It wasn’t supposed to happen.
When Divock Origi turned in Trent Alexander-Arnold’s quickly-taken corner kick to make it 4-0 to Liverpool and dump Barcelona out of the Champions League, Europe was stunned.
James Milner, who has sacrificed so much of himself for the club, burst into tears at the final whistle. Supporters and former players joined him, bewildered as to what they had just witnessed.
Jurgen Klopp proudly slapped the chest of Mohamed Salah, who had the words ‘Never Give Up’ etched into his t-shirt, as You’ll Never Walk Alone rang round the stadium.
Anfield was on its feet.
If there was a single game, a single moment in time which captured what football means to Klopp, this was it.
Struggling to find words, the Reds boss told reporters after the game: “Wow! That’s exactly the picture we want to draw for the outside world this is Liverpool. I said to the boys before the game that this is impossible, but because it’s you, it’s possible. These boys are fucking mentality giants. It’s unbelievable.”
Klopp had Liverpool on the brink of a Premier League and Champions League double. For Liverpool, though, this meant more than silverware.
As the rain lashed down upon the 4,500 supporters in attendance, Klopp took charge of his first game as a manager, a day after being thrusted into a coaching role at Mainz.
The club hierarchy – namely then-general manager Christian Heidel – longed for a return to the back-four system championed by previous manager Wolfgang Frank and was desperately searching for a man to steer the club away from relegation to the German third division.
Klopp, who enjoyed two spells as a player under Frank, was summoned to lead the charge.
Despite being outplayed by promotion-candidates Duisberg, Klopp rallied his underdogs to scrap a 1-0 victory and secured their position in 2.Bundesliga, before eventually leading the club into the German top flight for the first time in their history.
Klopp had brought a fractured Mainz side together with his overwhelming enthusiasm for the game. He had restructured a club and invigorated a city.
It was a similar theme in Dortmund, where Klopp transformed a cash-strapped Borussia side into back-to-back Bundesliga title-winners, and Champions League finalists in 2013.
Klopp’s natural intensity played to the tune of a working-class city with an unfaltering love of the club and an unimaginable energy feeding into what he was trying to achieve.
CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said of Klopp’s Dortmund side: “We wanted to give the people a team that would run so hard, bits would fall off, and that’s exactly what the manager delivered.” “My teams never play chess on the pitch,” Klopp proudly claimed during an interview in Germany.
It was the captivating, breath-taking football and the emotional connection with the fans that Klopp held dearest. He cherished that sacred matchday experience. What mattered most were the memories.
To Klopp, they mean more than silverware. And yet, to some, he is merely labelled a nearly man.
Just four months into his time in England, he had an opportunity to secure a trophy in the 2016 League Cup final against Manchester City, but lost on penalties. Then, having knocked out former club Borussia Dortmund and arch-rivals Manchester United in the Europa League, the Reds dropped a one-goal lead to hand Sevilla a third consecutive title.
Klopp’s side then fell at the final stage of the Champions League in 2018 when a Mohamed Salah injury, Loris Karius’ career-defining humiliation and a Gareth Bale double stripped Liverpool of the trophy.
Three finals, three losses – yet the fine margins offered hope of further opportunities.
“If you are only motivated to win the Holy Grail, then something is wrong with you. We want to win football games because we enjoy the ride with the fans,” Klopp said.
Indeed, the importance placed on substance over style at the top of world football has seen Klopp’s Liverpool side labelled as a failure and his individual success questioned. No acclaim for reaching the finals, just ridicule for losing them.
“If you are first, you are first. If you are second, you are nothing,” Reds icon Bill Shankly once quipped. But to suggest that Klopp has, thus far, failed to deliver on Merseyside would be ludicrous. He has injected life back into the Anfield club, mobilised and motivated the fanbase, community and the players in a short space of time, and done so through a wildly entertaining brand of football.
Liverpool supporters have never been treated to such consistently excellent performances, and, as widely noted, the Reds would have won the title in any other Premier League season except the last two. It’s unfortunate, then, that they were challenging a City side that have accumulated 198 points and 201 goals in that time.
Though City were overwhelming favourites to secure the Premier League title, Reds fans still believed there was a chance going into the final day.
The nerves were expected. Emotions flittered between updates from the south coast, where Pep Guardiola’s men were tasked with beating Brighton.
But at full-time, knowing they’d fallen a point short, the reaction from the Liverpool supporters told its own story – they were proud of those bearing the shirt and carrying the name of the club.
After accumulating 97 points, losing just once, boasting the best defence in the division, holding two of the top three scorers, and sitting top of the league for 141 days, they had nothing to show for it. Nothing except pride and a belief that the squad can repeat their heroics in the following campaign, with a Champions League final showdown with Tottenham already promised.
“This season has been a year full of wonderful moments, wonderful moments altogether,” Klopp said. “Entertainment is the most important part of football. There are too many serious problems in the world to make football boring too. I want to see happiness with my players, passion in their eyes and a desire to fight. I want to see them bursting.”
Not only did Klopp see a return from his squad, but also from the supporters and the city of Liverpool.
‘This is Liverpool. This means more’ is a phrase that has been picked up and carried by the club and its supporters. Where Liverpool travel, the words stand tall. With Klopp at the lead of the charge, there is significance to the tag.
Upon his unveiling as Liverpool manager in 2015, Klopp sent a message to those questioning his worth: “It’s not important what people think when you come in. What matters is what they say when you leave.”
And though he will ultimately be judged on what he delivers to the club in shape of silverware, when he eventually leaves Anfield, what he has done behind the scenes will not be forgotten.
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