SWITZERLAND, JUNE 02 – Liverpool has broken a 15-year-old jinx in its Champions League history with its victory over Tottenham Hotspurs on Saturday night.
Liverpool coach, Jürgen Klopp predicted one title within four years on his first full day as Liverpool manager in October 2015. He never promised it would be pretty but he has delivered on schedule. Just. From doubters to believers, nearly-men to champions of Europe; his transformation is complete.
The architect of Liverpool’s sixth European Cup triumph was the only member of his technical area not to cavort in celebration when Divock Origi sealed Tottenham’s fate in the 87th minute and confirmed Old Big Ears was heading back to Anfield. He was not best pleased when Liverpool substitutes took off their tracksuit tops before the final whistle in readiness to run on to the pitch either.
When it sounded he was in the arms of Mauricio Pochettino, embracing in the beaten manager a pain he had felt twice before but could now let go. Then he blew a kiss to his family in the stands. The immediate reaction may have been muted but how Klopp and Liverpool needed this. He will not be asked about losing finals or an unlucky career again.
The season demanded a crowning glory, not another near-miss to join the list of Champions League, Premier League, Europa League and League Cup that Klopp has endured in his 44 months at Anfield. A weight of disappointment that predated him with the title slip in 2014, and which fuelled the nearly-men tag that always riled Brendan Rodgers, was swept away with this gruelling defeat of Spurs.
Over the line at last thanks to an obstinate backline in which Joël Matip excelled and Alisson repelled everything that Pochettino’s team created; and a telling substitution that allowed Origi to reprise his role as unlikely Champions League hero. How much Liverpool needed this and how far they have come.
Four years ago their season ended in a 6-1 defeat at Stoke, the club’s heaviest loss since 1963. Klopp’s reconstruction of a European heavyweight has not been without setbacks on the final match-day but he will consider each and every one worthwhile for the elation that arrived in the Spanish capital.
His first Champions League final victory has arrived at the third attempt, just like his efforts to win promotion to the Bundesliga with Mainz when starting a career that has now attained legendary status at Anfield. Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Rafael Benítez and Jürgen Norbert Klopp; the men who have brought more European Cups to Liverpool than to the rest of the Premier League combined. Only Real Madrid and Milan have gathered more. The football romantic in Klopp will savour that accolade, though maybe privately.
Liverpool were far from their best in a forgettable final but completed the job they were here to do. Winning was all that mattered after Kiev and being pipped to the Premier League title by Manchester City. The penalty awarded after 22 seconds and converted by Mohamed Salah settled a degree of anxiety, for there was an expectation on Liverpool that was absent in previous finals under Klopp.
Liverpool’s win is culmination of Klopp’s inclusive project
It stemmed from the mantle of favourites, of possessing more European knowhow than Spurs, of finishing 26 points above them in the Premier League and having a fitter, deeper squad for the day of reckoning. It was a role reversal, in many respects, from last season’s final against Madrid. But there was much more resting on Klopp’s players as the pre-final circus packed up and they kicked off. The pressure on Liverpool in the buildup to this match was connected to the past, namely in the need to banish the pain of Kiev and their manager’s record of six consecutive cup final defeats, a sequence he joked rendered him the “world record-holder in winning semi-finals”. But it also concerned the future.
Every campaign under the 51-year-old has yielded progress. To have entered next season on the back of winning 97 points but not as Premier League champions, plus a second successive Champions League final but not as European champions, would have left Klopp with a considerable test of even his galvanising powers to maintain momentum given the demoralising impact. The narrative that great memories compensate for trophies, one that Klopp himself fuelled after the Barcelona comeback, would be dismissed as a convenient diversion. Those memories cannot be brushed aside now they have silverware to sustain them.