THE PSYCHOLOGY BEHIND LIVERPOOL’S MANAGER SEARCH
By Jonny Wootton, Sports Psychotherapist.
SPECULATION on who will replace outgoing Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp continues to be hotly debated.
Reds’ fans, regarded for their high football IQ, are clamouring to know who will take the hot seat after the charismatic German departs, although the amount of clickbait around this subject is now becoming tedious.
We are all, somewhat, at different stages of grief, but for our own sanity we have to move quickly towards the fifth and final stage. This is ACCEPTANCE!
Whether LFC have already identified their incoming manager remains to be seen – but what is certain, they will judge the appointment on many factors.
Aside from a solid managerial record and a certain amount of experience, I believe the club should, and maybe are, looking at the psychological factors surrounding a new appointment.
The first thing that springs to my mind, something so hard to replicate, is whether the club will try to find a manager with a similar charisma and energy to Klopp.
Fans have had eight years of ‘heavy metal’ football and a manager who has connected to them on the deepest of levels. But it’s much more than this when you break it down into basic psychological components.
Very much like a gambling addict. Reds’ fans may have become addicted to the ‘buzz’. This feeling is felt when winning AND losing. It’s not about success, it’s about feeling ALIVE!
Fist pumps to the Kop aside, it’s often been mainlining adrenaline for 90 minutes. This has kept the fans on their toes with pure entertainment. Even the ‘gegenpressing’ has brought the support to their feet and in order for the success achieved under Klopp to be continued, supporters will need to make a conscious effort to try to recreate this energy. The 11 on the field will need this too!
So with this food for thought, let’s look at potential appointments.
We might as well start with Xabi Alonso, for he’s the odds-on bookies favourite.
We know his managerial record. It’s short but sweet. He was adored by the fans too, so you’d think that would be another tick in the plus column.
However, I think it’s lazy to think being a former fan favourite makes him a better choice than other candidates.
He’s played under some of the greatest managers the game has seen. Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Rafa Benitez. Each of these delivers a different brand of football and for someone who appears to be an observer, this apprenticeship will have served him well.
When you watch Alonso manage a game you will see a man on the edge of his technical area, but not a man ranting and raving. He communicates to his players in a calm and assured manner. Lots of hand movements to orchestrate his soldiers.
This strikes me as a man who has a big impact in preparation, whether this be coaching on the field or in tactical match preparation meetings.
Senior players these days will quickly sniff out a manager who can motivate but is tactically inept. And with a strong leadership group such as what is employed at Anfield, a manager lacking in-game intelligence will be quickly found out.
Alonso should be fine in this respect.
But can he create an energy around this club and city? Is this energy still needed? This remains to be seen…
The second favourite appears to be Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi.
The Italian is already well respected in the Premier League with none other than Manchester City manager Guardiola describing him as, “One of the most influential managers in the past 20 years.”
Like Klopp, De Zerbi isn’t afraid to show his emotions on the touchline. But this brand of management can often lead to burnout and emotional outbursts that can be used against them when pressure mounts in a title run-in.
This is exciting and maybe endearing to fans but longevity also needs a connection with the fans on a human level. I am not entirely sure the current Brighton manager has this. There is also the possibility that De Zerbi might ruffle a very settled Liverpool dressing room. Had Klopp been sacked during a dismal run of form or having ‘lost’ the dressing room, De Zerbi might be the right choice.
However, with things as they are right now, I believe Alonso would be smart enough to slide into the role and only manipulate things to his liking in a calm manner. He’s never appeared to be an egotistical man and adulation probably won’t be something he’ll thrive on. If he wins and people say he’s just carried on a Klopp team, I don’t think this will bother him at all. He’d probably even admit it.
So now it comes to weighing up the pros and cons. Winning is obviously the number one priority. But so is longevity and connection.
So my choice would be Alonso and it’s not based on him being a former fan favourite. It’s about personality and calmness.
A lot has been said about whether the Spaniard will handle the English media due to his lack of experience. I think he can based on his stable personality. I don’t think he’ll take anything to heart. He keeps his emotions in check.
He strikes me as a man with balanced emotions. Because he never gets over-excited, his stress levels will be generally low. So when the pressure is on he isn’t likely to blow a fuse.
My only doubt is whether will he be too rational to take the job if offered. He’s no egomaniac and may feel in no rush to take this job on so early in his career. Only time will tell.