An audience with Jurgen Klopp
From falling in love with the giants of world football as a boy in 1970s West Germany to bringing the European glory days back to Anfield, Jurgen Klopp tells Jamie Carragher Liverpool are finally ready to embrace a new golden era
‘We are one of the five or six best clubs in Europe again. That is why I am happy for the fans’
Jurgen Klopp is vividly describing the moment his sevenyear-old self fell in love with European football. He is conjuring images of audio commentaries, exotic names and venues and a sense of “something special” capturing the mood of cities, nations and continents.
“You always knew when the big games were on,” he tells me. “My mum would put me in the bath, put the radio on and for 1½ hours I was there. My skin was done.
It is more the legend of the competition I remember – the big German players of Bayern Munich and, at that time, Borussia Monchengladbach… Rainer Bonhof, Berti Vogts, Uli Stielike and Jupp Heynckes.”
Great German teams beaten by Liverpool, I remind him. Did he have a bath on the night of the 1977 European Cup final?
“If you speak to German people and had to name a club that you associate with European nights it is Liverpool,” he says.
“It was not one specific game or final. It was the whole era. When a German side was playing it was always something you wanted to read about as a boy.
“Then you hear the names of these clubs – the big English teams were always involved. This is how you remember it.”
A more recent memory stirs Klopp. Regardless of the outcome against Tottenham Hotspur in tomorrow’s Champions League final, he may have already secured a precious Anfield legacy. For a moment, he is a child again.
“If I had watched the Barcelona game as a seven-year-old, I would remember it,” he tells me. “Everyone in football knows it was so special and it is not something you will see often in your life. Liverpool have gone from being not the most attractive girl in the village to a supermodel.
“We are one of the five or six best clubs in Europe again. I do not know when that was last the case but it was a while ago. That is why I am happy for the people. They see where their club is and think, ‘Look at that. Look at that red. That is Liverpool’. This is what we feel now.
“If I am trying to make signings
I don’t have to convince players any more and tell them what Liverpool is. That is obvious. I never had so many messages as I did after both Barcelona games. Everybody watched it, and thought, ‘Wow, what was that?’ I have never had so many compliments for the performance of my team.
“I don’t know how many people watched but there will have been a few in the world. That makes it special as well – one game, a semi-final. There was no other game on the planet with such focus.”
Whether a player, manager, fan or pundit, the enthusiasm of that seven-year-old football obsessive never leaves you, especially when the Champions League anthem plays. In my youth, it was the great AC Milan side of the mid-eighties, with Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and Marco van Basten, that caught my imagination. As a player, nothing eclipsed sharing the stage with the greatest players of my time. I tell Klopp Europe is what I most miss since retiring. I see the same passion in him.
“I love the Champions League. I love it as it is. I don’t think there should be any change. It is exactly as it should be,” he says.
“You play strong sides, and in the group stage there is the opportunity for other teams to surprise. Red Star Belgrade is not a small club, but the recent history of Red Star and Liverpool has changed a little bit and they beat us in a real, proper game. It is special.
“I love the night games, too. The moment the floodlights come on it feels different. There is the whole day to prepare – a little session in the morning and then leading towards the game and then go!
“And, of course, we play half the games at Anfield, which I also love.
“I see the game like this: you have your club – not everyone, but usually you have your club and for me it was Stuttgart – but when you see a good football game you appreciate it and say, ‘Wow’.”
The counterargument, one Klopp has heard often, especially in the build-up to his third European final as a Liverpool manager, is it can never be solely about the experience. It has to be about more. It has to be about winning.
Even though a first Liverpool trophy has eluded Klopp, I feel he can oversee an Anfield golden age.
“Silverware-wise I am not sure if that is possible in an era of Manchester City, because there is one team above all of us and we have to fight like crazy to be kind of close,” he says. “But development wise, joy-wise, it can be a golden era and for me it is already. Who connected to Liverpool cannot be happy? Who cannot love what we are doing? Because step by step we are coming closer to everything. OK, we didn’t do it again in the league because of City, but we are again in a final and it is still very positive.
“Who can ever promise silverware? I can’t do that. But in terms of the development of the club, putting the club where it belongs? We are there.
“This year was our first try for the Premier League. We could not try before because we had no weapons to be champions. This year, after the first five games,
I was like, ‘We can try. We are in the flow’. It forced us to a new level and City to a new level. Now we have to do it again and again.
“We have not lost one knockout round in Europe in our three years competing. Can I sit here and think, ‘We will win the final, 100 per cent?’ I would never think that before any game. This is football. What I can say is we have never been better prepared as we are now.
“It sounds crazy to me that between 2013 and 2019 at Dortmund and Liverpool I have been four times [to a] European final. How is that possible? We lost three of them and it does not feel good. But I have never had such a good team. This is the best team I have taken to a final. Dortmund was a good team but Bayern was much more experienced.
“In the end, Bayern decided that game at Wembley with luck. No problem. You need it. We had none, 2-1. Thanks very much.
“Sevilla came at the end of the most intense season of my life. Three days after the final Premier League matchday we went to Basel, also more experienced than we were. Then last year we play the most experienced team there is in Real Madrid.
“This is a different final, because if anyone is more experienced it is us.”
It is clear to me what invigorates Klopp is the sense of being on a footballing journey. Personally – as his career took him from Mainz to Dortmund and now Liverpool – and collectively as he has overseen
revivals rather than inherited successful teams. Everyone felt Klopp and Liverpool would be a perfect fit, but what has made it work?
