TOP OF THE KLOPPS: Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp (centre) with the Champions League trophy. AFP Photo
by Paul Kennedy
I’ve a friend back in the UK called Dave who I’ve known for years. Good bloke and he really knows his football. He’s a Manchester United fan who rather surprisingly, is actually from Manchester.
Dave has been following United home and away for as long as I can remember. He hates Liverpool like he absolutely should, but when Dave talks football I listen. He knows his stuff.
At the beginning of the season he said something to me I didn’t want to hear. A bold statement that, at the time, I completely disagreed with.
Yet as the season went on, I kept hearing his words in my ears, niggling away like a tiny stone stuck in my shoe.
To say Dave had touched a nerve was an understatement. Despite Liverpool’s success as the season went on, Dave’s words were playing on my mind.
They went something like this.
“Jurgen Klopp is a fraud. He’s a fake mate. He’ll win nothing with Liverpool. He’s got you all fooled.”
He had come to this conclusion based quite simply on facts. His logic centred around Klopp’s managerial style. He is affable, passionate and media savvy.
His interviews pre and post-match are entertaining and even include the odd expletive or two. He likes to be viewed as one of the lads.
And Liverpool fans love him for all of the above. But success isn’t judged on hugs, hearty laughs and over-the-top touchline celebrations. Success is judged on trophies, and before last week after four years at Liverpool, Klopp had won nothing. Zero, zilch, nada.
Purists and diehard fans will argue that Klopp’s time at Liverpool is a marathon, not a sprint. He is building a dynasty and not looking for a Jose Mouriniho-style quick fix.
But he had been to three finals, two of them in European competitions, and won none. Liverpool also finished second place in the Premier League despite at one stage of the season leading by 10 points.
Magpies were circling above Klopp’s house because of the amount of silver medals on display.
But around 4am Vietnamese time on Sunday morning, things changed. Sorry Dave, you were wrong.
Before Liverpool’s victory over Tottenham in Madrid, Klopp had said that he could write a book about how to win semi-finals but no one would have bought it.
Now he can add another chapter, and I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination it will be his last.
On Sunday, Klopp returned to Liverpool with his team and the trophy. They then paraded their prize onboard an open-topped bus around the city and an estimated 750,000 people came out to catch a glimpse of their heroes and the silverware.
Klopp looked like he was enjoying every single minute of the journey. He also looked a little drunk but hey, who can blame him as the weight lifted from his shoulders must have been immense. The elephant had finally been banished from the room and Klopp could, at long last, say with his trademark grin, he was a winning Liverpool manager.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say most football fans, except maybe Arsenal supporters, wanted Liverpool to lose the final.
But they never. They won.
Klopp has written his name in the Liverpool record books and has joined the fab four alongside Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Rafa Benitez as managers who have won Europe’s top prize.
Paisley won it three times in 1977, 78 and 81. The others just one a piece, but I truly believe Liverpool, and Klopp, will enjoy success in the Champions League in the future.
For years I’ve sounded like a broken record when I told anyone who would listen that Liverpool were a sleeping giant on the verge of waking up and dominating European football for years to come.
In the past I never actually believed it, I just said it for affect and to wind up fans of rivals teams I was talking too.
But now it feels different. Liverpool and Klopp are a match made in heaven and with solid American owners backing the manager, things are looking rosy.
That said, only time will tell if Liverpool will push on from this triumph and take it to the next level. There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever they shouldn’t.
It may have been a one-off, a fluke, and, God forbid, my pal Dave may have been right. But something tells me this time, he was wrong. — VNS