The Liverpool/Spurs clash pits two elite managers against each other – and they are polar opposites
Management’s announcements came in daily last week. First, Jurgen Klopp signed a four-year deal to stay at Liverpool. Then Antonio Conte channeled his inner Donald Trump to describe reports that suggested he was destined for Paris Saint-Germain as “fake news”.
Whether the word “fake” was superfluous and Conte exchanged the British capital for its French counterpart remains to be seen. Few should be surprised when he does.
When they meet at Anfield tonight it will be as two of the best managers in the world and as opposites separated by far more than the distance between shelters or the contrasting fortunes of January’s Luis Diaz race.
Klopp offers continuity, Conte eternal variety.
The German can come across as a whirlwind, whipping up crowds and playing super-fast football, but he’s already the longest-serving manager in the Premier League. Stay at Anfield as he is now under contract until 2026 and no one since Bill Shankly will have stayed there.
Like Arsene Wenger, he will be the exotic import that became part of the furniture.
Conte’s career path is very varied. Klopp’s shortest tenure is seven years, while Conte’s longest is three. Having signed an 18-month contract, he fueled doubts about his future at Tottenham from the start.
His melodramatic threats to go out were hallmarks of his reign; Klopp has proven he can lose at Turf Moor without implying he will quit.
He was content battling for fourth place before battling for the league, while a perpetually angry man can be a face of incessant impatience.
Conte’s ability to feud with anyone and everyone from players to owners means he’s a form of confrontational leadership. Klopp’s leadership is more charismatic but relies on chemistry and cohesion. The Italian may think that creative tension works. The German prefers a lucky camp.
Everyone may argue that the results justify them. Conte could be the standout short-term manager in the game. Perhaps the most dramatic change in Premier League history came when he inherited a 10th-ranked Chelsea team, had a stuttering start to the season with a back four, suddenly switched to 3-4-3, 13 straight games and the title on 93 points won .
Klopp’s arrival in England was older and progress was soon evident but rather gradual; his first trophy, the 2019 Champions League, came 43 months after his appointment. But a man of long-term patience has reached greater heights, though not immediately.
During his time in charge of Liverpool, Conte was with Italy, Chelsea, Inter and Tottenham; there may be other additions to this list.
Conte’s supporters could claim he is the better coach in the domestic leagues. Klopp’s three titles were all landmark: two with Borussia Dortmund came at the expense of Bayern Munich, one with Liverpool was a first in three decades and resulted from winning 26 of his first 27 games in a historically brilliant run. There may be a fourth title this year, but Conte has five. He ended a dry spell at Inter and repositioned Juventus as Italy’s dominant force.
And yet there is a big difference on the European stage. Conte is an underachiever, a serial European Cup finalist as a player who has yet to secure a place in the last four as a manager, while Klopp has established himself among all-time greats.
Reaching a fourth Champions League final was a record, albeit for 24 hours, before Carlo Ancelotti advanced to his fifth.
He marks a golden age at Liverpool while Massimiliano Allegri collected more silverware even as Conte made Juventus winners.
There is a contrast in methodology. Conte constantly thinks he should have more players; Klopp can be reluctant to sign and put his faith in those he already has. Klopp believes in people while Conte criticizes them.
Aware of the underlying economics of the game, the Liverpool manager recognizes he has no bottomless money hole.
Conte complains when he can’t buy absolutely everyone and some of his many former targets – Diaz, Virgil van Dijk, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – can be found at Anfield instead.
Klopp can bring humor and his own brand of cool while remaining a company man: he tends to keep his disagreements private, although he was unhappy about Liverpool signing up for the European Super League and isn’t afraid that Praise the owners of the club.
“From the first day I came here I’ve been really happy with our owners and these times I’m even happier with our owners,” he said of the UK government sanctioning Roman Abramovich. Reflecting on Chelsea, he said: “I think it’s pretty obvious where the money is coming from.”
Conte almost certainly didn’t ask where it came from, but did ask why it didn’t go to Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Alex Sandro, Leonardo Bonucci and Van Dijk and the rest of football’s longest shopping list in 2017.
Maybe he’s not alone in this. Maybe football conditioned him that way.
Perhaps his crash-and-burn management style is a consequence of the game, although he seems to feel his tactical brilliance and serial winner status means he has the right to demand anything at any time. Klopp offers a different model.
After seven years each at Mainz and Dortmund, he signed for 11 at Liverpool FC. Last week he called Merseyside home while north London appears to be another stop for Conte, a manager who always covets what he doesn’t have.
Klopp can generate loyalty by showing his own. Perhaps Conte’s immediacy helps him get instant results, but they renew acquaintances as management’s perpetually angry wanderers, bridge-burning specialists and Anfield’s great empire-builders.
Liverpool vs Tottenham Hotspur
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https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/premier-league/liverpoolspurs-clash-pits-two-elite-managers-against-each-other-and-they-are-polar-opposites-41623922.html The Liverpool/Spurs clash pits two elite managers against each other – and they are polar opposites