“I can’t explain it. It was not conscious,” he says. “When I went to Mainz it became a very emotional football club. We put football in the middle of interest somehow because we were more offensive than before. I went to the university to give a speech about motivation and football and I asked them all, ‘Why the hell are you not coming to our stadium?’ and told them why they should. I was close to giving away tickets.
“We were top of the second division and had 6,000 in our stadium. A few years later we had 20,000. It was like the Chicago Bulls. To get yourself a season ticket someone had to die. “Then with Dortmund, I knew how impressive the yellow wall [was] and I knew it could fit, but it was not that I thought this was the only club where we could work. I had thought maybe Dortmund could be good, but who decides whether you get that chance? “After this, Liverpool was always in my mind. But all the news that was coming to Germany about Liverpool was not positive. It was never about something developing there. It seemed to be Liverpool wanted to be something else but they could not do it.
Being in the Bundesliga it was not like you follow the Premier League all the time. You might pick games but you are focused on your own games. I know the 2013-14 season was exceptional and there were good seasons before as well, but just generally that was the impression. “Then when I finished with Dortmund and I looked at the clubs maybe I could go. I cannot explain why, but I saw Liverpool and I thought, ‘Yeah, Liverpool would be cool’. Then, when the call came, maybe late September or early October 2015, there was not much to convince. It was just a feeling. “Why does it fit? Because I love football when it is everyone’s interest. OK, maybe in specific moments, I do not need it all the time. But when the moment comes it is, ‘Please, let’s do this together’, and that is what we have at Liverpool. Without really knowing it at the time that is the reason I came here. I felt we could make these experiences together.”
If Klopp can win in Madrid it feels like it will mean more to him because of how the club have gradually navigated their
‘We are there in terms of development, putting the club where it belongs’
course back to the top. “The history was part of my decision, of course, but the potential meant much more,” he says.
“When I came to Liverpool, there was a mood and a feeling where the people thought, ‘We can get Klopp?’ I was not thinking like that. I was thinking at that moment that every manager in the world would run to Liverpool and I am ready.
“It is not that the starting point was not good. Obviously, you do not want a starting point that does not give you a chance – you don’t want to be in a situation where it can’t get any worse, but there is not much chance to make it much better.
“But the picture Mike Gordon [Fenway Sports Group president] gave to me at that time, what the club wanted to do, was impressive. Nobody spoke about money. They did not say, ‘We will give you £100 million for players’ and I did not ask for it. I remember liking the team more
than a lot of other people did. Many of those players are still here. Of course we brought a few in, but it was a natural, healthy rebuild. We brought in potential and attitude and that led to quality.
“I saw a lot to work with, knew the new Main Stand was coming and even details like our new dressing room at Anfield gave me a bright view of the future. When you go into our dressing room now you must think, ‘Two years too late for me!’
“It is the best dressing room in the Premier League and it is ours. These seem [to be] little details but it is so important the boys feel so comfortable.
“And I don’t have to talk about the atmosphere now. People experience it. They see it on television, or in a pub or – if they are lucky – in the stadium.”
That was never more apparent than in the semi-final, a comeback against Barcelona which enhanced the Anfield legend.
“What we needed was the players to believe only in the chance and nothing more,” he says. “I was saying to the boys, ‘We need to win 4-0 tonight’ and was laughing.
“Easy to say, huh? I knew it was difficult, nearly impossible, but I said, ‘Because it is you we have a chance, so let’s try’. It is not about what I think. It is about the players. What do they think? Then when I saw Barcelona kick off and kick the ball back and we [were] jumping all on them I thought, ‘OK, it is possible’.
Barca still had bigger chances at Anfield than in Barcelona.
“Then, at half-time, Andy Robertson can’t carry on. So Milly [James Milner], Gini [Georginio Wijnaldum], let’s go. In the dressing room at that moment was
so special. Everyone was completely on their toes. ‘Come on, let’s go’. We all knew if Barca score one goal it is done, but we never in that game [were] thinking about the final step, only the next step. At 2-0, atmosphere changes. Then 3-0. Wow. Then 4-0 with the best goal I ever saw. Goal of the season. So difficult. Not only Trent’s corner but the shot which nine times out of 10 is over the Kop.
“I see my job like this. If possible, play the best season of your life. If you win something,
you carry on. If you don’t win something, you carry on.
“It is not about whether in a couple of years people say Klopp won or did not win this or that. I do not need that. What I want is this club is as positive as possible. But, of course, I want to end this season different to others.”
And that is the point. What hurt most after defeats in Basel in the Europa League final, in Kiev last season and more recently in finishing runners-up to Manchester City in the Premier League was the postponement of the biggest parties.
Rivals have often stated Liverpool fans will be unbearable if they win, and maybe they are right. As a city, as supporters, there are none better at savouring victory and the truth is, I have come to Marbella, Liverpool’s pre-champions League training camp, with a conditional invitation for the manager.
“You can’t go to Liverpool city centre much because you get recognised, but will you be there on June 2?” I ask him.
“If we win I can promise that. There will be no sleep planned,” he replies.
“Good. I will look after you,” I tell him.
“I am not sure that would help. I have seen a couple of videos of you!” says Klopp, adding: “If there is something to celebrate I am pretty good at celebrating.
“That is what we are going for. That is what we want at the end of this season.
“It would be deserved, 100 per cent. But Tottenham will see it differently. This is normal.
“We are working for the moment we want. Three times we have been so close, three times we have had nothing. In the Olympics you go home with the silver medal. We have nothing. Motivation will not be a problem.”
‘If you win something, you carry on. If you don’t win, you carry on’
Europhile: Jurgen Klopp talks to Jamie Carragher ahead of tomorrow’s final