Sunday 16 June 2019

I don't feel like an underdog, insists defiant Klopp

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has hinted he is interested in signing Lyon's Nabil Fekir. Photo: PA
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has hinted he is interested in signing Lyon's Nabil Fekir. Photo: PA

Chris Bascombe

Jurgen Klopp was suffering in the Nevada desert, in prolonged therapy from his last Champions League final defeat, when he experienced an epiphany. It was May 2014 and Klopp was on a post-season holiday in Las Vegas when he noticed fans huddling around a TV to watch Real Madrid against Atletico Madrid.

Klopp's attempt to recover after losing at Wembley a year earlier with Borussia Dortmund was entering a more vexing stage. The German coach realised at that moment there is greater torment than falling at the last hurdle. Not being there to leap it.

"When Real Madrid played Atletico in the final, I was by the pool and a lot of people were watching it," Klopp recalls. "I was kind of annoyed hearing the noise. I had no clue who had scored or nothing about the game. I really tried to ignore it because it hurt. It was still painful what had happened the year before. I was thinking, 'One year ago it was different, we were in the final'.

"I didn't think over the year a lot. I didn't watch the game back, for example. But in that moment you realise, 'What's that? Oh, the Champions League final. Right'. All the people shouting were Spanish, the year before they were all German."

Klopp has developed an unhealthy habit of losing major finals, defeated in his last five, but he heads to Kiev to face Real Madrid thrilled with the possibilities of getting so far, rather than fretting about the outcome.

"If you want guarantees then don't qualify for a final, stay at home or go on holiday," he says. "It is not nice when you lose a final, but I will always try again.

"One of the rules is that the more you try, the more likely that you will do it. I know how it feels and I felt it a few times when you've won it, it is really cool and that is what we are going for.

"I know how I lost the finals. It didn't change my life. It's not that I wake up every morning and think, 'Wow, that was a big chance'. I always had teams that could qualify and we went to the Europa League final two years ago and it was about the team. We were unlucky in the final [against Sevilla]. We didn't score in the first half often enough. We didn't get a penalty, second half. It was legs. This time the legs will be fine."

Klopp won his first final - the 2012 German Cup - and added two Bundesliga titles before a barren run began. The modern Liverpool reputation as "nearly men" is of more concern. The club have won one trophy since the 2006 FA Cup, despite making 12 semi-finals - including the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup and League Cup finals. Beyond the cup competitions, finishing runners-up in the 2014 Premier League title race was the most upsetting near-miss of all.

Of the side preparing to face the European champions, only captain Jordan Henderson remains from the Liverpool team who defeated Cardiff in the 2012 League Cup, the club's last silverware coming during Kenny Dalglish's second reign.

"We are all human beings. It is not nice. But being there is a big thing," says Klopp. "It is unbelievable. Most people in the world try their whole life and don't go to one final because you need luck in specific moments. We had that this season, we deserved it I think.

"I knew our football could really fit the competition, but again, we needed luck against Manchester City. We were really good and deserved it but we needed luck as well. The same against Roma. We can lose there 5-2 or at City we can be 2-0 down or 3-0 down at half-time. But to go to the final stage. That is special."

A win against the most formidable Champions League opponent of all, Real Madrid, pursuing a 13th win and third in-a-row, would be the ultimate recompense for recent let-downs. Klopp says Zinedine Zidane's side have the experience and know-how, but the prestige of both clubs ensures there will be no inferiority complex. "They can make it a third time in-a-row, but we are Liverpool, that's something not to forget. We feel that," says Klopp. "We like the role we are in. Everything is positive. We've learnt a bit, and we are in a good moment.

"There have been three dominant clubs in the last few years. Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern. A few others showed up but there are those three, and we face one of them in the final, so who should be the favourite? It's not that I want to be the underdog and I don't feel like an underdog. But yes, they are favourites, they know everything, they could write the f***ing scripts for the finals because they have experienced it four times in the last five years.

"We can't, but there's no problem with that. We want to play football and win a football game and thank God it is always possible. I saw a car coming in this morning with two flags, 'Liverpool Champions League final Kiev'. So it starts already. We are looking forward to it, we are happy about it, having a smile on your face, that's nice. You can pretty much only get it from football. That's really cool."

Despite recent setbacks in showpiece occasions, Liverpool are not without winners. James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum won cups and titles at their former clubs. Mohamed Salah won the Swiss Super League with Basel. But the CVs are incomparable to the players they meet.

"This has been the Real Madrid Champions League generation," says Klopp. "A lot of their players won the last two finals and that's really rare. Real have almost exactly the same line-up from winning it before. In the end it will be a test: what's bigger - the desire to win a third one in-a-row or the desire to win the first one for some years? They will want to do it again. It would be big, 100 per cent. If we did it, it would be big, too. We will try."


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