As human beings, we have an apparent need to compare the world around us. Apple or Android? Cat person or Dog person? Countless other examples can be thought of, and often when a person disagrees with our view, we launch ourselves into a passionate defence of our belief.
Perhaps this is never truer than in the world of football, where debates about the merits of one thing or another are often raging. Fans are asked, usually across one form of social media or another, which striker, goalkeeper or midfield trio they would pick out of the top six teams in England; who was better out of Gerrard, Lampard or Scholes; and, of course, who is the GOAT, Ronaldo or Messi?
Klopp or Pochettino?
In the prelude to the meeting of Liverpool and Tottenham at Wembley, the focus of the internet debate was over which manager, Klopp or Pochettino, fans would rather have managing their side. Predictably, Tottenham fans claim Pochettino for his success without spending similar amounts to the other top six sides, Liverpool fans shout Klopp for the way he has improved the Liverpool squad with a strong net spend, whilst fans of other sides, notably the remaining top teams, all offer their own managers name into the mix.
All this serves to achieve is a shouting match between fans in which common sense very rarely prevails. It also highlights the pitfalls of the social media age in which we live and the immediate information that it offers. A slow news day will lead to outlets promoting comparisons like this simply to remain in the spotlight.
Comparisons are not an inherently bad thing. When used in the right context, they can help fans to engage into lively debates, or can be used as a motivational tool by players to push themselves against their competition. But, invariably, fans and pundits alike become entrenched in their views surrounding their own side. Phil Thompson suggesting he would rather have Klopp over Pochettino will hardly come as a surprise to anybody.
The biggest question is why the need for comparison at all?
Both managers have done a remarkable job since arriving at their current roles. Since taking over at Tottenham, the Argentine has led his side to victory in 90 of his 157 games, a win percentage of 57.3, whilst only losing 31 matches. In Klopp’s 111 games (including the 2-1 victory at Wembley), Liverpool have won 61 times, a win percentage of 54.1, whilst only seeing defeat in 19 matches.
Both sides have gained a reputation for scoring goals as well. Tottenham’s 297 averages out at just under two goals a match, whilst Liverpool have an average of slightly over two under the German.
There are plenty of similarities with the fortunes of both sides in recent seasons. Both have developed quickly, becoming fixtures in the top four. Both managers favour their sides playing expansive, attacking football. Both are willing to give game time to younger players. It has been a period of dramatic improvements for both.
Despite the similarities, comparisons are futile. Trying to pick which manager is better or done a better job ignores the intricacies of their work.
Would Klopp have been able to get the best out of Kieran Trippier, Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Dele Alli and others in the same way Pochettino has? Could the Argentine have developed Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jordan Henderson to play the way they have under the German? How would they have dealt with player power situations that arose such as Philippe Coutinho’s move to Barcelona? Would Salah have been plucked from the Italian capital to star for Liverpool by Pochettino?
Why does a comparison need to take place at all?
It is symptomatic of modern football, and life in general, that we cannot appreciate two acts of extra-ordinariness, whether player or manager, without debating which is the best one. The narrative needs to be changed to one of enjoyment on a wider scale.
Debate about the merits of every aspect of football will always take place, and it greatly benefits the game. The modern high-pressing, passing football we are told to adore would not have developed without debate about play styles.
Instead of forcing the debate by asking leading questions, there should be a greater emphasis on admiring the talents of all around us. Highlight the positives around both and debate will still occur naturally. But perhaps there will be a greater appreciation of the abilities of those not in connection with the clubs we support.
Klopp and Pochettino. Guardiola and Mourinho. Messi and Ronaldo. The comparisons will always exist, but instead of saying we are Messi fans or Ronaldo fans, or would rather have Klopp or Pochettino managing our club for the next five seasons, we can move away from the tribalism, describe ourselves as football fans, and appreciate that we live in the age of many talented players and managers.