Sun rises in the East and Liverpool concedes goals to tin-pot teams. Jurgen Klopp was trapped in a perpetual purgatory until one fine day deja vu gave in.
Phil: It’s the same thing your whole life. “Clean up your room! Stand up straight! Pick up your feet! Take it like a man! Don’t mix beer and wine, ever! And oh yeah, don’t drive on the railway track!”
Gus (sobering up): Well, Phil. That’s one I happen to agree with.
Phil (driving into the rail tracks): I don’t know, Gus…Sometimes, you just have to take the big chances.
A train approaches.
Phil: I bet he’s going to swerve first…
Playing at Turf Moor in the pissing wind was always going to be a bumpy ride. After Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s 87th equaliser to Sadio Mane’s spanker, the result had the choo-choo-ing inevitability of a headlong train, and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool were staring right down the tunnel.
Suddenly, I felt that my socks weren’t as warm as they were a minute ago. And my stomach lurched, vehemently meaning to deport my lunch for too much salsa in its constituency. My bladder, with all the retentive capacity of Donald Trump’s gob, started to make faces. And I had to rush to the loo.
Upon coming back, I was greeted with a double relief. The Burnley equalising goal was a short interlude followed by a crashing crescendo that sailed from the right boot of Chamberlain and into the home port, steered on by the very level-headed Estonian national team skipper, Ragnar Klavan, on the 94th minute.
Ninety-fecking-fourth-minute-mate. The away fans and the players celebrated the goal en masse. Like many-headed myrmidons under one shield. Roaring, flailing, breathing with a lust for life and legend.
In the post-match interview, Ragnar asked the nice presenter lady if the ball really went in by his head. The limelight-shy three-time Estonian player of the year would rather have had the much-maligned Dejan Lovren, his fellow centre-back, take the credit.
Minutes later, meme-makers confirmed it was Ser Ragnar of the House of Klavan who slew the three-headed dragon named Teams-That-Set-Up-Shop-To-Nick-A-Goal; the vanquisher of gregarious Germanic values from Glatten and Geggenpressing.
Reddit (it was a social media site for kindred spirits if you’re reading this in 2051) was a joy to behold. There it was, Ragnar Klavan’s head adorning the bodies of Neil Armstrong, Mona Lisa, Muhammad Ali, Mount Rushmore, the statue of David. In Estonia, petitions were going around for a statue to be erected. It was, as those born after 1994 say, lit.
Lit was also Jurgen Klopp’s beamlight smile, sponsored by the dentist of Roberto Firmino, for he’s seen Liverpool’s Groundhog Days play themselves into a happy ending, after recursive loops of Liverpool’s defensive liabilities. And I saw it then, with the kind of clarity of thought clear bowels bring; I said to myself, feckinell, a bit like the movie then, innit?
Bill Murray, or Phil, could predict when a dog barked, a gust of wind blew, and when a bunch of plates came crashing. He did not have any superpowers bar having to go through the same day for, seemingly, the rest of his life. That was the premise of Groundhog Day, directed by Harold Ramis in 1993.
The movie was a love story and not unlike Jürgen’s love story at Liverpool.
Charming weatherman, Phil could have had any girl in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, but had a thing for a woman-of-substance named Rita. Jürgen waved an airy hand to the many allures of Manchester United, determined to win the favour and fable of Liverpool.
He spends the rest of the days trying to get to know Rita better and her ways and woo her. And every time he messes up, he starts over. The courtship was long, and for all his best intentions, it came short.
Jürgen, like Phil, took on a self-involved nature. At a point in the movie, Phil robs an armoured van, pulls up in a Rolls Royce and walks out dressed as a cowboy – poncho, cigar, spurs and the works. Somewhere down the line of Jürgen’s stint, he thought he could just waltz in and solve Liverpool’s defensive problems.
Jurgen Klopp disregarded the need to get defensive fortifications – both Jürgen and Phil thought that their sheer will and character could paper over the cracks in the relationship. While Jürgen complained about opposition teams not wanting to play football, Phil griped about Rita’s high standards.
The penny dropped when they distanced their egos from themselves and started to look at their problems outwardly. Having to live in a daily deja vu winter wonderland affords a chap a bit of introspection. Using the time, Phil learns how to make ice sculptures with a chainsaw, takes piano lessons, and observes the nature of things*.
Knowing where everyone will be on any given time this perpetual time flux, Phil lets go of his passivity and ego and turns to saving the day. Phil started to right all the things that could have gone wrong that day if it wasn’t for his active intervention. Like saving a kid falling from up high from a tree, fixing flat tires, helping old ladies get to their bingo tourney on time. Doing the Heimlich maneuver on people who don’t chew their food properly, and appearing from corners to light cigarettes of forlorn ladies.
What Jürgen did was manifold: stymieing the flow of goals since the two debacles in North London (Tottenham and Arsenal away), learning to be boring (Leicester 2-1) and adventurous (Swansea 5-0) in measure. But perhaps the most important thing that he did was to not swerve.
The win at Burnley wasn’t just a happy coincidence.
Rita: I’m amazed. And I’m not easily amazed.
Phil: About what?
Rita: About how you can start a day with one kind of expectation and end up so completely different.
Phil: Well, do you like how the day is turning out?
Rita: Very much. You couldn’t plan a day like this.
Phil: Well, you can. It just takes an awful lot of work.
Like a lookout jumping along the top-sail, he kept barking instructions to Lovren and Can to retain the ball and their shape. Liverpool defended in zones and they attacked in phases, staying in second gear along the drive until it was time to push the throttle down the straights. An aspect of realism replaced idealism, and Jürgen’s fatalism helped her to face the inevitable with a stoic calm. At full-time at Turf Moor, he understood that the effort needn’t be exaggerated, it just needed to be pure.
At the end of the movie, it was Rita who fell in love with Phil’s change of heart and helped him snap out of his perpetual purgatory. It was the defenders interventions that helped Jürgen escape from his. And it was perfect.
It’s a bit like the movie then, innit?
Phil: No matter what happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life. I’m happy now.
*Footnote: Unlike English football, continental football, especially Italian, features more pauses – what Jorge Valdano calls ‘time to think’ – but also more stable periods of acceleration. This allows you to appreciate and savour the moment when it picks up again. Think of English football match as a five-mile race, while an Italian game a series of sprints. – Gabriele Marcotti
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