Jürgen Klopp embarked on quite the impassioned tirade over Premier League fixture scheduling on Sunday and he is not the only top-flight manager to have done so in recent times. The previous Thursday, Frank Lampard bemoaned the fact his Chelsea players were still returning from international duty but faced a flight to Newcastle for Saturday’s BT Sport-dictated lunchtime kick-off, followed soon after by a trip to Rennes. A few weeks previously, Ole Gunnar Solskjær had also opined with some bitterness that those in charge of UK TV scheduling were setting his team up to fail.

While Lampard’s complaints were more Chelsea-specific and appeared to overlook the fact he could scarcely have handpicked more obliging opposition for his side’s first outing after the hiatus, Klopp repeatedly insisted that he was speaking out on behalf of fatigued players everywhere, rather than those who just happen to be in his Liverpool squad.

“It’s about all the players, it’s about the England players,” he told the Sky Sports reporter Geoff Shreeves. “It’s about the players who will play the European Championship next summer.” Warming to his theme like an angry airline passenger berating a member of staff on the check-in desk for wider corporate shortcomings over which they have no control, Klopp continued to vent at Shreeves. “If you don’t start talking to BT Sport, we’re all done. Sky and BT have to talk.”

It’s worth noting that the German did go on to say that he did not hold Sky’s man on the touchline personally responsible for the issues about which he obviously felt so strongly, having apparently realised mid-diatribe that the subject of his rant just happened to be nearby, the public face of one of the two networks which had so displeased him conveniently standing around holding a Sky Sports branded microphone.

Shreeves, to his credit, stood his ground. “But the clubs agree those slots,” he countered, his riposte ignored by an irate Klopp who was still in mid-flow. “It’s more complex though, Jürgen,” he tried again. “It’s not just the broadcasters, it involves a whole lot of people: the clubs who agree the contracts …”

Klopp wasn’t interested in listening to reason, having previously insisted the problem of fixture scheduling could easily be solved by administrators sitting in an office and thrashing matters out across a desk. “If somebody tells me again about contracts I go really nuts, because the contracts are made not for a Covid season,” he said. “We all have to adapt.”

It was an uncharacteristically spirited, intriguing and entertaining debate between a Premier League manager and a reporter who has at times in the past been accused of obsequiousness in the line of duty. It was also one which Sky Sports, famously prickly in the face of any criticism of the way it conducts its business, elected not to broadcast in the UK.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær said Manchester United were ‘set up to fail’ after being asked to play against Everton 48 hours after returning from Istanbul.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær said Manchester United were ‘set up to fail’ after being asked to play against Everton 48 hours after returning from Istanbul. Photograph: Ian Hodgson/NMC Pool

Klopp’s argument, echoed by several counterparts, is simple. He believes that the scheduling demands made by broadcasting networks during a Premier League season truncated by a pandemic are detrimental to the physical wellbeing of elite footballers and therefore unfair. On the face of it, it seems entirely reasonable considering he and his opposite number, Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers, were forced to plan without several key players for Sunday’s game.

However, Shreeves’ rebuttal also seemed entirely fair. When Premier League clubs as a collective sign contracts worth billions of pounds with TV networks, they do so in the knowledge that they will have to accede to certain obligations as far as match scheduling is concerned. Klopp’s observation that these contracts were not drawn up “for a Covid season” would make more sense if he hadn’t been equally indignant about the demands on his team last October, several months before the shadow of Covid had darkened the UK’s doorstep.

Pandemic or no pandemic, Liverpool’s manager is a serial moaner when it comes to his football teams having to play matches at times that don’t suit him, and when he argues in favour of more flexibility from TV companies, his complaints tend to sound selfish whether they are meant to or not.

It is a matter of public record that in each of the six seasons since his arrival at Anfield, Klopp has either grumbled about what he sees as the unreasonable demands being made of his team, or criticised other managers for highlighting those being made of theirs. In some seasons he has done both.

Since 2015 he has criticised Arsène Wenger, Antonio Conte and José Mourinho for complaining about the fixture calendar, but has never been backward in coming forward in voicing his own displeasure when the shoe is on the other foot. As well as last year’s diatribe in which he threatened to pull his team out of the League Cup, he had cut loose on the subject of congestion affecting Liverpool in each of the three previous campaigns.

Indeed, in five out of six seasons so far in English football, it was only in his first that Klopp declared himself “relaxed” about the apparent ordeal that lay ahead, even if it didn’t take too long for him to change his tune. With so much evidence of his dissatisfaction at match scheduling available, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that even if coronavirus were not an issue, we would almost certainly still have to listen to him complain.

Premier League clubs are paid hundreds of millions of pounds by broadcasting networks, who in their role as customers paying the piper are perfectly entitled to their say when it comes to calling the tune. If this arrangement is not to the liking of those clubs’ managers, then it is up to the managers to make sure their club owners, chairmen and chief executives insist on having more wriggle room when it comes to kick-off times, even if it comes at a financial cost before any contracts are signed.

Since March, the pandemic has placed demands of one kind or another on all of us and elite footballers and their managers are no exception. Unlike most of the rest of us, however, they are ridiculously well reimbursed for the sacrifices they are being forced to make and it is worth noting that few, if any, players have actually complained about their workload.

Perhaps the situation isn’t quite as catastrophic as Liverpool’s manager and his similarly disgruntled colleagues claim.



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