The Culture Club and the Crazy Gang now one and the same

I caught a television programme during the week about football’s greatest upsets and, it surely goes without saying, I drank deep and enjoyed it immensely.
The Culture Club and the Crazy Gang now one and the same

Few things are more exquisitely pleasurable in sport, nay, in life, than seeing giants laid low. Of course, it was the slow but remorseless passage of time which ultimately did for the king of kings, Ozymandias, rather than, say, the upstart spirit of plucky non-league minnows.

(Although, come to think of it, those lines by the boy Shelley about the frown, the wrinkled lip and the sneer of cold command could have been penned to describe the shattered visage of Jose after Man U lost to Huddersfield last week, no?).

But while sometimes it might take close to forever for yer average hubristic despot to be brought to heel, in football it can take no longer than one season or even as little as 90 minutes for the mighty to be forced to look upon their works and despair.

And here on the box in the corner t’other night, standing over their stunned victims, were all of those giantkillers we have come to know and love: Leicester in the Premier League, obviously, but also Greece and Denmark in the Euros, Montpellier in France, Hereford rocking Newcastle, Wrexham shocking Arsenal, Cameroon beating Argentina at Italia ‘90 and, even, four years later, our own dear boys in green putting one over on Italy at US ‘94.

Slap bang in the middle was Wimbledon’s 1-0 win against Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup Final, complete with Vinnie Jones’ merciless early doors reducer on Steve McMahon, Lawrie Sanchez’ headed winner, Dave Beasant’s penalty save from Aldo and all the rest of the mind-bending drama which went into creating the legend of, as John Motson famously nutshelled it on the day, the Crazy Gang versus the Culture Club.

As Liverpool get set to host Huddersfield Town in the Premier League today, the phrase suddenly seems freshly applicable nearly 30 years on. Except, of course, that we don’t mean to suggest there’s anything remotely loco about unlikely top flighters ‘Uddersfield.

Nope, nowadays, we find the culture club and the crazy gang residing in the one body, both wearing the red of Liverpool.

On paper, it’s a game which might reek of David versus Goliath but, in reality, Goliath enters the arena wearing a blindfold, with one hand tied behind his back, one leg hamstrung and already signalling desperately for the intervention of the assistant referee. And that was before we even learned that Coutinho is out injured.

Football, they say, is a game of opinions but so glaring are the strengths and weaknesses of Jurgen Klopp’s team that his team are now practically in the business of making punditry redundant.

Scintillating going forward, catastrophic at the back, their 4-1 defeat to Spurs underlined their copyright on a new footballing cliche: a team of two halves.

It all means that the manager is in something of a lose-lose situation this afternoon: if, as is entirely possible, Liverpool put Huddersfield to the sword, it will be no more than Anfield expects.

But if, as is also entirely possible, they shoot themselves in the foot and allow the visitors from Yorkshire to summon enough of that yapping Terrier spirit to claim a successive big scalp, well, that will be no more than Anfield fears.

Adding an emotional twist to the tale is that, in Klopp and Huddersfield boss David Wagner, the game turns the closest of friends into dug-out rivals. And, in doing so, it raises the prospect of another kind of upset too: the apprentice trumping the sorcerer.

On the Beeb this week, Gary Lineker dropped in on the Town to shoot the breeze with Wagner, the relaxed exchange revealing the Terriers’ boss to be just as engaging if, perhaps understandably these days, rather less manic than his former teammate and the man who was helming Borussia Dortmund when Wagner was in the charge of their second team.

Unlike certain football folk who you know and I know, the German made no attempt to pretend that in getting to manage Huddersfield Town he had fulfilled a childhood dream.

Disarmingly, he admitted that before receiving the surprise phone call asking if he’d be interested in the gig, he’d never even heard of the place, let alone the team: “I hadn’t known where Huddersfield was. I hadn’t known that there exists a football club called Huddersfield Town. But a few hours on the internet and you know everything you have to know.”

Asked to sum up his playing career, he was no less good-naturedly candid: “It’s very easy: I was a forward player without scoring goals. I had not enough endurance for a midfielder. I was not tough enough for a defender.”

But all modesty, false or otherwise, apart, Wagner clearly had and has a lively and inquiring mind, which is why he stepped back from football to study sports science and biology with a view to becoming a teacher before the game sucked him back in again.

“If you have this virus in yourself, even when you think it’s done, it comes back,” he explained.

Lineker, who was clearly charmed by his interviewee, wondered what was the secret of Wagner’s success with Huddersfield.

“I am not sure there is any secret. This is an open house like you see,” he gestured, referring to the training facilities which the club shares with the local community.

“There are no secrets. A lot of teams, their success has to be based on togetherness. Because if you don’t have the best individuals –where you know, okay, ‘give him the ball, he will score’ – I think this togetherness is so important. Nobody should think he is more important than he is. Everybody has to feel a responsibility for everything in our team. This is our mantra.”

Whatever about Jurgen Klopp’s future with Liverpool, I think the odds have just shortened on David Wagner as a future manager of Ireland.

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