Monday 20 January 2020

First the world, next England

Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino scores their winning goal against Flamengo in Doha. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino scores their winning goal against Flamengo in Doha. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Chris Bascombe

Evidently, it is not the Liverpool way to take the orthodox route to global domination. Usually a domestic title is the catalyst for European and intercontinental success. Jurgen Klopp hopes to complete a reverse journey between now and May.

A third trophy in six months - the Club World Cup after the 1-0 extra-time victory over Flamengo - is a sequinned means to the most decorated end imaginable: ensuring the wait to become league champions is not extended beyond 30 years.

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Initial resistance to heading to Qatar had more to do with priorities than ignorance of the status of the competition.

When Liverpool accepted the Fifa invitation, they imagined being in the midst of another foot race with Manchester City. Pausing to fly 3,000 miles to collect a Christmas gift no-one was entirely sure they wanted, thus enabling the champions to push on in their absence, seemed a risk.

Instead, the stars aligned on Saturday night. As Roberto Firmino struck the winner to start another party, Klopp's 10-point Premier League lead over Leicester City was being preserved by Pep Guardiola's team. The delicious irony cannot be lost on both sets of owners, even if Fenway Sports Group will take nothing for granted.

No result at the Etihad was guaranteed to be favourable come May. That's because City are recognised as more likely to win 15 consecutive games than Leicester to close the gap.

Liverpool's Jordan Henderson celebrates winning the Club World Cup with the trophy. Photo: Corinna Kern/Reuters
Liverpool's Jordan Henderson celebrates winning the Club World Cup with the trophy. Photo: Corinna Kern/Reuters

Nevertheless, the switch in fortunes placed Liverpool in the heart of the Arab region, laying claim to the title "the world's best club", while City's Abu Dhabi hierarchy look on in envy and bewilderment wondering how their era of extraordinary success is being overshadowed by a club bereft of the trophy they most crave.

If Liverpool do become Premier League champions soon, they will enter a stratosphere of global popularity and commercial possibility which - allied to Jurgen Klopp's talent and charisma - make serial trophy collection more likely than anyone imagined a few years ago.

It has sullied the rivalry with City, who - with some justification - presumed they would trample on all opposition with the combined force of their wealth and Guardiola's mastery. The Anfield renaissance has not only brought Liverpool a regular parade, it is threatening a torrential downpour on City's.


This fierce competition between the clubs was emerging as the defining one in this era of English football even before Liverpool's trophy spurt, yet until June you could understand the champions' grumbles of one-sidedness.

The Merseyside club's return was modest.

Before the Champions League win, FSG's only trophy was the League Cup of 2012. It is another measure of the club's evolution that there was no timescale on Klopp to deliver, only the absolute belief that once the first came others would swiftly follow.

The Club World Cup will be regarded as a major honour by Liverpool because of the application and skill required to first compete for it, and now win it for the first time.

No-one witnessing the despair of the Brazilian players and fans and the delight of Liverpool's staff and players will speak disparagingly of this competition again. And, as the players queued up to remark after their extra-time triumph, winning is a habit.

"That's three for 2019," said Andy Robertson. "In the calendar year, we have won the Champions League, Super Cup and now this. To win three in any calendar year is special - and these are big ones. We have got to take the momentum into 2020. Hopefully there are a couple more of these scenes of us lifting trophies to come."

Shortly before leaving Anfield, a former Liverpool manager said: "The club wants to go back to the seventies and eighties. Fine, not with me."

Although the reference was more about refusing to return to ageing methods rather than successive titles, he was reflecting a sense those halcyon days could never make a comeback in such a competitive, reshaped football world.

It is an opinion that may need to be reviewed. But, by the time Klopp leaves Liverpool, whether in 2024 or beyond, he will be regarded as the modern Bill Shankly.

He will resist that as he perpetually credits those around him, and there is no question the influence of sporting director Michael Edwards and FSG president Mike Gordon - and the shrewdness of John W Henry and Tom Werner in getting those appointments pitch perfect - is fundamental to facilitating Klopp's work.

Executives at rival clubs are not only seeking their own Klopp, but another Edwards and Gordon. Everything changed at Liverpool when Klopp walked through the Shankly Gates, just as it did when the man himself arrived in 1959.

"All of us are so proud of what Jurgen and his team achieved today," said Werner, the chairman. "These were two tough games in the middle of the season, but you never get tired of seeing a trophy lifted."

After Madrid, Istanbul and Doha, Liverpool want the next ticker tape shower to fall on Anfield soil. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


Klopp left unhappy after FIFA restrict Reds' lap of honour

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and his players are unhappy with Fifa for preventing them from sharing their Club World Cup triumph with fans at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.

The post-match celebrations following the 1-0 win over Flamengo were restricted to the pitch, meaning Klopp was stopped from trying to engage with those awaiting a complete lap of honour.

The manager was especially keen to salute the 1,500 fans who had made the seven-hour flight from Merseyside, clearly distinguishable in the corner of the ground with their familiar flags and banners.

When Klopp tried to go behind the goal, Fifa representatives ushered him back towards the pitch. The approach caused bewilderment to Liverpool, with the attitude of some of those blocking the players and staff branded "ridiculous".

Such limiting of access is not unusual at Fifa events, particularly with regards to pitchside security, but it is rare for players and managers to be told they do not have the necessary credentials to access an area after winning a trophy.

Meanwhile, Liverpool must wait to discover the severity of the injury suffered by midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Having missed much of last year with an ACL injury, he left Qatar wearing an ankle brace and was receiving treatment during the flight back to Liverpool yesterday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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