Pepijn Lijnders interview: Leaving LFC, work still to be done and future plans

ExtendedPepijn Lijnders interview: Leaving LFC, work still to be done and future plans

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By James Carroll

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Pepijn Lijnders has explained why he has made the decision to leave Liverpool Football Club at the end of 2023-24 after a decade of service.

It was announced last Friday the assistant manager will join Jürgen Klopp, as well as fellow coaches Peter Krawietz and Vitor Matos, in vacating their positions following the conclusion of the current campaign.

Lijnders is keen to pursue his own career in management – and Klopp paid a special tribute to the 41-year-old and the influence he has had on the Reds’ successes during his tenure, saying: “Pep especially is ready – ready to manage a football team and he wants to do that as well, so that’s great, together with Vitor.

Jürgen Klopp announces decision to step down as Liverpool manager at end of season

Jürgen Klopp announces decision to step down as Liverpool manager at end of seasonJürgen Klopp has announced his decision to step down as Liverpool manager at the end of the current season, having informed the club’s ownership of his wish to leave his position when the 2023-24 campaign comes to a close.

“If you change, change properly. And they are ready for the future and I’m really happy about that. The most influential guy in the last years definitely in this club was Pep Lijnders. The job he did is absolutely exceptional. The inspiration he is for me is absolutely exceptional.

“The relationship we grew is absolutely exceptional. Outstanding, everything. And I’m really looking forward to follow his way and to support if necessary. And if I can, I will definitely do.”

In an exclusive extended interview with Liverpoolfc.com at the AXA Training Centre, Lijnders detailed the reasons behind his desire to make the step into management, his relationship with Klopp and his 10 years at Anfield.

However, the Dutchman insisted it remains very much business as usual until Klopp and co part ways in May – read on to see what he had to say in full…

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Pep, it’s been announced that you will leave the club at the end of the season. How and why did you come to this decision?

It’s not easy, leaving such a club. But in life I feel always you have to do the right thing and the right thing means that in the summer we said we continue and we go with all we have, we make it ‘the Last Dance’, we make it like a proper ending. Not knowing that it would be that season but knowing that the project is coming to an end. I felt that with the back-up of the ownership, signing the right players, we are just going back to basics. No negativity: I said it as a joke in pre-season that everybody who is or shows one sign of negativity, I will punch them in the head! Just to make sure that we go and draw a line, we go with a clean sheet. That’s always good, that you see it as just one season to go and with the new energy boys, with a few main ones leaving – but that created [a situation] that other boys had to step up – we were in the right frame to attack the season and then with time we do well, and it’s really nice that we can make this decision early so we leave the club with a squad who is full of hunger, full of talent, a lot of leadership as well, who can, for the next years, be really successful.

How difficult a decision was this for you personally? And why is it the right time for you to leave Liverpool now?

Yeah, 10 years of the club and my boys don’t know anything else, they are Scousers. I owe this club everything. They don’t owe me anything, to be honest. It’s 10 years full of dedication. I always said I will finish with Jürgen; the moment I will not assist anyone else, that’s the moment I will go and I will manage. That was always the case. So when we spoke, it was clear for me: OK, then I go and manage, and we end this project together [that] we started. But yeah, it’s not easy. My boys, my wife; my boys are two proper Scousers and their whole life they will be. Maybe posh ones! But still! I cannot say thank you enough to everybody involved. I’m grateful. Mike [Gordon] and myself had a good talk later, I’m really grateful for that and that makes me [feel] as well that I can leave the club consciously.

Tell us about the relationship you have with Jürgen. It’s a special one, isn’t it?

Yeah, he’s more than a colleague of course. He’s a friend, a brother, a proper football brother I think. We’ve been through a lot here: good times, bad times. I have full trust, we trust each other fully, that’s why it works. The way he gives me the freedom to lead the team, to design the training, to make tactical decisions, that says everything, no? It’s sad that we go but I’m excited [for] what’s ahead. But, again, this season didn’t end yet. We are fully in, the team is so strong, they have so much talent, so much willpower. We are fighting, we already play a final in February, Wembley will be full. It’s a special relationship. I’m really blessed, I will cherish that forever because he let me grow, he made sure that I could grow. And that we can leave the club in this way is just nice.

