I chronicled the yearly improvement Liverpool FC had made since they hired a long-term thinker with a great attitude to be their manager. The progress they made was as follows –

Season 1: 8th in the league
Season 2 (first full season): 4th
Season 3: 4th, Runner up in European Champion’s League
Season 4: 2nd (broke record for 2nd place points total), Winner of European Champion’s League

At the time of writing, they had just qualified for the final. They went on to win. They went on to narrowly miss being the League champions recording the highest 2nd place points total.

But, this season, they’ve left nothing to chance. In the 20 games played so far, they’ve won 19 and drawn 1. Exceptional.

Recently, after winning the Club world cup and becoming the top club team in the world, the manager of an opponent in England said this – “They won every first ball, every second ball, ran forward and back. They had the humility to do that as world champions.”

To this, a football journalist on Football365 had this to say.

They may be built on an advanced premise and technically impressive players, but they provoke something other than cold admiration. When they click through their gears on the counter-attack and players flare off in every direction, the response isn’t just to purse the lips and note the literal mechanics of the transition. Instead, it’s to marvel at how eager those players are to be at the end of one of those moves. How much distance they’re willing to cover – at top speed – to sustain them.

The real appreciation actually comes from recognising how exhausting it all looks; that’s what allows those who watch Liverpool to feel their work on the pitch.

It also embodies the humility Wilder speaks of. In this instance he was using it to flog his own players, but what he recognises is that even now, with the European Cup won and the Premier League pretty much in the bag, Liverpool have a respect for the game’s absolute basics. Not passing and moving and defensive discipline, but all the primary.

He finished his piece with this note.

Liverpool will presumably win the Premier League towards the middle of April and that will be the proper time for their accolades. But Thursday’s win over Sheffield United allowed them to complete a calendar year unbeaten in the Premier League and that, of course, is worth tribute in itself. Particularly because of the way in which that sequence has been maintained. Think of them, perhaps, as a piano which never goes out of tune, or a tennis racket with perfect string tension. Jurgen Klopp has kept Liverpool’s pitch for a very long time and in spite of some significant obstacles. Not least their own success, which can be a debilitating elixir.

And he’s had to be vigilant because – actually – drained of its energy, his team can be quite mundane. Individually, they have impressive components upon whom they can lean – Virgil van Dijk, Sadio Mane, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mohamed Salah and the rest – but their talent alone doesn’t provide an overwhelming advantage. Certainly not over a side like Manchester City and not in a way which would allow them just to scythe through the fixture list.

What creates that, instead, is this humility: the willingness to keep running and to keep playing with the same intensity. That is what causes opponents to crack and creates the weakness in their outer shell. It’s also Klopp’s most alluring achievement – because it’s so scarce. Having ideas about how the game should be played is easy. Every coach with a whistle and a set of training cones has a philosophy and an impressive-sounding list of influences. But bringing that vision to life and then holding it at its apex is a different sort of challenge.

But it’s been cleared. The substance of this success has been to stop the minds from dulling and, somehow, keep the legs from becoming heavy and reluctant. As a piece of man-management, it’s been remarkable.

Remarkable indeed.