“I Know Him, I like Rafa”

Klopp versus Rafa. Rafa versus Klopp. Liverpool manager past versus Liverpool manager present. Gegenpressing against tactics. The boss who’s your friend facing the boss who will never be. Narrative, hype, and personality might dominate the build-up to the match between Liverpool and Newcastle United at Anfield, but for both sides, it’s more than a meeting of two personalities. This is the preoccupation and obsession that is everywhere in English football: the cult of personality and the manager.

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Despite all this, Jürgen Klopp and Rafa Benítez make an intriguing tactical and philosophical matchup. The two have met before in the 2013/14 Champions League campaign, managing Borussia Dortmund and Napoli respectively. Lots of fans overlook the fact that many managers become familiar with each other through UEFA meetings and matches, and those who love the game follow others who have made their mark. Klopp and Benítez will have taken notice of each other’s achievements through the years, and it appears that Klopp has confirmed their familiarity.

“I know him, I like Rafa,” Klopp said in his pre-match press conference. “We met each other a few times at UEFA meetings, he is a very successful manager, nice person, and I really like him. From my point of view, if somebody wants to celebrate Rafa Benitez and memories of the Istanbul game or whatever – [he’s] one of the most successful managers at Liverpool – they’re very welcome.

“If they want [to], do it. Be louder than you have ever been, that’s absolutely okay. That’s how I would say hello to a good old friend, so if you want to do this nobody has to ignore this wonderful moment only because I’m here now. Everything is okay from my side so do how you feel, and if it’s very good, show it.”

It’s typical of Jürgen Klopp to appreciate those who have contributed to the history of the club before him, and he would be sensitive to casting a shadow over his successors given his history with Mainz 05 and Borussia Dortmund. Liverpool are in a good space at the moment with a lengthy Europa League run and improved form in the Premier League, making the return of former Liverpool managers and players far less tortuous. It’s good to be able to welcome those who have contributed to the club, thank them, and continue to stride forward.

Hopefully, Liverpool will be able to do that when Newcastle visit Anfield tomorrow.