It was at a boutique hotel on Liverpool’s Hope Street that Jurgen Klopp first assembled his players on Tuesday morning for what would become the match of their lives, though no one present appreciated the heavy symbolism at the time.
The squad were desperately flat. They’d been given Monday off but ended the day watching Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany puncture their hopes of a Premier League title with his goal against Leicester City. Klopp did not go in for oratory as he stood up. ‘Keep believing,’ was his simple message.
One of the most common misconceptions about Liverpool’s manager is that he is all fire and brimstone and words. He is acutely aware that the currency of the big speech is devalued if it is delivered too often. He moves in far subtler ways than many realise.
Klopp will certainly shout and rage when the mood takes him.
Adam Lallana described a few years ago how, when at his most furious, Klopp would yell ‘I f*****g wish I could speak German to you!’ But what has marked him out from day one at Anfield is something far more profound — a wish to talk up talent in a way that new managers rarely do when they walk into a place.
‘I’m not a dream man. I don’t want to have Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi and all these players in one team. I want these guys,’ he said at his unveiling.
‘He can handle mistakes. He can handle bad games,’ Lallana says in Raphael Honigstein’s Klopp biography Bring the Noise. ‘It’s “work hard for me and give me everything.” He’s convinced that technical ability and quality will come out as a result.’
He has concluded that trying to tell players why they’re dropped is pointless and that telling them how they can improve is all he can do. That explains why the back-up boys — Gini Wijnaldum, Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri — were the ones who kept the Anfield flame alight on Tuesday night.
‘He dropped me and yet when I came back and played well he was straight out to see me,’ one former Liverpool first-team regular tells Sportsmail. ‘A negative doesn’t become a permanent negative.
‘A negative conversation is yesterday’s conversation. Every day is a new start. There’s always a belief that when you drop out of the picture, you can come back.’
What has changed in the past few years is the players’ capacity to control things, independent of Klopp’s instruction — one of the old Bill Shankly/Bob Paisley tropes.
Origi’s second goal, from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner, was not pre-planned in a Melwood set-piece training session, but an entirely unpremeditated action.
Now Klopp, like Paisley, has reached successive European Cup finals. Like Shankly, he has found a way of tapping into Liverpool’s soul. But neither of those great predecessors had the capacity to communicate with players — especially fringe players — quite like him. Shankly left it to Paisley to deliver bad news to players, who struggled desperately with the task, too.
There is a different level of honesty from Klopp. ‘He never flinches from it,’ Lallana said. ‘He can be your friend, but not your best friend, because he has to have those difficult conversations with you. He will tell you when he is not happy with you. He is just genuine, straight up. He can’t hide his emotions, can he?’
When Ajax beat Liverpool 5-1 in a first-leg tie in the Amsterdam fog in 1966, Shankly famously declared: ‘We never play well against defensive teams. Ajax got lucky. We’ll beat them 7-0 in Liverpool.’
A 2-2 draw ensued at Anfield and Liverpool were eliminated from a competition which Shankly never won. When Barcelona won 3-0 in the Nou Camp last week, Klopp walked into the stadium’s press conference theatre and hinted that he thought the tie was over. ‘Whatever happens, I could not be more proud of them,’ he said.
It seems, in retrospect, to have been a masterstroke, lulling Barcelona into the false sense of security and complacency which they brought to Merseyside.
Klopp had no such sense that things were finished. ‘He told us (that night) how the tie was totally winnable,’ Wijnaldum related.
‘He said we should have every belief we could still win.’Daily Mail