Jurgen Klopp has caused controversy with his decision to miss Tuesday’s FA Cup replay, but he isn’t even the first Liverpool manager to do so.
When they unveiled the new Bob Paisley statue at Anfield this week nobody mentioned that he jibbed off the 1981 UEFA Super Cup final against Dinamo Tbilisi because Liverpool couldn’t make space for it in their schedule.
When tales are told of how Bill Shankly led Liverpool to a long-awaited first FA Cup triumph in 1965 nobody mentions that he thought the fourth-round tie at home to Fourth Division Stockport County would be such a walkover that he went to Germany to scout forthcoming European Cup opponents Cologne instead.
In his absence, with Paisley in charge for the first time, Liverpool drew 1-1 and had to go to Stockport for a replay where Liverpool wore all red for the first-ever time in a domestic fixture.
It didn’t harm Paisley’s managerial prospects either, so maybe one day there will be a statue of Neil Critchley carrying Pedro Chirivella on his back outside Anfield too.
My point is that when Jurgen Klopp is immortalised in the future in the form of an Anfield statue, the Klopp Gates and a hologram that performs fist-pumps on the VR headsets you’ll be watching live football through in 2050, nobody will mention that the under-23s played against Shrewsbury Town in the 2019/20 FA Cup while he and his senior players had a winter break.
Instead they’ll reminisce about how he brought the European Cup and Premier League to Liverpool in consecutive seasons at the start of a trophy-filled dynasty while helping the football authorities to understand that a winter break involves having a break in winter. Not calling it a winter break but still playing football anyway. Personally, I think the clue is in the name.
Cards on the table, I’m 100 percent behind Klopp’s stance. Play the U23s vs. Shrewsbury and let Critchley take charge of the team again. If the Shrews win then good luck to them, as there is now a pressure-building expectation that they could and maybe should.
Sometimes you’ve got to draw a line in the sand for what you believe in, and no manager has ever been in such a strong position to try to force the footballing authorities to modernise the outdated nature of the English football calendar than Klopp is at present. He’s copping the flak, but he’s also foreseeing how the fixture list is going to get even busier.
As I said before the Everton FA Cup tie in an article published here on This Is Anfield, I’ve always felt a little uneasy about fielding weakened teams in the FA Cup. Ninety-six Liverpool supporters were unlawfully killed simply for attending an FA Cup tie. That matters.
I also want to see Liverpool win every trophy they compete for, especially with a quintuple up for grabs this year, but the amount of football the Reds have to play—and Liverpool fans have to pay to go and watch—is getting ridiculous. And there’s more to come.
In recent months we’ve heard the Africa Cup of Nations is moving back to January in 2021, the 2021 FIFA Club World Cup will be a 24-team tournament played in China between June 17 and July 4, and from 2024 the Champions League will potentially become four groups of eight with 14 group-stage matches, some of them played on weekends.
At current Main Stand prices that’ll set you back £413 for the Champions League group stage home games. Plus what, two to three grand and counting to do all seven aways? No ta.
This season Liverpool have already had to go to London to play in the Community Shield, Istanbul to play in the UEFA Super Cup and Qatar to play twice in the FIFA Club World Cup. The Reds have pretty much qualified for the Community Shield again already.
Because the Football League still think they need a two-legged semi-final in the League Cup, this meant shoehorning the quarter-final at Aston Villa in the night before playing Monterrey in Doha.
Without wishing to tell a dinosaur how to roar, if the semi-final was only one leg there’d have been a free midweek in January to slot the quarter-final in, meaning Liverpool wouldn’t have had to send the kids to Villa. Rocket science cliches are available at this juncture.
By the same token, for the FA to schedule an FA Cup replay during a Premier League winter break—which, by the way, is supposedly meant to improve England’s chances of winning Euro 2020 (as if a fortnight off is going to make Jesse Lingard any better)—is absolute complete and utter nonsense.
The narrative, for those who wish to get a cheap shot in at Klopp, is that Liverpool are disrespecting the FA Cup. In reality, it’s the Football Association that have disrespected the FA Cup by only scrapping replays in some rounds and scheduling others during a designated break.
Such a lack of foresight puts successful clubs like Liverpool in an impossible position.
If Klopp played Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Shrewsbury and a couple of them suffered season-ending injuries that ruled them out of the Euros, would Gareth Southgate and the FA thank Klopp for prioritising an FA Cup replay?
Nope. And you can already guarantee the hypocrites in the media will say the winter break isn’t long enough when England get knocked out on penalties by Portugal in the round of 16 in Dublin.
Let’s not pretend the FA Cup is a priority for Jurgen Klopp. It isn’t. Never has been and probably never will be.
But he would not be taking the extreme measure of sending his U23s side out to face Shrewsbury, and not attending the game himself, if he didn’t truly, and strongly, believe his view that playing too much football will ultimately be detrimental for Liverpool FC.
To potentially sacrifice both domestic cups to make the point is down to the mismanagement of the fixture schedule by football’s different governing bodies, not mismanagement by the Liverpool manager.
Chris McLoughlin writes for This Is Anfield each week; he’s also senior writer for the Official LFC Matchday Programme and LFC Magazine. You can order both here.