Angry Klopp, a ‘dumb’ question and when managers lose their cool – The Athletic

By Richard Sutcliffe and Dan Sheldon8h ago

To Jurgen Klopp, the question from Scandinavian TV in the immediate aftermath of Liverpool’s 4-3 FA Cup exit to Manchester United was “dumb” and justifiable grounds for bringing his interview to an abrupt halt.

Reporter: “Normally intensity is the name of your game, so how come it became so difficult in extra time?”
Klopp: “Bit of a dumb question, I feel. If you never saw us, you can ask, how can they have more resources? We have played — I don’t know how many games recently. I don’t know how many games United have exactly played. That’s sport. I’m really disappointed with that question, but you thought, obviously, it’s good?”
Reporter: “So, too many games?”
Klopp: “Oh, come on. You are obviously not in a great shape and I have no nerves for you. And the question… what is wrong with you? What did you want now?”

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For the man who so upset Klopp, however, Sunday’s spat brought only a sense of embarrassment at unwittingly becoming part of the story.

“I should get angry because the things he said were not pleasant,” says V Sports’ Niels Christian Frederiksen about an outburst he claims “scared” those standing nearby. “He was totally out of order, because the questions weren’t that controversial.

“At first, it was OK because he said it was a dumb question. Three months ago, I heard the same (sort of thing) from Pep Guardiola (Manchester City’s manager), but that was in a funny way. I thought Klopp was going along the same lines, so I took that one.

“But then he started working himself up and there was a whole atmosphere and the interview started going to different places.”

Where your opinion falls on the Klopp incident probably depends on what you think of Liverpool’s manager or what you think of journalists  — hey, please be a little kind to us in the comments — but why do outbursts like that happen? There has been no shortage of them over the years, from Sir Alex Ferguson to Guardiola to several incidents with Klopp himself.

Is it managers being bad losers and lashing out? Is it unnecessarily provocative questioning — or is there a game at play?

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To those who have experienced the hectic post-match schedule — all Premier League managers must speak in the tunnel area to the UK rightsholder for that match plus radio and a maximum of three international broadcasters before then sitting down with the written press — Klopp’s blow-up came as no surprise.

“In the Premier League on a matchday, it (the number of interviews) is ridiculous,” says Paul Heckingbottom, who was in charge of top-flight side Sheffield United until December. “Some might be slightly different, with Norwegian TV, for instance, wanting to talk about Scandinavian stories or players, but, often, it’s the same questions.

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“The big thing in my mind when doing any media interview is that I’m always talking to my players and the fans. It’s not just the interviewer you’re speaking to.

“The problem is you don’t know how that story will then be portrayed. Then, there’s the clickbait element — in that social media often leads to the questions you get asked. They’ll just take one line and make it as dramatic as possible.

“There was one time at Sheffield United when I’d turned it round on the questioner and said something like, ‘Are you taking the p**s? That’s a stupid question’. This was during the interview. The club’s press officer said to me afterwards, ‘You went a bit Barnsley (Yorkshire slang for confrontational) there, mate’. But it happens.

“Should Klopp be criticised for walking out? No, why should he? Should a manager be pulled apart because he’s had a go back at the press? No.”

Dave Jones, the former Cardiff City and Southampton manager, agrees.

“You saw Klopp at the weekend and emotions run high after matches,” he says. “Sometimes, you do get asked stupid questions. ‘How do you feel?’ — that’s the one I’d get. You’ve just been whooped 6-0, how do they think I feel? Great, obviously!

Jones had a feisty relationship with some media (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

“A lot of the time, you are governed by only being able to say certain things. At Cardiff, financially we were in dire straits. But you can’t really say that (publicly). It doesn’t help anyone.

“The more media-trained you become, the easier it becomes. But there are times when it gets to you. My wife would then say to me, ‘You shouldn’t really have said that’.”

The League Managers Association (LMA) and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) are, indeed, very big on media training for their members. Sometimes, though, a clash of personalities between a manager and a reporter means conflict becomes inevitable.

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During six years as Cardiff manager, which included reaching an FA Cup final and the Championship play-off final, Jones had a series of disagreements with Steve Tucker, who reported on the club for the Western Mail and the South Wales Echo. It led to several bans for Tucker, who passed away in 2019 at the age of 52.

“He naturally assumed that, because we locked horns, I didn’t like him,” recalls Jones, who four years after leaving Cardiff emailed Tucker to say a recent retrospective article about his time at the club had been a ‘fair assessment’.

