Uefa Champions League final: Jurgen Klopp has restored belief at Liverpool
German will be seeking his first trophy as manager of the Premier League club when they take on Real Madrid in Kiev
There were thousands of words spoken in a bravura display of the eloquence, persuasiveness and humour that have become Jurgen Klopp’s trademark, but eight had a particular resonance. “We have to change from doubters to believers,” he said on his unveiling at Anfield in October 2015.
Two-and-a-half years later, it is safe to say Klopp has accomplished that. Liverpool’s surge to Kiev has been propelled by many things, by a blizzard of goals and some chaotically entertaining games, by some inspired signings and some rapidly improving players, but it has all been underpinned by belief.
Klopp’s belief in his players is apparent every time he rejects the notion the answer to every setback is to buy. Their belief in him is apparent in the way they embrace potentially rewarding tactics that come laced with risk.
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Most notably, there is the belief that has been restored among the fanbase. It can waver in the moments when Liverpool’s defence feels fallible, but it felt overpowering when Manchester City and Roma were overwhelmed at Anfield.
Mentions of the magic of European nights at Anfield can be clichéd and can irritate supporters of other clubs, but the atmosphere has become intoxicating again.
All of which is a rather intangible achievement. Klopp talked on his appointment about aiming to win a title within four years; perhaps, like Rafa Benitez, he will open his account in the Uefa Champions League.
Perhaps a manager who has lost his last five finals will not and yet, without actually securing silverware, he has been genuinely transformative.
An element of emotion is more important at Liverpool for most clubs and, with the exception of the season when Brendan Rodgers almost won the title, the mood around Anfield was spiked with pessimism for much of the five-and-a-half years before Klopp’s arrival. Not now.
He has both harnessed a willingness to dream and reinvented Liverpool in a strange synergy of club and manager. The two most successful of his seven immediate predecessors, Gerard Houllier and Benitez, were essentially cautious counter-attackers.
Klopp is more open, more upbeat. Liverpool now feel an extension of exuberant personality, marked by a liking for people, a relish for the fray and a sense that nothing is impossible.
Klopp’s booming laugh and gleaming teeth, his exaggerated celebrations, his enduring quirkiness can make him seem a caricature of himself, but Liverpool have been revived in part by force of personality.
The focus on a quixotic case of German nerd-cool can obscure the tactics that are so innovative and adventurous that they fascinate Pep Guardiola and which, in those bursts when Liverpool appear to acquire an unstoppable momentum, allow them to terrorise anyone.
There is a certain visceral aspect to their game, built around raw pace, that generates excitement. Among other things, it was what Liverpool required. They were a resoundingly mediocre team when Rodgers was sacked, the promise of the 2013/14 season giving way to a rapid return to ponderousness.
It is why it is simplistic to judge a manager simply on his collection. Klopp has galvanised Liverpool. He has also rejuvenated them. It goes without saying that the most important game of their season is tomorrow’s Champions League final.
It is arguable the second most significant was the last, the win against Brighton and Hove Albion to secure their top-four finish.
Klopp had been uncharacteristically tetchy before it. Since then, he has been vintage Klopp, engaging and entertaining, behaving with the air of a man who is not intimidated by Real Madrid. It is the power of belief.
It is why, although most logical pointers suggest the holders will retain the trophy, Liverpool can have faith in themselves.
Published: May 24, 2018 06:11 PM