He’s not the only special relationship you’ve formed over the last 10 years, there’s quite a few people I’m sure you’ll be staying in touch with after you leave…

Yeah, it’s my club, no? It’s our club. The project was so strong – a big compliment to the whole structure, from the sporting directors we had, from the ownership of course. It’s sad that we are leaving but I’m really proud that we are part of the history now of this club. A history full of cups; a history full of talent, signings moulded, created, pushed into world-class players. A history full of special games. Our football philosophy is always like this, we want to give joy and emotions to the fans. Without them, nothing would have been possible, they were always on our side, wherever we go they pushed us to limits to create these games, and they let us fly so often. Big thanks to them because they make this club really special; their passion, what they have been through. And that’s something I will really miss.

It’s not goodbye just yet, though, there’s still work to be done this season, there’s a lot to play for. How important is it that everybody – players, staff, fans – continue business as usual until May?

I think we always proved that. We always created this family inside where we have each other’s backs. You see as well the group, the leadership group, the team, they are strong enough to deal with these things, they are used to these things. I think everybody just wants to make it a special ending. For that, we need to give everything on the training pitch, we need to continue proving why we are different, why our identity is intensity. If we do that every day on the training pitch and we are drilled and we are confident in that way, then we can really push ourselves in each game to press, to play in the opposition half, to show our ambition, to show our hunger, to create and to put each game to us. Then I really believe we are the team nobody wants to play against. But everything starts with preparation and how we do it on the training pitch. I see the boys not reacting at all – they keep the same. That was always like this. Even in our bad phases they trained with everything they had, because they know that creates the right confidence.

The reaction of the players since the news has been a positive one, then?

Yeah, absolutely. They are… you have players who have been here for how long? Eight years probably. Players who came through the Academy, they live this club and I always say this club is so much bigger than any of us, so as long as that relationship – the Holy Trinity between the fans, the gaffer and the players – that they think in the same way, that we want to show passion, that we want to chase, that we want to play with a lot of hunger. And if that’s the case [with] the fans, the gaffer and the players, then everything will be fine. The players, we have a special group. We always had but, yeah, without their authority, without their personality, nothing would have been possible over the last years. All of them [have] so much character, that just made us different – I really believe that. Their absolute belief – and probably all Scousers know – that in the end we will be the best and we will beat the best. That makes 10 special things happen on the football pitch and it all starts with belief.

You mentioned at the start of this interview and Jürgen mentioned it too, in fact: You feel it is time to go into management yourself. So, what does the future hold for Pep Lijnders?

I hope I can give the same emotions and the same joy to the fans in the future, to the new club. I really believe that it’s a natural progression, how we led this club for the last years, so that’s really cool and I can’t wait to start. But probably in a few months’ time I will sit down with my manager, now is not the time, but then I will see what kind of options do I have, which club really wants [me] and in that moment I will make a decision that is for me good, hopefully for Vitor what is good and hopefully for my family. Yeah, truly and from the bottom of my heart, I just hope that our paths cross again in the future – that would be absolutely unbelievable.

When you look behind you at those trophies, with many of them having been won by this current group – how does that make you feel?

No words. I think, always, when I think about winning it I think about the stadium. Not even the Kop, but how the stadium erupted. That’s what I see in front of me and for me, it doesn’t matter which one it was: I always felt, that’s just… I think I enjoyed the ones later more than the first one, but that was truly special, these moments. And I believe that the world of football was created to give special games to the fans and to give these moments where life stands still and nothing else matters, and I think we accomplished that. We could have done it a few times more but because we didn’t do it so often, the ones that we did were just… they just go out of the head.

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