Monday 26 September 2016

Recruitment errors of past blocking Klopp's Euro vision

Paul Hayward

Published 19/05/2016 | 02:30

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp looks dejected after collecting his runners up medal at the end of the match. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp looks dejected after collecting his runners up medal at the end of the match. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

The most independent of cities, Liverpool loves the world beyond our shores. A European final stokes that sense of adventure and prompts a fan convergence from all directions. Jurgen Klopp is no novice at this game, but even he must have been stunned by the transformation of Basel into Bootle.

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They came through every Swiss city, down every Swiss train line, to be at Liverpool's 12th major final: a shot at glory for a side who finished eighth in the Premier League, 21 points behind Leicester, but have nevertheless found a John Lennon of a manager to stir the imagination.

Heroics and comebacks dominate Liverpool's recent history on the continent, and yet again Liverpool found themselves facing daunting odds after Sevilla, subdued in the first-half, struck three times in 24 minutes after the break. The third of them, by Coke, was disputed, but the overall effect of this lightning triple-blow was unambiguous.

Liverpool were almost back in Istanbul territory and Klopp was beside himself with anger over the third of Sevilla's goals.

Mixed

Two finals in seven months with a squad of such mixed quality are proof of Klopp's credentials (the other was the League Cup, which they lost to Manchester City on penalties).

But Liverpool are not mere tourists in Europe. They like to win - and they usually do, with eight victories in 11 major finals before Daniel Sturridge landed the first blow in this one. The quality of that goal deserved better than the Spanish onslaught it provoked.

Klopp - the steely, humorous, modern German coach in the winter jogging gear - was trying to join Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benitez on Liverpool's list of European-trophy winning managers - and he could hardly hope for greater support from the supporters, though he demanded it all the same after Coke's first goal (Sevilla's second), stomping along the touchline, tapping his watch and waving his arms to raise more noise.

So excited was Klopp by Liverpool's good work towards the end of the first-half that he ran half the length of the pitch and into the tunnel, ahead of his players. Maybe it was just for a comfort break. Or perhaps he could barely wait to tell his team that Sevilla were a team on the slide and no match for an English club who had already knocked out Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal.

Or just possibly it was to warn them against complacency. In which case the message failed to get through, certainly to Alberto Moreno. Seventeen seconds into the second half, Moreno sold himself to Mariano Ferreira, who cut inside and crossed for Kevin Gameiro to tap the ball in. Moreno's habit of being easily circumvented followed him all the way to Liverpool's biggest game.

Three Uefa Cups (1973, 1976 and 2001) to sprinkle around those five European Cups has been a sizeable comfort blanket for Liverpool, who have not won the domestic title for 26 years.

It has created a parallel realm of pleasure, to which the supporters flock in their tens of thousands, hammering out songs and bearing emotive banners.

A few examples from this game: 'Liverpool FC - Following the Footsteps of our Fathers.' And 'LFC - It's About the Glory.' And 'Game Well and Truly Over - Istanbul 2005.'

Others proclaim 'A Certain Style of Life' and 'Above Us Only Sky' and 'Spion Kop - True Socialism.'

Liverpool kicked off on a night marred by fighting in an unsegregated stand behind one of the goals with a wild din driving them on. In opposition, however, were Uefa Cup/Europa League specialists who were bidding to become the first team to win three consecutive editions of a major European competition since Bayern Munich annexed the European Cup from 1974 to 1976.

To cope with the talent drain of the last five years Liverpool needed a manager with sufficient charisma to shape the future in his own image. A manager with a big idea. And while gegenpressing is hardly revolutionary, it assumes a powerful force when combined with Klopp's team-building skills, his talent for harmony.

"Is it our only chance in life and if we don't take it then everything will be rubbish afterwards?" he asked before this game. "It doesn't work like this." This was his attempt to stop everyone seeing this final as Liverpool's past, present and future rolled into one.

He was right, of course. But people do not pay hundreds of pounds to travel by land, air and sea to watch common sense. They come to witness a conquest.

Talent

There are good reasons why Klopp has a poor record in finals. In Germany, it was called Bayern Munich. At Wembley in March, Liverpool were beaten in a shoot-out at the end of a tight game against a team with more individual talent.

Here in Basel, you could argue Liverpool were at the end of a season of over-achievement in Europe, against opponents who virtually own this competition. Moreno's defensive aberrations were a clue to the real truth about Liverpool. Their talent base is too low to match their ambitions.

They need more players of trophy-winning calibre and fewer who represent the recruitment errors of the past.

Klopp will know that, and his next job is to fix that problem. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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