Klopp the motivator making Liverpool dream again
Half an hour had passed since Liverpool squeezed through to the Champions League final and its fans were still singing in a corner of Roma’s vast Stadio Olimpico when Juergen Klopp came running out of the tunnel leading to the dressing rooms.
The Liverpool manager had done his TV interviews, had most likely congratulated each of his players, but now he wanted to be with the supporters who had braved the trip to the Italian capital despite the security fears surrounding the match.
With gritted teeth, he wound up two huge fist pumps and then, like the conductor of an orchestra, led a round of “oles.” Liverpool’s travelling contingent lapped it up, the synergy between manager and fans clear.
Klopp has not only made those fans believe and dream during Liverpool’s remarkable run to Kiev, he has done the same with his players.
By the end of Wednesday’s match, Liverpool was hanging on for qualification with a 19-year-old academy graduate at right back (Trent Alexander-Arnold), a left back who was relegated from the Premier League with Hull last season and was playing in Scotland’s lower leagues five years ago (Andrew Robertson), and an unheralded center back from Estonia (Ragnar Klavan).
Goalkeeper Loris Karius was plucked from Mainz in Germany. Attempting to stem the tide in midfield was Georginio Wijnaldum, relegated from the Premier League with Newcastle two years ago. On as a substitute up front was Dominic Solanke, a 20-year-old forward who didn’t play a senior match for Chelsea last season.
Outside the Liverpool dugout was Klopp, who does his transfer-market shopping in Southampton rather than the Santiago Bernabeu.
“These boys are constantly over their limit, constantly,” Klopp said after Liverpool’s 4-2 loss in the second leg in Rome that exposed his inexperienced team’s vulnerability.
In that one sentence, he was praising his players but also showcasing his own strengths as a manager. His ability to wring out every last drop from players who often start matches as inferiors but finish them on top.
And nowhere is that more appreciated than at Liverpool, a club which draws strength on its reputation for fighting against the odds.
“He gets the history of the football club, he really seriously gets the supporters, he knows it’s a working-class football club,” said former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson, speaking emotionally after Wednesday’s game. “I’m loath to compare people but there’s so much of (Bill) Shankly in him, there really is — he is complete different version, but he is a modern-day version of Shankly.”
Shankly is Liverpool’s most revered manager, the one who transformed the club from a struggling team in English football’s second tier to the country’s league champion and title-winner in Europe between 1959-74.
“Liverpool was made for me,” Shankly once said, “and I was made for Liverpool.”
The same could be said of Klopp, whose special bond with Borussia Dortmund’s fans and players when coach there from 2008-15 has been replicated on Merseyside.
He is a manager with boundless energy and enthusiasm, someone who his players want to perform for and make happy. He has got his team from the Champions League playoff round against Hoffenheim last August to the final against Real Madrid on May 26.
“We are not the best team in the world, but we have a great team,” said Liverpool forward Sadio Mane, one of five players in the squad to have been signed from Southampton. “We are Liverpool. We are strong. We can beat any team in the world.”
That’s as much down to the misfits in defense, the workhorses in midfield and the transfer gambles littered across the squad as it is the prolific scoring of attacker Mohamed Salah, another of Klopp’s success stories with a career-high 43 goals for the season from the right wing.
It’s understandable if Real Madrid doesn’t quite know what to make of Liverpool going into the final.
“I think pretty much 80 percent of the team of Real Madrid played (the Champions League) final four times in the last five years and they are still together,” Klopp said. “So if you talk about experience, they are experienced. We are not, but we will be really on fire.”