Martin King explains why Liverpool don’t necessarily lack leadership in the way some may suggest.
Ever since last season and, in particular, Liverpool’s 3-1 Europa League final defeat at the hands of Sevilla, a number of fans and pundits have been expressing the opinion that manager Jürgen Klopp’s squad lacks natural leaders – and this number would’ve increased after the Reds almost gave-away a 4-1 lead in their Premier League opener against Arsenal last weekend.
Although it seems clear that such a claim is very correct, to insist that the entire Liverpool squad is completely devoid of leaders may be more than a little harsh as, in all fairness, Klopp has not only already addressed that issue in this transfer window but his squad does have leaders who simply need to step up and make their mark.
On Sunday at the Emirates, the perfect scenario to display leadership arrived when new signing Sadio Mané scored on debut to make it 4-1 to the travelling side. After celebrations ran wild down the touchline (perhaps seeing Klopp become the first manager in Premier League history to give his player a piggy-back ride) someone was required to step in to urge Liverpool to keep it tight at the back and avoid committing too many players forward as there was at least half an hour left on the clock.
Believe it or not, the Merseysiders had that man in more than one player.
The first man all eyes will inevitably look towards is club captain Jordan Henderson. The Englishman had a decent game in midfield, however, one of the reasons why he’s still not fancied by fans as a leader is his some-what lack of influence, which is triggered by the fact that he is rarely seen berating his teammates or rallying them in vital situations.
Another man is new centre-back Ragnar Klavan, arguably the most composed player on the pitch against the Gunners. The Estonia national team captain is tailor-made to do a leader’s job and was seen, on one occasion, applauding his teammates in a bid to encourage them to continue their good work in the match. However, his influence may have been let down by a poor display from his fellow defenders – particularly Alberto Moreno.
Lastly, there was Klavan’s centre-back partner Dejan Lovren. After overcoming a poor start to his Liverpool career, you would think that the Croatian would be in a perfect position to influence his teammates positively, however, just like Henderson, his lack of tough verbal communication towards his players often sees him fail to meet the requirements to be a leader, as he’s done on a few occasions.
Addressing this problem effectively does not always require the boss to spend yet more money on a player who is known to be a leader, but raising up the present leaders within his own squad. In fact, one player whom Klopp is already expected to groom into Liverpool’s midfield leader is Emre Can and many amongst the Anfield faithful already envisage the young German with the captain’s armband.
Though before that, Klopp will have to unleash leaders from the aforementioned players and doing so will not only keep fans and pundits quiet about this topic, it will see his side manage their games better when in the lead as well as show much more resilience when the scoreline’s against them.
Unfortunately, anyone who steps up as a leader for Liverpool on the pitch will, almost always, face comparisons to Kop great Steven Gerrard. That, of course, will always be unfair from the Anfield faithful as there simply will never be another player with the leadership qualities of Gerrard – a fact which I’m still not entirely sure is understood.
Either way, with the right mentality, anyone of these players can flourish as a leader under Klopp and ultimately prove that the Reds need not to look far for an influential figure on the pitch.