In a break from writing about the pandemic, I’d like to say a bit about football in this week’s newsletter. Although it pains me to admit it, it is hard not to admire the extraordinary exploits of Liverpool FC who are now Champions, the first time they have won the league in 30 years.
The Liverpool team are managed by Jurgen Klopp, a popular, charismatic, successful, former player from Germany. How has he turned Liverpool into such a formidable winning machine? One factor a few have picked up on is Jurgen Klopp’s openness to faith and religion. Football clubs are not always places where spiritual matters are welcome. However, a number of the Liverpool first team are quite religious and Klopp has helped create a culture at the club where this is valued. Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, two of his most successful forwards, are devoted Muslims. Liverpool’s Brazilians Alisson and Fabinho are committed Evangelical Christians, as is Firmino who was baptised recently. Klopp’s philosophy seems to be that a player should enjoy their football and feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to the pitch. Besides, faith and prayer can help with discipline and focus for young men faced with enormous pressures and temptations.
Klopp himself is a Christian. He rarely speaks directly about his faith, but is also not shy in answering questions about it. In an interview in the German media, Klopp said: “Jesus Christ is the most important person in history. He comes into the world, and has a clear mission and he took all the sins on himself and was nailed on a cross… the greatest act that has ever been achieved, because it changed everything… and this is a huge comfort.” This is a surprisingly clear and comprehensive account of the Christian faith! Christians from the world of football often find it hard to match up their words, lifestyles and beliefs. Having your deepest convictions and way of life intensely scrutinised would be hard for any person. And so, this is part of why I give thanks for and pray for Jurgen Klopp and his team, even if I am an Arsenal fan!