Jamie Carragher: 'Ferguson told me boss would put the Reds back on their perch'
I can recall the moment when I became genuinely excited about what Jurgen Klopp would bring to Liverpool. It was not just his work in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, thrilling as that was. Nor was it that his natural enthusiasm and personality were so perfect for Anfield, which he demonstrated upon arrival. There is more to being a great manager than charm and personality.
The true endorsement came on a visit to Old Trafford a couple of years ago.
I was invited to play in Michael Carrick's testimonial and had the chance to speak to Alex Ferguson. I had read Fergie's complimentary remarks about the Liverpool manager, so wanted to hear more. "He's got something about him. He is very confident," Alex told me.
There was a look of genuine admiration for Klopp, accompanied by that added hint of concern, telling me all I needed.
"If Fergie is worried, this guy must be the real deal," I thought. Alex explained he had met Klopp at one of the Uefa managerial conferences, where the elite coaches sit on a forum to discuss the direction of the game.
Klopp, still a relatively young coach at the time, attended as Dortmund manager and was not in awe of the successful, more illustrious names around him. On the contrary, he was opinionated, forthright and, by all accounts, deeply impressive on a range of subjects. Alex noted it.
I had the chance to speak to Klopp about those meetings when he was a guest on Monday Night Football. He said one of his motives for going was to check out the opposition and see if there were any coaches there he ought to be worried were better than him. Typically confident, he said he concluded there were not, so he does not bother going anymore. Given that self-belief, it must have hurt him to be missing the one trophy that singles out football's great coaches from mere mortals. The top managers know there is something missing from their CV without the Champions League.
Klopp has fixed that and, in the process, ensured he is Liverpool's greatest manager of the past 30 years. There is no doubt in my mind about this now.
The team he has built compared to the one he inherited, the style in which he has done it and the position into which he has led the club means Liverpool have not been in such great shape since their last league title in 1990. Only a freakish domestic opponent stopped Klopp being rewarded for Liverpool's extraordinary Premier League campaign.
As a member of the last side to win the European Cup for Liverpool, I have no hesitation declaring this one superior.
We had a few world-class players, not a world-class team.
I have heard the arguments about Klopp taking over in more favourable circumstance than some of his predecessors, often presented as if to lessen the achievement, and I do not think that is fair.
Clearly Liverpool are a different club behind the scenes to the past, but so were the challenges facing Klopp when he got the job. Every year that passed without Liverpool being successful made the job more demanding and it required someone truly special to deal with those demands and lead a revival.
Klopp was not bankrolled with vast sums of money like some kind of lottery winner. The smart, expensive investments on Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker - the outstanding performers in Madrid - were possible because of the sale of Philippe Coutinho and the willingness to withhold transfer funds for the right players, rather than pile pressure on his board to secure deal upon deal.
Klopp is not the first Liverpool manager to have to sell his best player for a huge fee, but he is certainly the first since Kenny Dalglish in 1987 to do so and use the cash to build a better side - as Kenny did when Ian Rush went to Juventus and John Barnes, John Aldridge and Peter Beardsley arrived.
Anyone with knowledge of Liverpool over the past three decades can offer an extensive list of examples when they sold big and bought big. Even during the reviled Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jnr regime, there was no lack of money spent on players such as Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano and Alberto Aquilani. The problem was the money came from risky loans and the club could not afford to pay it back once the team dropped out of the top four.
Every era brings its distinctive obstacles. Any previous Liverpool manager who accumulated 97 points in a season would have had the title wrapped up by Easter.
In Europe, Klopp's record is amazing. Three times he has led Liverpool in Uefa competition, three times he has reached the final. There is another significant point about Saturday's win: it is the first trophy without Steven Gerrard since 1995.
I will never waver from my belief that the most significant Anfield figure in the past 20 years is Gerrard. Go through all those finals and Premier League campaigns and you see his imprint more than any other. Without him, Liverpool's recent history would be vastly different. Gerrard was the symbol of the club for 16 years and in many respects it was his void Klopp had to fill upon arrival in 2015.
In the aftermath of the Istanbul miracle, I remember using similar language to the Liverpool players on Saturday night.
"This is just the start," we hoped. "Now we want even more."
We improved and won the FA Cup a year later, but apart from the 2012 League Cup, that was it. The gulf to the best in Europe was obvious in 2005. That was a freak win.
Off the pitch, that gap remains between Liverpool and Manchester City, and others still have more money at their disposal. There is no gulf between Liverpool and everyone else on the pitch in 2019. This really can be the start.
In Europe, at least, Liverpool truly are back on their perch. Even Alex will appreciate that is because of the manager he suspected would put them there. (© Daily Telegraph, London)