Jürgen Klopp has confirmed he will not attend Liverpool’s FA Cup replay with Shrewsbury next week and is taking a stand against fixture congestion by fielding an under-23s team managed by Neil Critchley.
Klopp has attracted widespread criticism for refusing to play senior players in the fourth-round replay or take charge of a game that clashes with the club’s scheduled mid-season break. He apologised to the League One side on Tuesday for taking the spotlight from their comeback in the first tie with his post-match comments but, on his stance over the replay, he was unrepentant.
Liverpool’s manager claimed the Football Association did not consult “sports-responsible people” over playing replays during the break as he hit back at the organisation for stating all clubs had accepted the dates before the season started. He also insisted Critchley, the under-23s coach, was the best man for the job of leading a team of under-23s at Anfield next Tuesday.
“Could I be here for the game?” said Klopp. “Of course I could but that would be a complete misunderstanding of management and coaching. It’s not about showing up for the team for two days or one day training and now I tell the boys [what to do]. They need their coach and they get their coach: Critch.”
The FA has described the mid-season break as a “player break” but Klopp confirmed he would be taking one too and would not be at Anfield for the replay. He dismissed the idea of watching from the directors’ box. “What difference would it make? Why should I be there? Give me a reason why I should,” he said. “On the football side it is clear and the other thing is we have to make a stand.”
It was put to Klopp that he should be present because he is Liverpool manager and supporters will be paying to attend, albeit with the club reducing ticket prices to £15 for adults and £5 for young adults. But he insisted the decision was a matter of principle in his long-running complaint over the demands on international players as much as to respect their first mid-season break.
“We had to make a decision. If you have a group of players, and I work with them a lot, they are human beings with families and I respect them a lot. We don’t say to them: ‘Now you can go away’ or ‘Now you can’t go away’. That is constantly an open question and I don’t like open questions. I think that always takes concentration away. I think it’s necessary that these boys, these all-time players who constantly play, get their time off. We are a football team and we are a group together. We are all or nobody. We had to make the decision then and we made it. Of course we thought we would go through, we would win, but we didn’t and although it was not in the beginning it is now a principle thing.
“They scored the equaliser and I thought ‘OK’ but now we have to stick to it. And I really think there are bigger problems in the world to be honest, much bigger problems, than if the manager of LFC … I really don’t understand that you make it so big. You can write whatever you want but you make it so big that I should be in the directors’ box because people pay money to watch the game and what do I do?”
Klopp insists his stand is necessary given the increasing workload that leading players face. “Everybody said it has to change,” said the manager, who confirmed Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott and Pedro Chirivella would play against Shrewsbury. “It will be more if we don’t try to put in a break, it will be more.” But he admitted his stance could encourage big clubs to seek a breakaway league. “That’s not my idea and I really don’t like it but it looks like it could happen. At one point probably when I am not in the business any more, it can happen.”
Sadio Mané will miss Wednesday’s Premier League visit to West Ham and the home game against Southampton on Saturday with a small muscle tear. The influential forward is expected to be fit after his side’s mid-season break.