Monday, 30 November 2020

Yer Gone

For an Everton fan I've been comparatively well disposed towards Liverpool for the last few seasons. They undoubtedly deserved to win the Premier League last season. Indeed they deserved to win it in the season of Stevie G La's unfortunate slip even though that incident, despite Gerrard's repeated self-flagellation over it, didn't occur in the game that really scuppered them, a subsequent chaotic 3-3 away draw at Crystal Palace. 

And I've said many times that I would have done the same as Virgil van Dijk and signed for Liverpool ahead of Manchester City as I would choose to play for Jurgen Klopp ahead of Pep Guardiola every day of the week, mainly because of Klopp's passion and passionate style of play.

However, I've completely lost it with Jurgen over the last week.

First there was Klopp's bizarre interview with Geoff Shreeves of Sky after last week's match, which wasn't aired in the UK but was widely reported.  Concerned for player welfare, and even though Liverpool hadn't been involved in the Saturday 1230 fixture selected by BT, Klopp went off on one.  "If you" (i.e. Sky) "don't start talking to BT we're all done". Klopp doubled down when Shreeves pushed back that  it was wrong to suggest the Sky were to blame, saying "Everybody tells me it's difficult... (it's) just a decision in an office...." 

Klopp might have had in his mind that Liverpool were playing in the Saturday 1230 fixture this week, against Brighton. Even so, Jurgen, the office you need to lobby is your chairman's, not the tv companies.

As eloquently pointed out by Martin Samuel, BT paid £900 million for the Premier League 'Package A'. When they bid they knew they couldn't pick a fixture involving a team playing in the Europa League on Thursdays. But also preclude the two teams playing in the Wednesday Champions League games and the package would not command the same fee as there would be a risk of not being able to pick enough marquee fixtures. The 1230 timing works well for the home market and several eastern time zones, tapping into lucrative Asian afternoon and evening markets. The Premier League, perhaps egged on by the tv companies, packaged it that way to maximise revenue. So blame the club chairmen, not the tv companies, Jurgen.

The contract runs, I think, until 2023. Change it now if you want Jurgen. Get John Henry to talk with the Glazers. You'd have to give some money back. Don't expect the likes of Brighton to take less, as it's no skin off their nose to play at 1230. So the four Champions League clubs would have to take the hit. Fat chance. 

Jurgen doubled down yesterday after Brighton got a late equaliser in the 1230 match. Liverpool had lost Milner to injury and Klopp sarcastically congratulated BT's Des Kelly interviewing him, noting that Liverpool have had the most 1230 kick offs among Premier League clubs, with three. FYI Jurgen, by the end of the cycle of current picks in December Liverpool will still have had three, along with Man United. Everton will have had four.

Kelly more than stood his ground, noting that Klopp was going for the wrong target - the chief executives of the clubs had to have the discussion. Klopp's argument evolved to these being difficult times, to which Kelly's rejoinder was that they are, stadia are empty and the broadcasters are supporting the game. Klopp said it would be the same for 3pm or 5.30pm kick offs. Again off target: 5.30 is too late for much of Asia and the League has never sanctioned televised matches at 3pm on a Saturday. This predates the Premier League era, stretching all the way back to Burnley's chairman Bob Lord in 1960, to avoid threatening live attendances across the divisions at the traditional kick off time. The broadcasters are indeed supporting the game and without them the Premier League would be in a pickle.

The only thing Kelly didn't say was that the clubs would get less money with restrictions on 1230 kick off picks. I'd have liked to hear him ask Klopp whether Liverpool would be happy with that.

Klopp also had a go at Sheffield United's Chris Wilder for supporting keeping three substitutes rather than moving to five, even though Klopp, unlike Carlo Ancelotti, rarely uses all three subs. I accept there is a player welfare issue and Liverpool have been hit by a cluster of injuries but I don't accept that these are necessarily because of the programme of matches. The injuries to Van Dijk and Thiago weren't due to the programme. Keita and Milner have racked up a third or less of the possible Premier League game time this season. Some have tried to attribute Gomez's injury training with England - no other player was near him when he suffered a tendon injury - to fatigue but it sounds like one of those random unfortunate events to me. Which makes me conclude that Klopp just wants to gain further advantage over less affluent clubs by having more choice from his strong bench. Why not eleven subs from a bench of eleven, Jurgen, so you can cover every position? Take all the drama out of it, why don't you? 

Answer: that's exactly what he wants to do. Klopp and Guradiola have been pushing the big 6 cabal's 'Big Picture' ever since it was rejected, at least rejected for now. They want every possible advantage over the hoi polloi like Wilder's team and their ilk. Fortunately Ken Bates made sure at the foundation of the Premier League that the vote of a club like Sheffield United counted as much as Liverpool's or Manchester United's and, crucially, that a two-thirds majority is required to make changes, so 14 of the 20 clubs have to be in support. The current big 6 can't just have it their own way. Bates was presumably influenced by the motivations of the then big 5 clubs in the run up to the establishment of the Premier League, those clubs being Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton. Note not Chelsea or Manchester City, because things change and should be allowed to keep changing.

Klopp has also been whingeing in advance about two games in 48 hours over Christmas. It's what we've always done, Jurgen. Originally it was because that was when extra games could be fitted in while the masses were off work and could go to the match. I suspect that the tradition has been maintained because these are good tv slots. Either way, you chose to come here, Jurgen..... slagging off our traditions isn't a good look for an immigrant worker, mate. 

Football is meant to be competitive, Jurgen. It's meant to be unpredictable. And by the way, Liverpool's most famous manager said the league was a marathon not a sprint. So it's a slog.

But, in a spirit of helpfulness, I have several options for you Jurgen.

1. Bugger off back to Germany. Not my preferred option as Klopp's team has enhanced the Premier League. Watching Manchester City is snooze inducing in comparison.

2. Get your chairman to convince the Premier League to modify Package A and get the Champions League teams to take the financial hit. After all, I can live without watching matches on a Saturday lunchtime as it clashes with playing golf...

3. If your main concern is the number of fixtures, lobby to radically change the Champions League. After all it is European competitions and international matches where the increase in games has come from. In 1978 Liverpool played seven matches in winning the European Cup. Winning the Champions League in 2005 took 15 matches and in 2019 it was 13. The extra matches come in the group phase, which is tedious and predictable. The expanded competition and seeding means the big teams avoid each other, but even when they used to meet at that stage in the past those games were often underwhelming without the imperative provided by the knock out format. There are many dead rubbers. So let's go back to just champions and a knock out format. Even if the current definition of "champions" were maintained, ditching the group phase for knock out matches would save four fixtures - exactly the number cutting the Premier League from 20 to 18 teams would achieve. Oh and keep the League Cup as you don't play your first team until the later stages anyway do you, Jurgen?

4. Accept things as they are. 

My preferred option is number 4 though only because, in the recent seasons when Everton have qualified for Europe I like going to those midweek group matches, as much for the company, beer and chips with curry as the football. If I was a tv only supporter I'd say option 3. Not that it stands a snowball's chance in hell of happening of course. Elite football is now a power compact between FIFA, UEFA and the big clubs. This gives us an overblown  World Cup in a ridiculous location in 2022, an overblown Champions League which a cabal of clubs seek to turn into a closed shop and a group of foreign owned Premier League clubs, who happen to currently be the most successful who want to keep it that way permanently and exclude anyone else from joining the party. Option 4 will come under threat when the cartel of so-called big clubs regroup, rehash and represent their Big Picture, making it out to be for the good of the game rather than the good of themselves.

Anyway, normal service is resumed: the Liverpool manager comes on tv and I start to rant....

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