Stuck In a Moment I Can’t Get Out Of
An Emotional History of Jürgen Klopp If Adam Curtis Wrote About Football
If you want to read the article in Adam Curtis’ voice, keep going. If you’d rather listen to my Adam Curtis tribute, click below:
This article is written in a parallel world where prominent English documentary filmmaker and public intellectual Adam Curtis writes football features for, presumably, the Guardian.
Adam Curtis has a style defined by collage, a butterfly-effect reading of causality, and poetic generalisations. If you’re not familiar with Curtis, this article may seem self-indulgent and pretentious. For that, I do not apologise.
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The date was February 27th, 2001, and U2’s Stuck In a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of was sitting on the precipice of the UK charts’ top 10, having entered at number 2 the previous week.
The song was constructed after guitarist The Edge had tapped out a melody on a piano in a Japanese hotel room some months earlier. The Edge believed that the group’s experimentation with their previous album Pop had commercialised their aesthetic and he wanted to escape from its higher tempo and base appeal. In constructing this melody, The Edge was looking to channel gospel roots and connect with something he described as “earthy”.
The Edge did not know it yet but this melody would bring him back into working with a producer whose counterintuitive beliefs about music would serve to reshape the West.
Brian Eno was formerly a member of the glam rock group Roxy Music. But this exposure to the bright, garish side of music left him yearning for something more subtle. Influenced by research into the powers of subliminal messaging and the revelations of MK Ultra and other mind-control experiments by military powers and elites over the previous decade, Eno believed there were deeper ways of engaging with the listener’s mind; a way which could influence their consciousness and their relationship to the outside world around them.
His theory of music was based on the counterintuitive idea that less is more. That music - which requires the making of noise, tune, and melody - can be made more powerful by making less noise, less tune, and less melody; less of the things which it cannot exist without. That music could be improved by detaching it from the listening process - removing the observer and still working. This counterintuitive thinking, Eno believed, was an essential response to a new world of scientific discoveries which revealed our world as we knew it was only a construction.
In 1978, Brian Eno released his first album of a very new kind of music - a kind of music that would change the West. He called it ambient music.
Meanwhile, in Colombia, another man who would come to change the world had just entered into a new criminal business venture. Pablo Escobar, along with his business colleague Carlos Lehder, had purchased an island in the Caribbean called Norman’s Cay, through which they would begin to escalate their supply of cocaine into the United States of America.
Norman’s Cay was a small island with little more than a harbour, airstrip, and refrigerated warehouse. But this small island would change the face of the drug trade as it became the central route for the Medellín cartel.
The 80 tonnes of cocaine Escobar would ship into the US each month would impact music, films, and more. They would introduce recreational uppers into the fabric of US society in a way which would leave a lasting mark. The strange mix of confidence and paranoia this would create within the professional class would shape the economic change of the 1980s, and with it a vast expansion of authoritarian police power.
The Edge had written a melody but something about it didn’t feel right - the song wasn’t finding the quality he wanted it to have. U2 recruited Brian Eno to co-produce on the record for the first recording sessions.
It was here where Eno applied his unconventional and counterintuitive thinking. In order to bring more out of the melody, he wanted to strip it away. He instructed The Edge to play the melody into a music sequencer, after which Eno sought to edit the melody and prune it of unnecessary notes.
Eno’s philosophy of ambient music was that:
"Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular, it must be as ignorable as it is interesting."
This counterintuitive thinking would see him take away enough of the melody to provide an obscured version remaining - one which can be heard by those who pay attention, but understood entirely differently by those half-listening along. Eno removed notes 1 & 2 of every 3, creating a haunting version which carried the energy - or ambience - of an emotional and deeply personal song.
The song peaked at number two in the UK charts, sliding the next week to sit in number 10 on the 27th of February, 2001.
At the same time, in a small city on the Rhine river, a German man embarked on a new journey with counterintuitive ideas and his own plans for how they could be implemented.
Jürgen Norbert Klopp cites his main influences as Wolfgang Frank, under whom he worked at Mainz, and the famous Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi, whom he admired from a distance - and on the 27th of February, 2001, second division football club, Mainz 05, appointed him as manager.
Klopp’s style came to be associated most with gegenpressing - what he called once “heavy-metal football”. But what Klopp really believed in was the same as Brian Eno. Klopp believed that our initial intuitions are often wrong.
Klopp came of age in a time past The End of History; in a period which prided itself on being non-ideological, seeing the fall of once impenetrable belief systems, and on taking on a technocratic form where experts made the decisions behind the scenes with knowledge the rest of us had to operate without.
This was a world where counterintuitive decision-making was lauded. A world created by the technicians like Brian Eno and his contemporaries. For Jürgen Klopp to rise above the other coaches he must take the form of the technician, making counterintuitive decisions and studying the world as it really existed, behind the veil of ignorance our intuitions and senses create.
In football, this meant you were more dangerous without the ball than with the ball, that the best playmaker was no playmaker at all, and eventually that you had to turn to data to see what your eyes could not.
In time, further tactical developments would arise in his Liverpool team which followed this theme. He would choose the full-back position as the main creative force despite being one of the furthest from the opposition goal. He would create one of the highest scoring teams in Europe without using a traditional striker. And he would defer to specialists for the details of the game, like throw-ins, even when they didn’t have his big-picture view.
