I was brought up following football. I was fell in love with AC Milan. In the recent golden years of the club, I had the opportunity to work with and follow a number of ‘real life’ leaders on and off the pitch. Clarence Seedorf, Paolo Maldini, Riccardo Kaka, Gennaro Gattuso, Carlo Ancellotti and Filippo Galli are some of a long long list. Others I had the chance to admire through books and their articulated thoughts. These include Sir Alex Ferguson, Marcello Lippi and Arsene Wenger.
I often find that today’s football world lacks these kind of leaders, until this week, for the second time in a relatively short span, I came across this speech by Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool’s coach. Earlier this month, Klopp gave an important interview about his Europe and Brexit where his comments definitely had to create ripples and set people thinking.
In his speech read during the awards night which bestowed Mo’ Salah, Klopp had the courage to speak and set the tone on pertinent issues. Football, like other sports, provide role models for children. Klopp’s speeches merit an award not just for their content but because they’re a guiding light in a rather opaque and thick dark historic patch of European and global history.
Jurgen Klopp’s Speech
Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before anything else I would like to say on behalf of everyone at Liverpool Football Club how pleased we are to hear that Sir Alex Ferguson is already making a speedy recovery after his recent illness. You don’t have to be from this country or Scotland to appreciate his genius or importance to football – but the extent of the coverage in your publications following the news last weekend proves his status transcends his own profession. It’s fantastic news to hear he is already making big strides to a full recovery and at LFC we are delighted about this.
Please accept my apologies for not being with you in person tonight. It is the club’s own award ceremony at Anfield and as such I need to prioritise being here with the rest of the team. Given this is the Football Writers‘ Association I thought a written acknowledgement from me that someone could read out on the evening would make more sense than a recorded message.
In terms of a Liverpool presence at your event tonight, hopefully we have managed to show the respect it deserves, despite the clash with our own annual awards.
Your winner, Mr. Salah, is either with you now or on his way depending when this message is read out. It is typical of Mo’s character that he was so keen to attend. And I don’t mean being greedy for awards, but being gracious and good mannered to make every effort to be there in person and thank you for the honour.
There’s not much I can say about what he does “on the pitch” that you guys haven’t already seen and written about. The fact you have voted for him as your player of the season reflects that you have witnessed his incredible quality as a footballer. But it’s his qualities as a person that should not be overlooked.
I read and hear about him being a wonderful role model for Egypt, North Africa, for the wider Arabic world and for Muslims. This, of course, is true, but he is a role model full stop.
Regardless of race or religion – country or region of birth. The only “labels” we should put on Mo is what a good person he is and what a fantastic footballer he is. And by the way, the first part of that is more important in life than the second.
Mo is someone who sets an example of how to approach life and how to treat others. Around Melwood, with his teammates and the club staff, he is gentle and humble despite being the international superstar he is now.
The attention and acclaim has not changed him even by 0.01% percent. He arrived at Liverpool humble and warm and this is the same boy who comes to be with you all tonight to accept your generous recognition. Although maybe a little more tired and weary of selfies and autographs, so keep that in mind please!
Mo, we are very proud of you and thankful for what you have done for this team and club and of course we look forward to sharing many more seasons with you at Liverpool. In a season when Manchester City have been outstandingly good and played outstandingly well, football from another planet, you have won the two major awards. The one voted for by your fellow professionals and now the one voted for by the football writers.
You are world class Mo, truly world class. And what’s even more exciting, for you, for Liverpool, and for the public who get to watch you play: you can and will get even better.
Congratulations my friend.
Aside from Mo, I have another member of my team with you all this evening, and his presence is, I believe, recognition of the importance of your industry: writing and journalism.
Rhian Brewster is just 18 years old. During the past 12 months Rhian has established himself as one of the most exciting prospects in English football. He has grown and risen in status at Liverpool. He won the world cup for your country at his age level, he won the golden boot at that very same tournament. He made his family, his friends, his club and his country proud in doing what he did on the football pitch.
But it was away from the football pitch and instead in the pages of a UK newspaper, where Rhian made an even bigger impact on the game we all love and even a significant impact on society.
Aged just 17 at the time, and at his own behest, albeit with the support of his family and friends, plus the support of the incredible academy staff at Liverpool, he sat and spoke about racism in modern football with the same power, command and composure that he shows when playing.
The newspaper who carried the original story was then supported by other journalist and other publications, many of whom I am sure are in the room tonight, in making sure Rhian’s voice was loud and clear in articulating that racism and discrimination still exists and persists in our game.
That it takes a 17-year-old boy to do this is as frustrating and depressing as it is inspirational and uplifting. That many of you in the room were so supportive in spreading his message is testimony to journalism in this country.
It is fitting that alongside Rhian as part of the LFC table tonight is Troy Townsend and other colleagues from Kick it Out. Troy and Kick It Out supported Rhian, Liverpool and other players during the very difficult periods following the occasions of racist abuse. They do so for players, staff, supporters up and down the country.
Troy and the team at Kick It Out help to educate players and staff at Liverpool, be it first team, academy or Ladies, on the importance of recognising we all still have lessons to learn in football and in life to ensure we are inclusive and not discriminatory.
As Rhian articulated so well in his interview – in England we are fortunate that big strides have been made whereby his own experiences have been largely restricted to European and International competitions, but sadly racism and discrimination is not exclusive to football overseas and therefore Troy and Kick It Out are still as important as ever to the game in this country.
I would like to finish with two points; and I hope they do not in any way sound ‘preachy’. If they do, blame the person reading it, it is their fault clearly.