Ronnie Whelan not yet ready to join Jurgen Klopp doubters

Ronnie Whelan has heard it many times before, since he sat on the famous perch with the rest of Liverpool’s last great team: That first rumble of doubt about a manager in which so much hope has been invested.

Ronnie Whelan not yet ready to join Jurgen Klopp doubters

Photo: Ronnie Whelan with Jim Barry, Barry Group managing director, left, and Danny O’Carroll who plays Buster in Mrs Brown’s Boys, supporting the Seeing is Believing; Free Eye Tests campaign at O’Brien’s Costcutter/Amber forecourt on the Bandon Road in Bishopstown, Cork. The initiative is part of a campaign by the Fighting Blindness charity to tackle age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness for those aged over 50 in Ireland. The charity is offering free eye testing around the country this week. See Picture: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Ronnie Whelan has heard it many times before, since he sat on the famous perch with the rest of Liverpool’s last great team: That first rumble of doubt about a manager in which so much hope has been invested.

But despite his own bafflement and frustration with what he regards as Jurgen Klopp’s blind spots, Ronnie is not ready yet to swell those grumbles, not least because he sees something in Klopp that’s different from any of the predecessors who failed to bridge the gap to the last league title in 1990.

“There are a few little murmurs in the stands, that Klopp is not the one,” Whelan accepts at a Fighting Blindness event in Cork yesterday.

“But I have to think you’ve got to give him more time. He has made lots of progress. Let’s see if he can get it right defensively somewhere along the line.”

He’s never spoken to the German face to face, isn’t sure if Klopp would know him, but does sense a warmer welcome these days on trips back to Anfield to work for Liverpool TV.

“Houllier and Benitez didn’t want ex-players anywhere near. Houllier thought we were putting the team under pressure. You look up at the press box, Houllier said, there’s 10 ex-players doing different radio stations or TV. But Klopp has come back the other way. He’s more about the history.

“I think he wants to do it for the football club. It’s not for Klopp. Liverpool went through a period of managers, even going back to Souey (Graeme Souness), where it seemed to be all about me. Dalglish and Paisley and these people, it was all about Liverpool Football Club. I think Klopp has gone back to that way of thinking. It’s not me. It’s all about the people and this football club.”

When talking Liverpool, Ronnie regularly produces the telltale wince of a fan who has suffered. Like most on the Kop, this summer he wanted a 25-goal a season man to hang his hat on, a midfield watchdog and a pair of mobile lighthouses at the back. A spine.

Jurgen Klopp
Jurgen Klopp

He can’t understand how, when the Virgil van Dijk deal fell through, Klopp couldn’t find any other centre-back in the world better than what he has. And if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the answer he’ll need you to repeat the question.

“Defensively they haven’t got the level of players the other teams have. You have to get worried about the manager and ask does he not see what’s going on here. Surely he’s got to see he just hasn’t got the players.”

The argument goes, that Klopp’s style is to keep the ball far from his goal rather than need to defend his goal.

“A huge weakness. You go back to Barcelona, they could win 4-3 or whatever. Liverpool defensively aren’t good enough to go with this all-out attack.

“Klopp has said recently the back four aren’t being protected by his midfielders, but if he’s got them running forward at every opportunity, it’s difficult.

“Lots of times they’ve been too open. Last year against Bournemouth, 3-1 up and they’re all bombing, bombing forward. And it ends up 4-3.

“The players and the managers have to know how to take a step back now and again. We’re two up. Nobody move out of position. That was always one of our things. You’d hear them shouting, Ronnie Moran, from the touchlines. Just stand in positions. Everybody fill the space and there was nothing teams could do against us.

“They’ve got to try and learn that. Hold on to the ball, slow it down a bit, don’t concede.”

The Oxlade-Chamberlain move he found “very strange”, another unpredictable 100 miles per hour ball carrier, with composure and game intelligence already at such a premium.

“He’s signing another player that he’s got 10 of already. For £35m (€39.9m) or whatever. I’m sure Arsenal fans are looking at it thinking, hmmm we’ll take that. Because he’s not one that was always in Arsenal’s team.

“He needs someone who will protect the centre-backs like Matic, like Fernandinho, Kante. We’ve got Henderson and Can who get on the ball as a defensive midfielder and start running with it. It leaves a big hole.”

Still, hope in his heart, and for Ireland too, despite horror at recent performances.

“In Georgia, we were hopeless. The two games we’ve seen lately, there’s no pattern there whatsoever. It’s just willy nilly.”

No devotee of kick and rush, to his cost under Jack Charlton, if Ireland are to go long, he just wishes they’d do it right.

“The day before a game, with Jack, we would play against nobody. And Jack would get a ball and he’d boot it in the corner. And go right, this is what we do, we put it in behind them and everybody push up. And we went through this for 20 minutes.

“I don’t know what they do in training. I don’t know if they go through any of this. It doesn’t look like it. But I still think we’ve got enough to get us into the play-offs.”

An ever-present in those Charlton days is, sadly, with us no longer. Ronnie had a fond word for his departed RTÉ colleague Jimmy Magee, another man who was all about the history.

“Jimmy was great. I would be more a friend with Jimmy than a commentator thing. Going back to when we played, when we didn’t have television rights all the time, Jimmy would still do the games for radio. I’d ask him to say hello to Ma and Da for me, and Jimmy would do it.

“Everyone loved him in RTÉ. I saw him at the Euros last year. He wasn’t too good, but he had to be there. We woke up one morning to go down to a game and Jimmy is sitting in reception in the hotel on his own. He got his way over. Wanted to be part of the big occasions. He was a good fella, a really good fella.”

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