On the 8th of May 2015, a German film titled Phoenix opened in UK cinemas.
The film depicted a disfigured German woman who returns to Berlin after the war, horrified to find out that it was her own estranged husband who had turned her over to the Nazi death squads. Despite her horror at his betrayal, she must endeavor to find him as she stills feels it is only he who will recognise her; only he who will see past her disfigured exterior to the person within.
Her tale is one of looking beneath the surface and searching for the counterintuitive answer against the pain and human difficulty of that task. In the film, she is trapped in the emotional moment of realisation that her relationship was more broken than she understood. Yet, if she cannot work through that difficulty, maybe the truth which lies beneath her outward appearance will not be uncovered.
She must turn to the person who left her to be killed, to find her life again.
As Phoenix displays, that which is counterintuitive can often prove difficult to be connected to - and it can be difficult to determine what’s really going on.
Less than three weeks later, Jürgen Klopp lost a cup final against Wolfsburg and stepped down as coach of Dortmund after a difficult season in the context of having established himself as one of the best coaches in the world.
His Dortmund team which had won back-to-back Bundesliga titles and reached the final of the Champion’s League looked at Christmas like relegation contenders. The second half of the season, while a vast improvement, was not enough to rekindle the spark. The anomaly of Klopp had ended.
His methods ultimately appeared to end in failure, but scratch below the surface and you may - counterintuitively - believe he did a good job in an alarmingly difficult season…
Pablo Escobar was not only an exporter of paranoia. His high-tempo export had also imported something back.
Escobar’s success in drug trafficking and his brutality had made him believe that he was above the law. His charitable giving and community work fed into his understanding of himself as the champion of the people. All the while, his cocaine consumption continued to convince him that he was untouchable.
But it was a fantasy.
His trade was suffering from the same paralysis that gripped the global economy. The money increased but it was being built on unstable ground. The confusion at the heart of the global financial system which his product was helping to fuel was the same confusion which ran through Escobar. Confidence, brutality, and the belief that the good times would last forever.
Pablo Escobar died in a shootout on the 2nd of December 1993 while trying to flee across the rooves of a middle-class suburb of Medellín. He had escaped from a prison of his own design not long before after uncovering a government plan to move him to a normal prison.
The paranoia Escobar had exported to the West was a paranoia that ultimately inhabited him - and which contributed to his downfall and death.
At the same time as Escobar received the fatal shot to the ear, a philosopher halfway around the world published a book about how he had begun to identify a trend within the way we thought about the existing world order. In 1993, Jacques Derrida released Spectres of Marx.
In his text, he outlined how he believed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism had made Marx relevant again. In opposition to Fukuyama’s proclamation of the End of History, Derrida believed the Western world was being haunted by Marx and he appeared and reappeared through its economic structures and the contradictions required to sustain them.
It was in this text that Derrida created the concept of Hauntology.
In this understanding of the world, we are haunted by the ideas and events of the past - that their return can damage and scare us, as a ghost or poltergeist might.
Just as Escobar was haunted by the paranoia he exported to the West, and the West was haunted in the 21st Century by the colonialism it exported in the centuries before, so had a haunting begun by the hauntology theorists who took this concept into their music in the Britain of the early 2000s.
Mark Fisher, a celebrated hauntology theorist, described Brian Eno in his passage:
The suspicion grows, in fact, that Eno is a marketer without portfolio whose art lies in assimilating, synthesising and then re-selling any era's trends, and that what his celebrated adaptability anticipated more than anything was the 'flexibility' demanded of the late capitalist immaterial labourer.
The first crime that caused this ire according to Fisher? Eno’s collaboration with U2 and his sell-out to the dead aesthetics of late-capitalist commercialism.
On the 8th of March 2021, Liverpool FC lost six home games in a row for the first time in the club’s history.
The Liverpool team which had stormed to its first league title in 30 years and racked up 196 points over two seasons, while reaching two Champions League finals and winning one, finally appeared to be in freefall.
The fast-paced team which played with all the energy of Escobar’s 80s had lost its rhythm and Jürgen Klopp found himself in a very familiar situation.
From being top of the league at Christmas, Liverpool was now languishing in midtable and Hodgson’s “not too big for relegation” joined the many ghosts of the past that found it time to awake from their slumber.
Klopp’s ghosts of his Dortmund team were splashed across the newspapers and the divine patterns of history appeared to be acting again, through the geist.
But then, something strange happened…
Liverpool started winning again. A few European ties and a few league games do not solve the problem but they could - for Klopp and his side - be the lifeline they need.
Will the technician prove to be able to overcome the past? Klopp’s counterintuitive methods and the data-driven insistence that we can view reality as it is, unobscured by ideology, could prove to be the tools needed to right the ship.
Klopp’s Liverpool is haunted by the Dortmund of the past but this does not mean the future needs to emulate history.
Maybe in the midst of this haunting, the Klopp quote “from doubters to believers” which echoes the halls of social media should be replaced by another one from Fisher:
When the present has given up on the future, we must listen for the relics of the future in the unactivated potentials of the past.
Perhaps Klopp can learn from the events of the past, and learn from the seasons with Dortmund that did not happen as much as the ones which did.
If Klopp fails to bring order to chaos, it leaves us with a dark and disturbing vision of humanity where even the technicians among us cannot escape our pasts.
He is stuck in a moment. He is not in a good moment. Can he get out of it?
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