Times are different but Jürgen Klopp’s men have the same spirit and togetherness as the great sides in which I played
Alan Kennedy – The Guardian
Jürgen Klopp has brought to Liverpool a blend of exciting, resilient football that’s a reminder of the glory days under Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley. Photograph: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images
I am so impressed with Jürgen Klopp’s wonderful Liverpool team. They’re excellent to watch and I congratulate Jürgen and the players. We can’t count any chickens until the title’s a mathematical certainty but what’s happening at Anfield this season, to be so far ahead in a division as strong as the Premier League, is so exciting. I really do feel we’re seeing something rare in world football.
The Liverpool side I was part of played some good football too, was very resilient and won a lot of trophies. It’s a different era now with a big emphasis on different tactical systems and sports science and I don’t think there’s anything Jürgen leaves to chance but, in many ways, I see Liverpool today doing a lot of the things we did.
Like almost everyone else in those days, we were always organised in a 4-4-2 formation but Jürgen has a slightly different system. His team adapts the way they play to different opponents – the manner in which they altered their style to beat Flamengo in the World Club Cup in Qatar last month was a prime example of their intelligence – but, in some ways, Bob Paisley had a very similar depth of understanding of football.
Paisley – like Bill Shankly before him – understood psychology; he knew how to handle players operating under pressure week in week out, knew precisely how to get the very best from them in every game. Each player I see at Liverpool today is playing their best football. Look at how Andy Robertson and Jordan Henderson have developed under Jürgen. They’ve come on so much.
Maybe Liverpool are a bit too reliant on their front three for goals, maybe too much goes through Roberto Firmino – who with James Milner is one of my favourites – but we were reliant on Kenny Dalglish and David Johnson.
In my era we had great individual players but, like Liverpool today, we were very much a team. Although we went forward a lot together, we started games with the aim of not conceding – and Jürgen’s Liverpool are exactly the same. Not conceding is their starting point, but they always feel that, given a chance, Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mané or Firmino will get them a goal; we were the same with Dalglish.
Alan Kennedy celebrates scoring the winning goal for Liverpool against Real Madrid in the 1981 European Cup final, with David Johnson (left) and Terry McDermott. Photograph: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock
When I watch Robertson and I see the way he times his runs from left back and times the delivery of his crosses, I like it. It’s exactly how we played. Everyone knew exactly what they were doing, exactly how to grind teams down and everything was perfectly timed. Some people’s favourite Liverpool team is the slightly later one of John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and John Aldridge,and they were brilliant. But football’s all about winning and that’s what we did.
Ray Clemence was a goalkeeper who reassured you, who was always talking to defenders, and Liverpool today are afforded a similar sense of security by Alisson. Virgil van Dijk’s central-defensive excellence enables them to be explosive but they also have a brilliant captain in Henderson. He addresses the little problems that crop up in games, and he’s not afraid to have a go at teammates. He sorts things out on the pitch, ensuring people are protected. Last season Trent Alexander-Arnold could sometimes become a little exposed at right-back, but that’s not happening any more.
Everyone at Liverpool is playing out of their skin, but they all care. In September I was pleased to see a spat between Mané and Salah at the end of a win against Burnley. Mané was annoyed that Salah hadn’t given him the ball when he was in a good position and it showed he cared. They fell out but it was momentary and soon forgotten. That happened a lot in our day; we were self-policing.
We also partied a lot more than modern footballers. There was much more alcohol and socially we had plenty of options. That can’t happen now. Players now have social media but boredom is a potential problem today. It makes the relentless professionalism of Jürgen’s team all the more impressive, but only time and titles will determine how they ultimately come to be compared with past Liverpool sides.
Alan Kennedy played for Liverpool from 1978 to 1986, winning five league titles and two European Cups