Jordan Henderson recalls the hollowness that followed defeat on the grandest stage European club football can offer.
And Liverpool’s captain has detailed how that feeling has fuelled his teammates throughout a 2018-19 season that will end with an opportunity to exorcise the memories of Kiev.
Twelve months on from their loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final, the Reds are back in the biggest one-off spectacle clubs from this continent can compete in.
A date with Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid awaits on Saturday - and, ahead of that clash at Estadio Metropolitano, Liverpoolfc.com caught up with Henderson for an in-depth, wide-ranging interview...
Jordan, three weeks separate the end of the Premier League season and the Champions League final. How have you used that break?
I think it was important to mentally have a few days’ break after the end of the Premier League season. We had a few days just to spend with the family and relax a little bit, and then back out to Marbella to do the training camp and really start to get focused by training and training hard, making sure we’re ready for what’s thrown at us in the final. It’s been a good couple of weeks and we’ve prepared really well. Now we’re just looking forward to getting going.
Were you able to switch off during your time off, or is that impossible with such a huge game on the horizon?
It’s difficult, especially when you’ve still got the final to look forward to. But it’s important to get away and mentally try to forget about everything and spend some time with the family and then straight away you’ve got to refocus and get ready. We’ve had a few weeks to get ready for the final in terms of preparation, physically and mentally to get ready for it and that’s been good for us, so we look forward to it.
It’s been an incredible season for the team. Can you have any regrets, apart from narrowly missing out on the Premier League title?
No, I think the way we’ve played this season in the Premier League with the number of points we managed to get is a really good season. We’ve improved a lot from the season before and I can’t really look back and say ‘we could have done this’ or ‘we could have done that’. It’s easy to do that and of course people will do that, but for us as a team it’s important to take the positives out of this season - and there’s been a lot of them. We’re certainly going in the right direction so we need to continue that, keep working hard and then look to improve next season and keep challenging. Obviously we want to win the Premier League and challenge for it next season and this gives us a good platform to push on and do that.
How does it feel to be a pivotal part of such a strong side?
Obviously it’s nice to be playing football regularly and be involved all the time. Of course there’s going to be times during the season where you’re going to have an injury or you’re not going to be playing for whatever reason and you’ve got to deal with that the best you can. You’ve got to cope with that. Maybe you’re not starting games that you’d like to, so as a team you’ve got to cope with ups and downs throughout a season. But you prepare for that and the lads have been fantastic all season, reacting really well when people haven’t been playing and coming on and also people working hard to come back from injury as well. So yeah, it’s been really pleasing for me to contribute as much as I can to this team and hopefully I can continue to do that for many more years to come.
We’ve heard a lot of the new Kop chant in your honour recently - what’s it like to hear the fans sing your name?
Well it took a while for me to get that - I’ve been here eight years now! It’s an amazing feeling to get your name sung by the crowd, as I’m sure a lot of the lads will tell you. It’s an amazing feeling and hopefully again I’ll hear it many more times in the years to come. The fans have been amazing this season for everyone, really, as they always have been since I’ve been at the club. But this season they’ve given us a real push and helped us keep going, keep fighting throughout every game home and away. Of course we’ve got to try and give them something back. They’ve spent a lot of money travelling to come and watch us in Europe, in away games and in home games, so for us it’s important that we give everything to give something back to them - that’s our aim. Unfortunately we couldn’t do that in the Premier League this time but we’ve got an opportunity to bring something back home in the cup final and hopefully we can do that.
It really does feel like everyone connected with the club is part of one big team, doesn’t it?
Yeah, I think the fans are really enjoying the way we’re playing, the type of football we play and the intensity that we play at. They can see that the lads are giving everything. Since I’ve come to this club, [I’ve known] that that’s what they ask for: if you give everything and you’re willing to work and improve then they’ll take to you here. You can see that they’ve took to this team really well with the songs they sing and the atmosphere they create, it’s phenomenal. Hopefully they can travel one last time to Madrid this season and create another special atmosphere there for us.
What about the level of professionalism shown throughout the whole squad this season? For example, Simon Mignolet, who hasn't played too often, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has battled back from long-term injury. Joel Matip, his form since he came into the team has been superb...
Amazing. It speaks volumes about the squad, really, the type of people that they are. Simon hasn’t played very much at all this season but is so professional in the way he conducts himself, the way he trains [and] does extra work in the gym. The lads always want the team to do well, wishing them good luck before they go out and play. The lads say that they appreciate that - it’s tough when you’re not playing but he’s been outstanding. Not many people speak about him because he hasn’t played so much, but he’s been outstanding.
