How Jurgen Klopp’s first squad meeting at Liverpool has led to historic success in 2019

The saying ‘it means more’ infuriates fans of other clubs, but there was something about Klopp’s first team meeting that laid the foundations for what an unprecedented 12 months has brought

Melissa Reddy
Monday 23 December 2019 09:09
Jurgen Klopp lost for words after Liverpool's Club World Cup win

To understand how Liverpool got to this point, becoming the first English club to win the Champions League, Super Cup and Club World Cup in a year, requires a rewind.

The characteristics of Jurgen Klopp’s side can be traced back to his first major meeting in charge of the club in the second week of October 2015, when he gathered the squad in the press room at Melwood, detailing what he required of them before impressing that they had the opportunity to “create history together.”

On a flip chart, the German had spelt out the word TEAM, ascribing a short description to each letter: terrible to play against, enthusiastic to meet challenges, ambitious every day and mentally strong machines.

As Saturday night slipped into Sunday morning in Doha, with Liverpool lifting the Club World Cup for the first time – their third trophy in six months – Joe Gomez’s summation of the 1-0 victory over Flamengo echoed that initial directive from Klopp.

“We were not just coming here for the sake of it,” said the centre-back, edged out as the standout player in a well-contested final at Khalifa International Stadium by captain Jordan Henderson.

“We were not coming here to have fun; we came here with ambition. We have now come away as world champions. This team has that mindset. Once we put our minds to it, we stick to it.”

Liverpool are terrible to play against. They were certainly enthusiastic to contest a tournament so many in Europe talk down. There could be no question marks over their ambition to become world champions and the players have morphed beyond mentally strong machines into - to use Klopp's favourite tag - "f****** mentality monsters."

Liverpool needed extra time to oust their Brazilian counterparts courtesy of a Roberto Firmino finish after referee Abdulrahman Al Jassim reversed his decision to award them a penalty in the 91st minute.

Sadio Mane had been impeded by Rafinha as he was about to shoot and the official, who was quite evidently out of his depth, pointed to the spot. He then used the pitchside monitor to review footage of the incident, which showed the infringement had occurred just outside the box.

Al Jassim wrongly ruled there was actually no decisive contact.

“We don’t get that penalty in the last minute and you think our heads might go,” Gomez said before highlighting Liverpool’s psychological steel.

“But it is experience. It is a final on the world stage. We kept our heads and we kept playing and then Bobby pops up. That’s the mentality we are trying to build, it’s a great characteristic and who knows where it can take us. We are trying to make winning trophies a habit.”

Liverpool have become the embodiment of the team Klopp envisaged during his introductory presentation on Merseyside, but success could not have been possible without their failures.

The squad’s resolve has been built by losing the 2016 League Cup final on penalties to Manchester City, the Europa League to Sevilla short months later and finishing runners-up to Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League. Missing out on last season’s Premier League title by a point to Pep Guardiola's juggernaut after recording the highest total in the club’s history – 97 – has been the fuel for their form in the division.

Liverpool are on 16 wins, zero defeats, 49 points, 10 clear at the summit with a game in hand. Their last top-flight loss was against City at the Etihad on 3 January – nearly an entire year without being bettered.

The last six months have been a product of the lessons, experience, gutting near misses and growth since Klopp's appointment.

"You have to lose big to realise you are not a loser,” the 52-year-old told this writer in July.

“You accept it has happened, yes, but that you can still be a winner. These are the things that made us all stronger and I'm happy that I have these boys, that I keep these boys together because they went through all these things.”

Jurgen Klopp is a firm believer in the notion of losing to win

Liverpool now have an addiction for silverware, which is underpinned by humility and an appetite for hard work. Despite their presence in finals being the norm under Klopp, they view every showpiece as their last crack of winning a trophy.

“Leading up to the first Champions League final where we got beat, we said to ourselves that we may not be here again so play with no regrets,” the left-back Andy Robertson explained.

“We did that and fell short, but the following season we were back. We didn’t expect that. To get here (being Club World Cup victors), you need to win the Champions League and we know just how hard that is from the last two years.

“We needed to take it like we’ll never be back and now we’re world champions for 2019. It's incredible.”

Liverpool have benefitted from excellent recruitment and the mega-money purchases this year – Virgil van Dijk, Alisson and Fabinho – have undoubtedly elevated them to new heights.

However, to downplay the significance of standard-setters like Henderson and James Milner, contributions from fringe players such as Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri or the efforts of Gomez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and Adam Lallana in rising from multiple hinderances would be a mistake.

“Our star is the group, our strength is in the collective,” assistant coach Pep Lijnders is quick to remind when someone spends too long circling an individual for praise.

Pep Lijnders offered insight into how Klopp's methods work

The players have been known to wax lyrical about a teammate they feel has been criminally underappreciated. That was the case, for example, when Sadio Mane was overshadowed by Mohamed Salah in the previous two seasons. As such, there was unsurprising elation from the group in Doha when Firmino struck the winner as the forward’s lack of goal contributions were criticised externally.

The Brazil international was named man of the match on Saturday, but that accolade should have gone to Henderson – not that he would have minded in the grand scheme of another trophy lift as skipper.

“He was magnificent against Flamengo, the best player on the park,” Robertson said on the man crucial in constructing the game's deciding moment.

“We have got big names in our squad but Hendo, I think, shows what Liverpool is about. He does it in every single performance he puts in. He showed it on Wednesday (in the 2-1 semi-final win over Monterrey) when he played centre-back. He cruised it!

“Hendo is underappreciated to some but to us in the dressing room, we appreciate everything he does. That is the most important thing. In England, maybe they don’t give him the credit he deserves. That will soon change.”

It was the 29-year-old that sparked the ‘Championes’ chant in the dressing room, which could be heard as Jesus was fielding questions in Flamengo's post-match press conference.

Henderson deservedly took the plaudits after Saturday's final

Henderson stood across the entrance to the door as the orchestrator of the celebrations, with the rest of the players separated into a guard of honour as they welcomed in Lijnders, fellow assistant coach Peter Krawietz, head of fitness and conditioning Andreas Kornmayer and goalkeeper coach John Achterberg.

The backroom team entered with the Club World Cup trophy after taking an on-pitch picture with 20 of those that work behind the scenes at Melwood, from the manager’s PA Danielle McNally to masseur Paul Small. There were also several FaceTime calls with the employees that didn't make the trip so they could share in the scenes.

So then, back to that first major talk Klopp gave to his Liverpool squad. The German rounded up every staffer at the training complex and asked them to introduce themselves as well as describe their roles at the club. Their audience? The players.

“In that meeting, he created the responsibility we had to each other, the responsibility to perform and he told us ‘everyone is responsible for everything,’” Lijnders said.

That strong sense of unity is the power source as Liverpool aim to end a 30-year title drought while trying to extend their status as European champions. They are, as per Klopp’s prediction, creating history together.

“I think we, as a team, we are making things special,” goalkeeper Alisson said.

“The boss keeps us together and we try to make the difference not just on the pitch, but off the pitch with the supporters. Every time we say, ‘We are Liverpool, this means more’ maybe it makes no sense for those who are not Liverpool fans, but we really try to make this special for everybody.

“The club have already the history, but we are making history again. This is the beauty of football, you always have the opportunity for new things.

“We will try to make history again because we have a big goal and that is the Premier League and to try to defend the Champions League title.”

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