Jürgen Klopp has defended Wayne Rooney’s late-night socialising and described this generation of footballers as the most professional the game has seen. “All the legends we love and admire drank like devils and smoked like crazy,” the Liverpool manager claimed, who once wore a Santa Claus mask to avoid photographers on a Christmas night out.
Klopp offered support and sympathy for the Manchester United captain after he apologised unreservedly to the Football Association for being photographed at a wedding reception in the early hours of Sunday. Rooney, along with the rest of the England squad, had been given time off by Gareth Southgate following the World Cup qualifying win against Scotland on Friday night and had also been told he would not start the friendly against Spain on Tuesday.
The FA has reminded Rooney of his responsibilities as England captain and is reviewing its policy of giving players free time on international duty after allegations of drinking. But Klopp believes there has been a huge over-reaction to photographs of Rooney at the wedding reception and it is unreasonable to demand a monastic lifestyle from footballers at all times.
“What I can say is I feel really for the players,” Klopp said. “I know we’re all on the sunny side of life, we earn a lot of money and do the job we love, but at the end maybe it comes as a surprise that we are also human beings too. Sometimes we’re invited to weddings, birthdays or whatever and we can play the professional role still – ‘No, we don’t drink’, or ‘If you smoke please stand 20 yards away because I don’t want to be a passive smoker’. That is not how life works.
“This generation is the most professional generation of footballers not only in England, but England has ever had. All the guys, all the legends we love and admire drank like devils and smoked like crazy but they were still good players. No one does it any more. I don’t know anyone now. We had a Christmas party [after losing against Watford in December last year] and I had to fill people’s glasses. It’s about timing – when you are in the wrong time at the wrong place and it’s not good as a professional. I have no idea where Wayne was but I’m pretty sure it’s not really serious. It is the not nice part of our life.
“Our life sounds like a big catastrophe when things are not perfect. But it’s not like that. Sometimes it is good to have a situation like this – you can fine the player and do something good with the money for the team or the kit-man or whoever.”
Klopp suffered a similar experience to Rooney when manager of Mainz in 2006. His team were bottom of the Bundesliga at the Christmas break and having been persuaded to join his friends on a night out Klopp came up with a novel idea to avoid being photographed. Or so he thought.
The Liverpool manager recounted: “We had 11 points and we were last in the Bundesliga table. We had a Christmas break and friends of ours wanted to have a party in the city. Nobody could see it was me because I had a mask on, a Santa Claus mask. I didn’t feel too good but I needed a little bit of help and I went out. I did it. Then there comes a point when you are a little bit drunk so I lifted the mask and the next thing there is a picture. The next day Bild printed the picture and said: ‘That is how Klopp celebrates being 18th.’ It was not that I celebrated but that was the picture. It happens and you go on. It is not really big.”
The photographs of Rooney appeared at a time when the player is struggling to retain his place for club and country but the Liverpool manager insisted the United captain is not the only player to drink on a day off. “From my point of view I don’t know much about it but I am pretty sure it is nothing. The German national team were in Rome and I saw some pics of them in a restaurant. They had no glass in their hand but do you say they didn’t drink? That’s how it is. “We live life under a glass. We know it most of the time and we function, but sometimes not. In one, two, three weeks no one will remember what happened so why make a big thing of it?”
Klopp’s thoughts were echoed by the Everton manager, Ronald Koeman, who has spoken to his captain, Phil Jagielka, after he was photographed on the night out with Rooney but believes the bigger problem is social media. “I spoke to Phil this morning not only about this but about other aspects of football,” Koeman said.
“He was there and he had a drink, but it was after the match and the behaviour of Phil was not bad. Everyone has to understand how dangerous social media is. You have to always be an example to young people as a football professional but that is my opinion in general. It happened more 25 years ago than it does now but there was not social media then.”
Liverpool visit Southampton on Saturday seeking to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League but could be without Adam Lallana after he sustained a groin injury in England’s draw with Spain. “It will be close,” Klopp said.
The Liverpool manager also insisted he had no concerns that Philippe Coutinho’s head could be turned by frequent reports in Spain linking him with a move to Barcelona. The in-form Brazil international, claimed Klopp, is content with the direction Liverpool are heading and will only improve at Anfield.
He said: “The club is not a problem, our owners are not a problem. It is creating the perspective that no one wants to leave. That is all it is about. If there is a club that can pay double what we pay then I will bring the player there because who am I to say: ‘No, no no, please don’t think about the family and the kids and the grandkids and their kids,’ but I don’t know a lot of clubs in the world who are able to do this.
“First of all before we talk about money we have to create an atmosphere in and around the club where no one wants to leave. At this moment I am not worried about anything. The players like to be here and it is our job to make sure it stays like this. My opinion is that he feels really well here. We all hope and think that his future is here at Liverpool.
“Everyone forgets when they talk about Phil that is he is still very young. He is 24 so he is still young and has a long way to go and a lot of space for improvement and development. He is now at an age where the skills, in a mixture with his experience, gives you more consistency. With the team-mates he has around him it is getting better and better. I am sure he has only started and that is all good.”