The likes of Ox as well, we haven’t seen him as much as we’d have liked because he’s been injured, but we can start seeing him on the pitch more often now he’s back. But off the pitch, as a character, he’s important to this team and he’s a great lad. He’s been a big part of it as well at Melwood. And the likes of Joel, I think he’s been brilliant this season. He’s been consistent and he’s done outstandingly well, especially towards the end of the season. I thought he was outstanding in a lot of the games. So yeah, all of the lads really have got a good togetherness, a good spirit. They know when it’s time to train and work, they know when it’s serious and when to demand from each other and they also know when it’s time to relax and have a laugh and have a bit of a mess around. So it’s a really good balance, and it’s a young team as well so I feel if we can stay together for a long period of time then it’s looking bright for the future.
Let’s talk about Barcelona, then. What was the feeling in the camp like in the aftermath of that first-leg defeat and in the build-up to the second leg?
It was tough to take with the result. It’s a tough place to go as everyone knows but I felt as though we played really well there. Not many teams go there and play the way that we did so we could take a little bit of confidence from the performance. Obviously not from the result because there was a lot of things that we needed to improve on to not concede those goals, but at the end of the day it was a tough place to go. We accepted that we got beat 3-0 and we were going to give it everything in the next game to try and turn it around, which we knew would be very difficult.
But football moves so quickly that we’d obviously played Barcelona away and been beaten and then you’ve got a really important game a couple of days later against Newcastle away when we were challenging for the league and which we need to win. So the focus changes really quickly and that sort of helped us I feel, to quickly get over that, to focus on the next challenge. That was a really tough game after what we’d done midweek but I thought the lads responded so well to keep going and manage to get the winner late on in the game - from substitutes that had come on to take the set-piece and score the goal, too, and that’s even more pleasing. A few days later we’ve got another game against Barcelona at home so it was a quick turnaround and that probably helped us in terms of mindset and focus and to concentrate on what was important, and that was winning the next game. When Barcelona came around, it was just ‘give it everything’ - and you never know what can happen at Anfield.
We’ve heard that the manager gave quite the team talk before that second leg at Anfield, too?
It was an amazing talk. I can remember him saying he would say it’s an impossible task or challenge but because it’s us then there’s a chance. I can remember him starting with that and I think from that point, everybody sort of knew that we were capable of doing something special if we wanted to. We knew it would be really tough. We respected Barcelona a lot, they’ve got world-class players and it was difficult to try to stop them scoring and it’s difficult to score goals against them, so we went into the game and just wanted to give everything. Obviously do what we’d been working on prior to the game, do those things well, and fortunately it worked really well. It was a perfect performance in the end.
Looking back to Kiev a year ago, can that experience galvanise you ahead of this final?
I think that’s the biggest thing in football: it moves forward so quickly that you can’t dwell on things, no matter how good they are or how bad they are. You’ve got to get over it and refocus on what’s important and what you can affect going forward. There’s no point in dwelling on something when you can’t change it - you’ve just got to take that experience and use it going forward. I think it’s a perfect way of doing that, what the lads have shown this season. To get to the Champions League final last year and not quite manage to get over the line, it’s about how you respond and we responded really well in the Champions League to get to the final again and in the Premier League as well.
We used that to be better and I think when you go through disappointments as a team that can help. I know that sounds a bit strange but when you go through bad times as a team it can help bring you closer together and going forward that can help you in certain games. In periods where things might not be going so well you’ve really got each other’s back, you stick together and that’s been the case. Hopefully we can do that again in the final and no matter what happens we’ve got to do the same going forward, whether it’s a good outcome or it’s a bad outcome. Going forward it’s how you react again, refocus and you’ve got to use all the experiences that you have a team. There’s been a lot of them this season so we’ve got to use that again next season to the best of our ability. And if we do that, we’ll have another chance to win trophies.
Does the familiarity you have with Tottenham make them a more dangerous opponent?
I think they’re very dangerous, of course. They’re a very good team, you don’t get to the Champions League final if you’re not a good team and the teams that they’ve knocked out in the competition have been top quality so we know they’re a very, very good team. They’ve got a really good manager as well so they’re a dangerous opponent. In the games that we’ve played against them you can feel that they’re a good team with and without the ball so it’ll be a really tough final, as you’d expect in the Champions League. Nothing’s ever easy and I’m sure they’ll be giving everything they can to win and so will we. I’m sure it’ll be a good game, an intense game, an exciting game and we’ll just do our very best to make sure we come off that pitch as winners.
Last year, you had to walk past the Champions League trophy with a runners-up medal around your neck. What would it mean to be able to hold it aloft this time around?
That’s the plan! Them disappointments, them moments that you have when you’re so low and so down, you’ve got to use them going forward and I’m sure we’ll certainly be using that going into the final, making sure we do everything we can to win the game. But so will Spurs, you know. That’s the way football is - two teams giving everything. We’ve both done so well to get to the final. The performances and the spirit and the heart that both teams have showed to get there I think is outstanding. It’ll be an exciting final and like I say, we’ll do everything and give everything to make sure that we come off the pitch this time as winners.