Liverpool miss out on the title but Jurgen Klopp's achievements at Anfield go beyond trophies

Liverpool is an elite club again, driving greater revenues than at any point in its history. It has arrived at a point of opportunity where it can choose where to go

Simon Hughes
Anfield
Sunday 12 May 2019 17:48
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“Raheem Sterling, he’s top of the league…”
“You’re gonna win f--k all…”
“You nearly won the league…”
“You f---ked it up…”

On, on and on the triumphant chants went, coming from those supporters in the away end at Anfield. It will be like this for Liverpool until the first Saturday of June, at least, when they meet Tottenham in Madrid – reminders of what could have been, having felt, for 83 seconds at least, that it was all coming their way.

But it will eventually dawn that this is a Liverpool team which has only finished second to one of the best and most expensive squads in British history, having recorded the third-highest points total ever, while also managing to reach the Champions League final for the second season in succession.

In each of the four campaigns where Jurgen Klopp has led Liverpool, the last game of the season has mattered. There was the Europa League final and the securing of a top-four finish which opened the gate to Europe’s elite competition, before those two finals which have kept each of the last two seasons going longer than any other team in England.

Klopp has not only made Liverpool competitive again, he has made them fascinating. Even if you do not support Liverpool, you cannot ignore them. They are relevant.

Without them, this Premier League would have been far less interesting and settled beyond doubt months ago. Without Liverpool’s pursuit, Manchester City’s title march would have been an uncontested procession for a second year in a row. And maybe the focus of the discussion would not have been the discussion those running the club would want it to be about, considering their superiority and the number of investigations hanging over them.

Liverpool have traded brilliantly and Michael Edwards, the club’s sporting director, deserves enormous credit for helping create the real financial landscape which they operate in. Yet the greatest pressure and focus falls on Klopp, who 16 months ago had to deal with Philippe Coutinho wanting to leave without making it seem like it was a problem before he navigated the way to Kiev. Coutinho’s sale and Liverpool’s on-field progression raised close to £200m and this gave Edwards the funds to negotiate deals for Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker, whose influences on this team have since been transformative, completely changing the way managers, players and supporters feel about the challenge of facing Liverpool.

“Whatever happens, we are what we are because we have come together and we have all played a part,” Klopp wrote in his programme notes. “This is Liverpool now: a powerful collective who looks to live in the moment and embrace the joy of it.”

Jurgen Klopp celebrates Liverpool's lead over Wolves 

A touch of mush, perhaps, but that does not make it any less accurate. Klopp has managed to marry the culture of elite footballers which Liverpool need with the traditional culture of the club and its fanbase. Whatever Liverpool win or miss out on, it is a prize that goes beyond trophies because he has brought people together in a way no other elite level manager in the country has really been able to. There remains still distance to travel and major issues to fix but one of the reasons why other supporter bases found Liverpool’s so annoying is because of how loud and confident they are. Their songs are resonating across Europe again and this is because the manager has brought in players who have matched his outlook, recognising his belief that teams and supporters have to be as one.

Liverpool is an elite club again, driving greater revenues than at any point in its history. It has arrived at a point of opportunity where it can choose where to go. It could, if it wanted, build on the identity that had made the club what it was. For a long time, Liverpool lacked institutional memory. It had lost knowledge of itself. Off the pitch there had been a dramatic turnover in staff. Two changes of ownership led to changes of executives and hierarchy as well as a growth in staffing numbers. They may have known Liverpool from the outside but not from the inside. On the pitch, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher covered the cracks because they had links into the club and the city in the way that none of their teammates did. Supporters in the local community identified with the club through their presence but little else. As soon as they went, Liverpool did not feel the same.

Whatever happens in Madrid, it does feel as though Liverpool are the only club capable of challenging City in the years to come. Their manner and style of their victory over Barcelona on Tuesday was symbolic because it stripped away Barca’s veneer of superiority, surely reducing the chances of Liverpool’s players wanting to go there certainly in the near future. The sight of Coutinho getting off the pitch as quickly as possible acts as a warning to those who make bad choices and underestimate what they already have.

Klopp had been in this sort of position on the final day before, 17 years ago when as manager of Mainz he needed only a draw from an away game at Union Berlin. With three to go, Mainz had required just three points to seal promotion to the Bundesliga. But the team stuttered and after a 3-1 defeat in Berlin, Klopp cried in the dressing room according to the German journalist Raphael Honigstein in his superb book Bring the Noise.

Twelve months later, the level of drama was even more ridiculous. Mainz needed to outscore Eintracht Frankfurt to go up and a 4-1 victory over Braunchweig had seemed to secure their passage. Frankfurt were leading Reutlingen 4-3 as injury time approached but their game went on longer and with the last kick of the game, they scored to make it 6-3.

This led to the headline, “Unpromotables”. Though Mainz were popular and had emerged as one of those cutesy second favourite teams, they were in danger of entering joke and punchline territory. In a speech in front of 8,000 at the town’s Gutenbergplatz, Klopp stepped forward. “Anyone who writes us off,” he said, “is making a serious mistake”. The next season, Mainz went up.

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