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'Listen to minorities in sport, and perhaps things won't seem so doom and gloom'

By Maryam Clark

The news that Jurgen Klopp would leave his role as the Liverpool men's team manager at the end of the season reeled me. I was a teenager when the eras of a far-too-old Kenny Dalglish and that 2014 campaign under Brendan Rodgers ruined me. I swore off football for a few years after that. 

Like many fans in the last nine years, I had settled into a comfortable rhythm of winning Premier League and Champions League titles, regularly giving Manchester City a run for their money, and attracting the world's spiciest stars. It was soothing because it was predictable, and now that predictability is ending.

Feyenoord's Arne Slot is undoubtedly an answer. His team plays a similar brand of heavy-metal football, and he is pretty well-versed at navigating tricky tasks (see his first season in the Eredivisie). He has enormous boots to fill. Size 11s, not just on the pitch under the heady lights of Anfield, but also off it.

Klopp was a kingpin at it. He took hold of a challenging role under the scrutiny of the English press, all while battling against a Manchester City side that somehow always had the financial one-up.

Most of all, he took the job seriously without sacrificing any elements that made it a raw and human process. He challenged the status quo and lobbied for better playing conditions because it benefited his players and the league's good. (Anyone who complained about his "12:30 pm kick-off" tirades should have to, in the words of Wayne Rooney, eat pasta at 11am and train immediately after).

One other manager springs to mind, sharing those same attributes, and unfortunately, is also on her way out of her league. If you're a Chelsea women's fan, now is the time to close this tab because I'm about to get real about Emma Hayes.

I came across her during my men’s-football-sabbatical, and through relating to Fran Kirby’s struggles, I soon became an avid fan of the team and the league.

It's hard to think of a manager who has dealt with the often turbulent waves of women's football with such intelligence and dedication. She rode the highs of winning four consecutive Women's Super League titles to the lows of not being able to complete the fairytale ending at Stamford Bridge against Barcelona in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final last week all the same.

When she joined in 2012, Chelsea were just a semi-professional club and finished third-bottom in the league. Over a decade later, the landscape has entirely changed, and with each swing of the pendulum, she has kept the Blues at the top of the rat race.

Like Klopp, she's no stranger to tackling serious societal issues that continue to spill over into football, and as a South Asian woman in sport, it's one of the reasons she appealed so much to me.

When Lauren James was dealing with awful racist abuse, she was the one standing up for her player, shielding her from the limelight, and protecting her from being openly discriminated against in the absence of any league ruling.

I think a big part of that is on us too - fans, journalists, broadcasters, broadsheets. We have to frame the right narratives and be careful of how our message in the digital world may implicate minority groups. 

It still feels incredibly disappointing that there are people out there who cannot or will not grasp that we currently do not live in a society where we can safely critique minority players without them receiving abuse. 

Don't get me wrong, it would be brilliant if we could separate the two. I would love to be able to say, "James shouldn't have done that," without the labels of 'aggression' that seem to follow all Black athletes in sports. 

But unfortunately, the rhetoric that we should be bold in posting or writing provocative content and that it'll teach the keyboard warriors not to be so brazen in their responses is naive. Until things change, we have to err on the side of caution.

Hayes might not have been perfect, but she got that right. Alongside her trophies, she fought for her players at every avenue, whether it concerned maternity care, menstruation health, mental health, or a fixture list that continued to test the physical limits of her team. 

We need more people in football to understand that if we do not preach about the aspects of women's football that still need to evolve in better ways, then we are failing in our roles to set up the next generation of women's football fans with the tools to provide for the many, not the few.

Employ more Klopps, more Hayes, listen to minorities in sport, and perhaps things won't seem so doom and gloom.


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