Jurgen Klopp: Thrill of the chase more fun than guaranteed success
The quest for the quadruple has taken its toll on Liverpool. Not, perhaps, on their players. “You could write books on the resilience of these boys,” reflected Jurgen Klopp, talking about Tuesday’s comeback at Aston Villa. But fatigue caught up with him.
“I had two afternoon naps yesterday,” he exclaimed. “Two. It worked well. I feel really good.” Re-energised, reacquainted with his beaming grin and booming laugh, Klopp heads to Wembley, looking to the FA Cup to provide a second trophy of the season and perhaps a first of three in May.
“I don’t run, I don’t fight,” he rationalised. “I have different kinds of challenges. It’s tough, but it’s fine. It has never been done before [the quadruple] so it’s like the first step in whichever island.” Liverpool may be alone in achievement. But if not, it won’t be failure. Klopp is urging everyone else to savour the moments. “When I say, ‘enjoy the journey’ I mean it,” he explained. “We only cause ourselves problems as human beings. ‘Don’t come home without a quadruple’, for example: you will never be happy. If that is the only way to satisfy you that is really difficult.”
And he is happy. He could have had an easier life. He could have had a guarantee of glory. He could have won more in the past, especially if he accepted Bayern Munich’s advances. He might win less in the future, especially now Manchester City are signing Erling Haaland. But the context of his achievements means they offer much to savour. And, in a season packed with defining games, Klopp likes the ride, not just the destination.
“Which club should I go to to have a different situation?” he asked. “Tell me. The only thing I could do is ask Pep [Guardiola] if he is sick of all that winning and I take over at City. Is that the idea? That wouldn’t work, I don’t want to do it.”
It was a throwaway comment, rather than a public message to Sheikh Mansour, but he does have a particularly persistent suitor, going back to the time when he was at Mainz and Germany’s biggest club considered two Jurgens. Bayern plumped for the wrong one and appointed Klinsmann. It was easy to imagine them seeing Klopp as Guardiola’s successor, too, but he was at Anfield by then.
“I could have gone to Bayern a few times,” he reflected. “I could have won more titles in my life, pretty sure, I would say; a good chance at least. I didn’t do it. I had a contract here and I never did it. That’s completely fine.”
Once again, he is competing with greater economic forces. There is a difference this time. He may still be scarred by Bayern’s raids on Borussia Dortmund for Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski. He was less concerned when City plucked Haaland from his former club.
“Unfortunately, a really good signing,” he smiled earlier in the week. Two days on, he added: “‘God, they sign him’: I never thought that, to be honest. In Germany quite frequently, that was not cool because when they took a player from me, that gives them 20 per cent and us minus 20 per cent, but as long as they just add on and not pick from us, then I’m fine.”
Klopp is content with what he has. He could get a lot more in a 15-day spell that might define his side as the greatest in Liverpool’s history and cement their personal legacies. It starts at Wembley where, before victories in the Carabao Cup final and FA Cup semi-final, Klopp’s record was undistinguished. His Dortmund lost the 2013 Champions League final to Bayern there. “I like the place! I always liked it, it’s just my experiences before were not positive,” the Liverpool manager smiled. If Bayern could be his nemesis, he interjected with a reminder that his German Cup final defeats stretched beyond that. “We lost against Wolfsburg as well, we lost against everyone in finals – it didn’t make any difference,” he noted. “By the way, Kevin De Bruyne and Ivan Perisic [were] in the team for Wolfsburg that time. Great.”
Now for a final with a Germanic feel, pitting Klopp against a successor at Mainz and Dortmund, Thomas Tuchel. The common denominators lie in their backgrounds, the differences in their recent experiences. Liverpool have become a byword for stability. Chelsea have been embroiled in crisis. Tuchel has seen his employer, Roman Abramovich, sanctioned for his links to Vladimir Putin. They will have a new owner soon. The price took Klopp aback. “£4.5bn?” he asked. “Wow, that’s not cheap. But Chelsea is an interesting club, definitely. If only for where Stamford Bridge is. If you sell the ground then you’ll probably get £6.4bn and you can build flats there, so you cannot lose money with that buy.”
If it was a joking aside, he is an admirer of his compatriot. Chelsea took Liverpool to penalties in the Carabao Cup final. They have drawn three times this season. Klopp expects a fourth tight affair and feels Chelsea have prospered with a siege mentality. “You can become even closer as a group and show the outside world ‘we as a football team are not fussed at all about it, we just want to fight for everything’. And that’s what Chelsea did,” he said. “All the rest is a normal situation, nobody knows if [Antonio] Rudiger would have signed a new contract if they would have known the current owners were there, or the old owner was there or the new owners were in earlier. I thought especially Thomas – because he was the voice in these moments very often – dealt really well with it.”
And he has found his own way of coping with the demands of Liverpool’s high-pressure run in. Rewind to 1988 and John Barnes prepared for an FA Cup final with the “Anfield Rap”. Some 34 years on, Klopp has opted instead for the Anfield nap.