Jurgen Klopp, Mané, and First Impressions

‘Not a good start Boris!’ Shouted about a million years ago means something different now. For all the noise about the start, and the necessity of getting it right, anyone who tried to judge what Boris’ premiership would be about based on in the beginning would’ve been way off.

First impressions can be deceiving. Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool manager, recently described his first impression of Sadio Mané – “There was a really young guy sitting there. His baseball cap was askew, the blond streak he still has today. He looked like a rapper just starting out.”

I thought, ‘I don’t have time for this’”. Mané is now African player of the year and has been strongly linked to Real Madrid, one of the best clubs in the world. First impressions can be deceiving.

In the face of more obvious incidents this season, the comments by Craig Rammage, a BBC pundit, are perhaps illuminating of the difficulties black players can face in making first impressions.

Earlier this year he was suspended for off-air comments about black Derby players, stating ‘when I look over and look at certain players, their body language, their stance, the way they act, you just feel, hold on a minute, he needs pulling down a peg or two… so I’d probably say that about all the young black lads.’

Rammage did not, presumably, know any of the players. He did not have an insight into their professionalism or supposed lack thereof. But, on the basis of very little evidence, he made a snap judgement assuming their arrogance from the commentary box. In their cases, they did not even get the chance to make a first impression before a judgement about them was made.

In this social climate, it seems almost laughable that in the past John Terry was stripped of the England captaincy after being found guilty of racial abuse by the FA, and rather than supporting the abused party, the England manager (Fabio Capello) resigned in protest.

Or, in Liverpool’s past, that the club could wear T-shirts in support of a player suspended for racial abuse, and continually publicly defend them, while their fans booed the aggrieved party.

Before a global pandemic put an end to the current season, it was notable for the increased spotlight put on incidents of racial prejudice. Events in Italy verged on parody – Chris Smalling and Lukaku facing off in a match was dubbed ‘Black Friday’ by a newspaper. The Italian FA finally pressured to respond to several racist incidents in Serie A decided to start an anti-racist campaign.

The result? Posters of monkeys, which the campaign mastermind defended from the instant backlash by saying ‘there is no man or monkey, we are all alike. If anything, we are all monkeys.’ Hmm.

Now, Jurgen Klopp is one of the most likeable men in modern football, and he remains so. He’s famous for his passionate celebrations, his frankly incredibly white veneers, and the love and admiration he and his players share for each other.

His character is not in question in this article. However, I was disappointed by the speed with which he seemed to apply an ignorant stereotype to Mané when meeting him, which clearly prevented him from recognising the potential the player had at the time.

After Rammage’s comments, a Derby player spoke out, protesting about how “Racial ignorance, stereotyping and intolerance negatively affects the image of impressionable young footballers and creates an unnecessary divide in society.”

The assumption, both in football, and wider society that black people might have a poor work ethic, or are arrogant, has a real effect in denying young black people opportunities.

Often, this doesn’t even require a physical first impression. An Oxford study in December 2016 looked at the outcome of 3200 fake joke applications, identical in qualifications, differing only in the name assigned to them.

It found that for every 100 job applications a white person made, those of Nigerian and South Asian heritage had to make between 70 and 80 more applications to get the same number of positive responses, to the effect that 24% of white British applicants would receive a callback, compared to 15% of ethnic minority ones.

Based on only their names, recruiters seemed to make snap judgements about the candidates, even when all the other information was identical. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression – but not everyone gets a first chance either.

Image Credit: FC Red Bull Salzburg gegen SV Grödig by Werner100359