Big interview | Jürgen Klopp: I'm so proud - but now is not the time to feel it
“I don’t know exactly how it works but obviously it works and it’s just nice to be part of.”
Jürgen Klopp is referencing an age-old Liverpool Football Club adage.
The German’s tongue is somewhat in cheek; however, there is no uncertainty about his underlying message.
It’s a fable that’s been passed down through generations of Reds supporters for decades, but one that – somehow – continually has new chapters written into it.
As was the case just over three short weeks ago.
“It’s special,” Klopp continues, as he looks to find the correct words to explain what he is thinking. “And it felt from time to time… like… that the Kop was like sucking the ball into the goal.
“That’s how it feels.”
Cold science would, of course, put paid to this parable. Nevertheless, anyone who has been fortunate enough to be present at Anfield on a European night will know that – sometimes – logic is thrown out of the window.
Indeed, against Barcelona earlier this month, it was not so much thrown as it was sent hurtling through a glass pane with brute force.
“Look, a lot of things are like a legend if you speak about the atmosphere here or there,” Klopp says. “I’ve said it a couple of times, I’m really blessed, yeah. I’ve had great atmospheres in my life that are crazy, unbelievable…”
Crazy, unbelievable. Apt words to try to articulate just what unfolded at Anfield on the night of Tuesday May 7.
By now you know the story, but in summary: with no Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, Liverpool needed to overturn the three-goal deficit they’d – somewhat harshly, perhaps – succumbed to against Barcelona at Camp Nou six days earlier if they were to qualify for a second final in a year.
And if they were to do so, they’d have to stop Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and co.
“It was the last moment, the final whistle against Barcelona when I realised, ‘Oops, it really happened!’,” Klopp smiles in response to a question about his team’s standout moment of the Champions League campaign so far.
“When we lost the first game in Barcelona I was completely fine with the game, rather happy with the game in fact, but of course there was the scoreline… I’m not silly and I can read. But I couldn’t feel it, I couldn’t feel the scoreline, I only felt the game.
“During the game it was like you have these moments as a coach, I got the question a couple of times, if I enjoyed these situations or was it difficult to enjoy it? I enjoyed that game like hell, it was brilliant! But we lost 3-0! In the dressing room because of the performance we didn’t say it, we didn’t speak about it, why should we?
“And it was not a situation where we would go out and shout towards the Barcelona dressing room ‘See you at Anfield!’ or whatever. It was not like this. We were sitting in the dressing room and I told the boys what I wanted to tell them. It was clear. We had no breakdown or whatever, we didn’t have to start new and forget everything what had happened so far.
“So, we wanted to use what we did in Barcelona. Then we had to play Newcastle, which was obviously a very tough game for different reasons, and then we had two days to prepare really for the Barca game at Anfield.
“I knew before that Bobby [Firmino] and Mo [Salah] could not play and that usually doesn’t help, but there was not one second that me or the boys thought, ‘How can that work?’
“We knew it was difficult. Pretty much impossible. But pretty much means it’s not absolutely impossible. That must be enough to start the project.
“For me, the key moment in that game was kick-off, they passed the ball back and we jumped on them! I described it to the boys as [being] like lions who had not been fed for eight weeks! I was like, ‘Wow! OK, that’s a good start! That's how it can work.’
“And then we scored and then it was an open game, I would say. Big chances for Barcelona, in fact I think they had bigger chances than they had in the first game, so you need your goalkeeper and you need a lot of passion and stuff and the boys did brilliant.
“At half-time we lost our left-back [Andy Robertson] and it’s not as if we had 12 left-backs on the bench to choose from. Robbo said he couldn’t activate the muscle... that doesn’t help in life and in football it doesn’t help as well.
“But again, nobody thought when we spoke about the second half how can we create chances when Robbo is not on the pitch? We had Millie [James Milner], a logical decision at left-back. Gini [Wijnaldum] playing half-left. Go.
"And then the rest is pretty much history!”
And so, Barcelona’s advantage was vanquished at Anfield as Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum struck twice, Trent Alexander-Arnold displayed intelligence that belies his tender years to assist the winner, Jordan Henderson performed like a man possessed despite injury, Liverpool fought for every inch and supporters once again demonstrated the power of Anfield.
“It’s so crazy. When you are in the dugout and you watch it, you realise the celebrations and all that stuff, then the final whistle… wow! It really happened. After that you have to say it was historical, it was. Because this kind of game with all the circumstances will not happen 500 times, that’s just how it is. Being part of it, it’s really cool.
“Again, this year, the combination of football and atmosphere was exceptional.”
Now it is, of course, to Madrid, where Tottenham Hotspur await as Liverpool get set to contest successive Champions League finals.
The raw emotion of that night at Anfield has been replaced by steely determination and focus within the camp.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the boys, but we are not in the moment to feel it,” Klopp states. “I have to kick their backsides in training, I have to push them, I have to keep them awake.
“I’m proud – very proud – but it’s not a moment to feel it; it’s a moment to really feel each muscle and it’s important we really say, ‘OK, come on, we need everything to do it because we want it.’”
Liverpool do want it, make no mistake.
A year ago, they were left heartbroken in Kiev following a 3-1 defeat by Real Madrid in the tournament showpiece.
“Now we are here again and what it says about the team is they don’t give up, they don’t stop. Last year when we flew back from Kiev, after the game directly, there was a moment when we were all really sad and disappointed, frustrated, whatever.
