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John Laverty

For leadership in the coronavirus crisis, give me Jurgen Klopp over Boris Johnson or Donald Trump every time

John Laverty


Trustworthy figure: Jurgen Klopp has spoken more sense than a lot of high profile politicians

Trustworthy figure: Jurgen Klopp has spoken more sense than a lot of high profile politicians


Trustworthy figure: Jurgen Klopp has spoken more sense than a lot of high profile politicians

The online questions were, at first, mildly amusing. Can you get it from eating Chinese takeaways? No. Would gargling with bleach kill it? Yes, and you along with it. Does 'herd immunity' mean that cows can't get it? Erm...

It's not funny any more. Not when people are dying from this thing. And not when there's global disruption on a scale unparalleled in peacetime.

It doesn't help that, to use a sporting analogy, the goalposts are shifting on an almost daily basis.

Nor that the millions who put their trust in front-line politicians at the ballot box are now struggling to find similar faith in their ability to lead.

It won't brook much argument to suggest that one Donald J Trump is the worst person imaginable to lead the world through this crisis.

What the US President has 'led' is a miasma of misleading messages, a muddled, 'play it by ear' administration and, as usual, a cacophony of blatant untruths.

Having initially dismissed the threat of Covid-19 as a "hoax", The Donald then stated that Stateside infections were "going very substantially down, not up" and insisted that testing kits would be readily available to worried Americans.

Three strikes, but sadly he's not out.

And, between Sunday and Wednesday of last week, the CDC (Centres for Disease Control) tested just 77 people in the US - a country of 330 million.

During the same period, the more resourceful, forward-thinking Utah Jazz basketball team managed to test no fewer than 58 after their star centre Rudy Gobert fell ill.

Now Trump has declared a state of emergency; at last, something emanating from his big mouth that citizens can actually believe.

Over on this side of the pond, Boris Johnson, flanked by England's chief medical officer and the UK's chief scientific adviser, assured us he had "a clear plan" and that it wasn't necessary to cancel or postpone large gatherings of people.

You'd have thought this would be of great succour to the people who run major sport here.

Within hours of the Johnson press conference ending last Thursday, however, we found out that Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea player Callum Hudson-Odoi had tested positive for the virus.

The Premier League, Football League and Scottish FA almost immediately suspended their seasons, while Uefa and other sporting bodies ultimately did the same. Euro 2020 will become Euro 2021 - which may well turn out to be more of a blessing than a curse come the summer.

Oh, and that piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Rory McIlroy and The Masters? Park that.

Government here followed sport, rather than the other way round, by preparing to ban all mass gatherings until further notice.

Unsurprisingly, a broadsheet newspaper poll at the weekend suggested that only 36% trusted what Johnson said about coronavirus.

You can count Watford manager Nigel Pearson among the doubters.

"I don't think we had any great leadership, listening to the Prime Minister," he said on Friday, adding: "I was totally underwhelmed by the lack of leadership and clear message last night.

"I heard him say that the decisions would be based on science and that there's not necessarily a greater risk with people being together at sporting venues. If that's based on science, fine, but that doesn't necessarily make sense to me.

"I wouldn't want our fans to be going into a situation where they are fearful of contracting something that could possibly affect either themselves or a member of their family."

Well, that sure makes a change from the usual "lads done well," "we wuz robbed" and "VAR's a joke" utterances from the corridor outside the changing room.

But 56-year-old Pearson, who lost his elderly mother to illness just a few weeks ago, isn't typical of the ilk.

Woe betide any journalist who posits what he regards as a moronic question; something which freelance Ian Baker - who'll forever be known as "The Ostrich" following an infamous encounter with the then Leicester boss five years ago - will attest to.

But it was Jurgen Klopp, manager of that other lot from down the East Lancs Road, whose words made the biggest impression on me last week.

If anyone involved in sport has the right to be gutted by recent developments it's the 52-year-old boss of runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool, yet there was barely a hint of that in his open letter to fans in which he described football as "the most important of the least important things".

"I don't think this is a moment where the thoughts of a football manager should be important, but I understand our supporters will want to hear from the team and I will front that," the German wrote.

"First and foremost we have to do what we can to protect one another. In society, I mean. This should be the case all the time in life, but in this moment I think it matters more than ever. Of course we don't want games or competitions suspended, but if doing so helps one individual stay healthy - just one - we do it, no questions asked."

He continued: "If it's a choice between football and the good of the wider society it's no contest. Really, it isn't. As manager of this team I carry a leadership responsibility with regards to our future on the pitch, but in the present moment, with so much anxiety and uncertainty, it would be wrong to speak about anything other than advising people to follow expert advice. Please look after yourselves and look after each other."

This wasn't the usual ghost-written, carefully orchestrated PR fluff.

It was composed and written from the heart and from the man's own keyboard, just like the recent touching reply he sent to the 10-year-old Donegal boy and Man United fan Daragh Curley who'd written to him suggesting that Liverpool, who are on course to win their first Premier League by a country mile, should lose a few games to make the season more interesting.

If only Klopp had a message for those panic-buyers who are actually making the situation worse, not better, creating more, not fewer, opportunities for mass infection by hoarding hand gel that could be used more effectively in schools and surgeries.

Ironically, these are the sort of people who are currently accusing the government of indulging in eugenics.

Klopp, like Pearson, is clearly intelligent, respected and pragmatic, but the former is also an openly emotional man with an admirable social conscience and sense of perspective.

He's also a genuine born leader you can listen to and, more importantly, heed at this most difficult of times.

Recent experience in Washington and London has shown that such people are not so easy to find.

BBC replacing MOTD with Mrs Brown was not in any way funny

It's no big deal in the great scheme of things, but someone at the BBC decided that the ideal replacement for Match of the Day on Saturday night would be a repeat of an old Mrs Brown's Boys episode.


Mrs Brown

Mrs Brown

BBC Studios/Alan Peebles

Mrs Brown

If the subsequent outrage on social media is any barometer, this wasn't regarded as a particularly good idea.

Not when the Beeb's own archive is heaving with excellent sports documentaries, any one of which would have merited a repeat viewing.

For instance, the Maestro series from the '80s, presented by Barry Davies and featuring the likes of Bestie and Sir Stanley Matthews, is superb.

Instead, fans bereft of Gary Lineker et al got an unfunny Irishman dressed as an old woman. It had me pining for the good old days when that test card with a wee girl and the clown doll playing noughts and crosses filled up the blank spaces.

If BBC can mess up so badly with just an hour of football highlights to fill in for, spare a thought for the staff at Sky, BT Sport and Eurosport who between them have 14 channels gasping for air and could end up showing a couple of old codgers playing draughts in the local pub - if it's still open.

Never mind Super Sunday, there's a few Surreal Saturdays on their way to a screen near you.

Just one more thing...

From The Sun last week: “Daniel James is set for a huge Manchester United wage hike this summer after a superb first season”. The young Welsh lad has promise, undoubtedly, but he hasn’t scored in the Premier League since the first month of the season, and hasn’t contributed an assist since December. It may be time to redefine ‘superb’ on the Sun sports desk.

Daniel James

Belfast Telegraph