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“But we only ever locked horns when I didn’t agree with what he was writing — which I am entitled to do. I did once say to him, ‘There are two ways you can leave this office: one through that door and the other through the window. And I know which one I’d prefer’. He chose the door, which was a big disappointment!

“We patched (things) up but there was never really a relationship there. Really, he never got to know me or my sense of humour. To be fair, I never got to know him, either.”

Football is littered with managers who could be famously prickly with the media.

The former Scotland and Celtic manager Gordon Strachan would often deploy a mixture of sarcasm and humour during interviews, sometimes out of a sense of self-preservation and a desire to protect his players.

“As a manager, you’ve also got to ensure the narrative is your narrative,” says Strachan, who in the past has likened his media dealings to a ‘bare-knuckle fight’. “Because your players are watching this. If someone said to me that my players weren’t trying, I’d reply, ‘How do you know they weren’t trying?’.

Strachan says interviews were about control (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

“Sometimes, you can make yourself look foolish. But, as long as you don’t look foolish to the players, that’s the key. The second big factor in all this is that when you’re up there, like Klopp on Sunday, you feel like it’s one against 30.

“It’s a mob attack on you. They’re hunting in a pack. I said to someone once, ‘I’m a wounded animal here, stuck in the corner and people are prodding me with a stick’.

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“In a situation like that, what do you then expect me to do? Of course you’ll get a reaction.”

The job of refereeing this verbal jousting invariably falls to football’s army of club press officers, especially higher up the divisions, where the spotlight shines more brightly.

It is not an easy task, especially with so many interests to serve, including those of the manager, the board of directors and TV bosses whose employers pour hundreds of millions of pounds into the game. As a result, one of their key post-match duties is briefing the manager, giving him a heads-up on what to expect in terms of questioning and, if required, some suggested responses.

Not everything, however, goes to plan, which explains why they remain alert throughout press conferences, especially after a defeat. This includes learning to recognise the signs a manager is about to blow, with one experienced former Premier League media officer knowing to expect fireworks the moment one particular manager’s leg started twitching under the desk.

“That normally meant he’s itching to get up and smack someone,” says the club employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to protect his job. “As soon as I saw the leg twitching, I knew it was game over.

“But managers are grown adults, and if there is something they want to say, no matter how much you brief them beforehand and calm them down, they will say it.”

Adrian Bevington understands that better than most. He spent 18 years at the Football Association, the last five until 2015 as Club England managing director. He worked alongside seven England managers.

“You have no control at that stage,” says Bevington, now managing director at PROProfil, a player and coach representation agency, about the moment the cameras start rolling. “You do sit there and you immediately know how something could well play out where there will be a big headline. Unfortunately, there have been many occasions when I have winced in that regard.”

Klopp has a record of turning on interviewers (Owen Humphreys – Pool/Getty Images)

To ensure emotions did not get the better of his manager, Bevington would deploy one simple, but effective, trick before starting the post-game round of TV interviews.

“What I would do was take the manager or coach outside and away from the dressing room, and importantly, (away from) his coaching staff,” he adds. “Because the coaches and the players are clearly also very emotional and not always as objective as they can be.

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“Sometimes things might be said that can prompt a worse reaction. Managers are vulnerable at that time.”

Where Bevington does have sympathy for today’s managers is those increased media demands, especially straight after the final whistle when defeat can get the hackles up.

“Any manager would recognise it’s not the same as going down the pit (working as a coal miner),” he says. “But it is still demanding and can be debilitating to be asked the same question 12 times in quick succession.

“When you have had a negative result, particularly in a highly-charged game, that can magnify itself even more.”

That certainly seems to have been the case for Klopp at Old Trafford on Sunday, where the area set aside for TV interviews is regarded as cramped by Premier League standards due to it consisting of four tiny rooms with no doors. Regular visitors say this can crank up the tension.

“I completely understand his frustrations,” says journalist Frederiksen about Klopp, who he had previously interviewed several times, including when the German was Mainz manager from 2001 to 2008. “Being the best coach in the world, along with Pep Guardiola, I respect him so much. I really do.

“I know you are never going to reach that level if you are not the worst loser in the world, and I think that is what this story is about. They had the lead twice against Manchester United and were the favourites before the game and lost it in a sensational manner.

“Him being such a bad loser, he was really itchy. If you go further, now he is leaving Liverpool (in the summer), I think his dream was to end it all at Wembley (the FA Cup final could have been Liverpool’s final game of the season), and that has gone, so I understand his frustration.

“I don’t hold a grudge against him, but he was really out of order.”

(Top photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images)

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