“I was standing behind all the guys in the [airport] queue and going to the plane and I really thought, ‘We have to come back, we have to go back and get this thing right!’ And that we have that chance in the next year immediately is big, it’s really big.
“But, we respect the opponent massively of course. We respect them as a good team with a very special Champions League story as well this year. So, it will be a tough game, of course.”
There is an abundance of admiration for Spurs and Mauricio Pochettino among the Liverpool squad.
While the Reds may have edged both Premier League fixtures 2-1 this season – and finished ahead of them in the final table – there is a collective acknowledgment such statistics will have no bearing on Saturday’s final.
“They are really, really strong,” Klopp considers. “We won both games in the league, we know that, we had a points advantage [in the table], but all those things don’t count. When we think about the home game, we played a brilliant first half, but the second half was not in the same way. It’s not that we were five levels above them, but that’s how a final actually should be.
“We think about Tottenham, of course, and what they do, they change systems, and they changed it in the game [at Anfield] and all that stuff. So, maybe in three weeks from their last matchday to the final they will have another system. Who knows? They are the things we both can do actually until we start and we will see what happens.
“We have to be ready for that game. We have to play the game. I can imagine that people think about it – a few are convinced until the first whistle we will win it and a few think, ‘Oh, again we will lose it.’ In the end we have to play the game and that’s what we will do with all we have as brave as we were the whole year, with all the desire we showed the whole year – that’s clear.
“We are in the Champions League final for the second year in a row, wow! But we had the games, we had difficult games to overcome, difficult moments so we should be ready – and we will be ready.”
Liverpool’s ability to overturn such difficult situations in difficult circumstances in games earned them the nickname ‘mentality monsters’.
In fact, it was one coined by the boss himself.
Klopp laughs: “I used another word before that… but I am not allowed to say that obviously! Look, the last part of the season, the whole season, was pretty intense.
“Up to matchday five [in the Premier League] it looked like it could be a special season. It was a special season. But then immediately the response was people say you cannot drop points because the other teams don’t drop points.
“So, it made the season very intense from the very start and then in the Champions League we got through, a sensational last 16, the quarter-final good and the semi-final outstanding. In between, there was always these very difficult Premier League games like Newcastle away. Oh wow, it was like a cup final! The atmosphere was like a cup final, but really pushing through this and doing the job was so special.
“Quite a lot of times, I was really touched by what the boys did, scoring the goals we scored, fighting the fights we fought and all that stuff. It was special and of course you can’t always do it like this. We have a lot of potential in the team and the boys mixed it up with an attitude I never saw before and that’s just outstanding.
“And that’s what I meant when I said they are ‘mentality monsters’.”
Liverpool’s resilience saw them post a club-record Premier League campaign, featuring a point haul of 97 and just one defeat throughout the term.
Ultimately, though, the Reds were narrowly pipped to the title by Manchester City by just one solitary point.
“We see our development, we know what we do, we improve so much it’s unbelievable,” Klopp continues. “If there was a prize for the biggest development in the last 12 months then it’s going to the Reds, that’s how it is.
“The boys did a really amazing job, but we get that it’s about winning competitions, so for us we want to win the competition and if not then be as close as possible. That’s pretty much, apart from winning, the best thing that can happen – be as close as possible because that makes things rather reachable than unreachable – that’s very important.
“And, now we go again to the final. You cannot come closer to winning a final, so that’s what we have to do now. I’m not surprised that the boys bounced back again. If you asked me, ‘Did you think we would get 97 points?’ I would have to say no, but I was convinced we would play a good season and so we will next season.
“How good depends – unfortunately in football – on the other teams as well because they can improve, they can play. We had luck in a few moments, we all know that, we were unlucky in other moments – that’s a season and in the end it was 97 points.
“That’s big but it’s over and now we have to not think about it. There will come a moment where we have to start thinking about what we can do next year [in the league].”
As Klopp references, before that begins Liverpool’s sole focus is on the showdown with Spurs on Saturday.
The Reds’ journey to Estadio Metropolitano has, once again, been eventful.
Three wins at Anfield and three defeats on the road were recorded in a tricky group consisting of Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade. But then Bayern Munich, FC Porto and, most recently, Barcelona were dispatched in the knockout rounds.
A common theme running throughout all 12 matches so far has been the sights and sounds of Liverpool supporters making themselves heard throughout Europe. Giving the team their unequivocal backing, just as they will in Madrid this weekend.
“It’s not a cliché and I feel a bit embarrassed that I have to say because it’s so obvious,” Klopp asserts, when asked whether Kopites have been just as much a part of the road to Madrid as his players.
“It’s so obvious that we are a unit but since I [came] in what happened to all of us, how many nice moments we have had in football. I don’t like to talk about these things too much now because we play in the Champions League final and we are really in a preparing mood and things like that, but it’s at the end of the season so obviously we have to speak a little bit.
“We have had a real summary of fantastic moments together, outstanding moments. Not only home games – but especially home games, of course – we have had some sensational away games.
“I loved Bayern Munich away, it was mature, it was football, tactical on the highest level, so many good, good things really and I am really thankful for that.
“It’s actually I think what we have to deliver for all of our people out there, this excitement that everybody wants and wants to be involved in. You want to think about the games, you want to see the games and that’s so special. We are not the only club who have had moments like this obviously, but it’s not important [to us] what other clubs have had.
“We have had it. We have enjoyed it a lot. That’s really cool.”