‘So far, it was perfect,’ is how Jürgen Klopp has termed Liverpool’s opening week of pre-season training in Austria.
The Reds arrived at their Salzburg base last Monday to begin work in preparation for 2021-22, with most days consisting of double sessions for the squad.
Work will step up on Tuesday when the first friendlies of the summer will be contested with two 30-minute games against Wacker Innsbruck and VfB Stuttgart.
Away from the pitch, players and staff came together in the team hotel on Saturday evening for a quiz, with teams drawn at random and a dancing forfeit for the group who finished with the fewest points after nine rounds.
Sitting down with Liverpoolfc.com in Austria on Sunday, Klopp reflected on the first week of work for his players and outlined why activities away from the pitch are just as important as the sessions being done on it.
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We’re several days into the camp – how satisfied are you with the work that’s been done so far?
I’m not 100 per cent sure if ‘satisfied’ is the perfect word for it but I’m really happy with it. For being satisfied, a lot more things have to happen – we have to be in the season and know we can bring the things on the proper pitch like we do in the training sessions. But the training sessions look so far exceptionally well. We’re really happy with the circumstances, even with the weather. It’s raining a lot here as well but it’s good for training because it didn’t hit us too much during the training sessions, the pitches took the water pretty well. So we could really train a lot and exactly what we wanted to. So far everybody came through it and that’s really pleasing.
Pep Lijnders has been sharing some of his highlights through his diary on the website. What have been some of the most pleasing moments for you so far?
I’m the observer of all these things, I watch all these things and I have so many highlights, little things. But it’s difficult for me to mention them because it always puts a story out for a boy here or there and then you are in the middle of interest all of a sudden just because I said something. So let’s give it a bit of time. I’ve had a lot of highlights in training, saw a lot of good football and surprisingly good football from some players – because I didn’t know them that well. Really full of courage and bravery from the young kids. The more settled players, let me say it like this, they had a long holiday and you can really see they missed football a lot. All this together is a really good sign so far. But it is six days and in six days a lot can happen, in all directions; this time it was really good. We are in a much better position than we were a week ago, and you can’t always say that during a pre-season because sometimes so many things happen and you think, ‘Oh my God, why did we start in the first place?!’ That’s really, really nice so far. I’m just looking forward to it. Today is now a day off obviously because the boys need that, the whole camp is a proper challenge for all of us because we are quite long together. We have to see how we deal with that, but so far it was perfect.
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On that note, how important are things like the quiz on Saturday night when everyone came together?
It’s very important. Louise, Kate and Danielle did a brilliant job to organise it, and Mark as the host. Really good. It’s just nice. You have to do these things. I’ve never been that long at a training camp but you do it even when you’re only a week away or 10 days, you do things like this. Now this time we have to do it much more often. We have to leave the hotel from time to time. It’s all difficult in a pandemic which is still there. To go where you want is not possible. We are in a bubble so we have to move together, even when we go in a closed restaurant or whatever. That’s the situation. It’s challenging, let me say it like this. Ask me in three weeks how it was because I never experienced something like this and then I can give a much better answer.
As the manager of the team, when you’re sat in the quiz on Saturday night and see how everybody is interacting no matter what their role is here, how does that make you feel?
Billy Hogan was in my team as well; each department of the club was represented pretty much. It was great. I was really happy I had Matt McCann, Nikki and Caoimhin Kelleher in the team because otherwise we would have struggled a lot. We came third, which was very important because being eighth last night was a tough one, I have to say; I think only Ox enjoyed the dance, pretty much all the others felt slightly awkward. It was really good. The groups are mixed through – young players with elder players with staff members and all these kind of things. You have to do these things to have a little story to tell, like we had this morning. It’s nice. Creating common memories is important. When we speak about that we think about big games and stuff like this, but the big games start in moments like this.
There are 36 players out here at the moment, a lot of young players from the Academy are here too; what kind of opportunity is this for them and what are you looking for from them?
This is a win-win situation. We need the boys to make the numbers, that’s the first thing – we would need them if they wouldn’t be good as well, they just come and we need to have numbers. But they are really, really exciting, I have to say. All of them – there’s not one in where I say, ‘Oh’. So we have now different groups of young players. We have the very young players; Kaide Gordon, for example, now the youngest; then there’s 18-year-olds, of course Harvey slightly different, is now back. The 19-year-olds still very young. Then Leighton Clarkson is already 20, so he is not that young anymore, like Jake Cain as well. And Rhys is making steps – literally, how we all see – but development-wise as well. They are all really good. I have to say, the Academy is doing a brilliant job, we cannot say it a different way – we have a bunch of players we are really excited about. I told them in the first days, just don’t hold anything back because that’s really a waste of time. Be polite next to the pitch, do whatever you have to do – if there’s a queue, don’t be the first ones – but on the pitch don’t do that. You have a chance to impress, so do it. You are here because you are good, we all know that: Liverpool FC has only good players on all Academy levels. Now you are here, just hold nothing back. Then you see how Tyler, Conor, they all throw their heart on the pitch and it’s really, really nice to see.
Pep Lijnders was telling us a story about Harvey and Mo Salah. Harvey seems to be trying to absorb everything from the senior players – how important is that, to see how they conduct themselves?
That’s always like this, each young player is doing that and should do that probably – but only to a specific extent because most of these players were not in the same place like Harvey is in that age. It’s different, that’s what I want to say. But what is really nice about the story is that we created really an atmosphere where the boys care about each other as well, they really want to help each other. Everybody wants the group to be in the best shape, maybe that’s the example more for that story. I like it a lot. It could happen with Millie constantly that somebody takes something from him. That’s this team, that’s us and I really like it a lot. Harvey made a step, I have to say. He looks in a proper shape, really, really fit. He came back in a good shape and is here now in full training obviously. You can see last year really worked well for him. Now let’s make the next steps together.