Ronnie Whelan: My gut instinct tells me that Seville will be too good for Liverpool
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IT’S a long time since Liverpool football club has had business to attend to after the final day of the Premier League season. Jurgen Klopp has delivered the Europa League final and his players owe him one.
He has turned them from brittle failures under Brendan Rodgers into a team capable of challenging for glory in seven short months and if they do pull this off, the players should thank their stars that they were lucky enough to fall into step with Klopp at this moment in his life.
From the moment he came into the job, Klopp has tried to lift Liverpool to a new level and invested a huge amount of energy and passion in the effort.
He has made Liverpool credible again and produced a team from what I still consider a poor squad which made it to Wembley but fell short in the Capital Cup and now stands on the brink of a most unlikely trophy win.
My gut instinct tells me that Sevilla will be too good, but he has generated the kind of momentum in this competition which has compensated for the fact that he doesn’t have enough quality players.
Klopp has done this by giving his team a backbone they didn’t have and by making everyone believe that a corner has been turned after many years of inconsistency and disappointment.
He appealed directly to the fans when he saw them leave the ground early during his first few weeks in charge and they responded. They’ve been responding in a positive way to him ever since.
The now famous video of the team buses arriving at Anfield before the semi-final against Villareal is all about Klopp and the way he has galvanised supporters and made them part of the push to improve.
I think he felt he needed to lift Liverpool out of a rut, and not just the players. Decades of under-achievement have left a mark on everyone.
You can see a version of this at Arsenal where Arsene Wenger is struggling to hold on to the belief he generated when he was a winning manager.
Year after year, the supporters have had to make do with Champions League qualification and an occasional appearance at Wembley and the hierarchy at the club seemed happy with that.
I know there was a big financial issue for Wenger and the club because of the development of the Emirates Stadium but consecutive seasons falling short has become a heavy psychological millstone.
It’s a mindset which is completely foreign to me and any of the lads who played for Liverpool in the glory years.
I was very fortunate that I had a career which coincided with Anfield’s greatest years. We had a winning habit and I don’t ever remember a time when we didn’t. Hindsight tells me how rare it was.
Liverpool lost that in the early ’90s and I have to say, Klopp is the first man to make me believe that things can change, that the bar is going to be much, much higher in the coming years.
If they win against Sevilla, they will be straight into the group phase of the Champions League and that would in an incredible result after a very ordinary Premier League campaign, which was undermined by a bad start.
I think the mid-table position reflects the quality of the squad and that’s why all of his players will be on trial against Sevilla.
He will be buying players in the summer and every one of the current squad will want to be part of this.
He has improved them mentally and physically.
There has always been a debate about how important a manager is when you have good players with the right attitude all pushing for the same goal.
The art of management in that case is about doing as little as possible to break a winning rhythm and some of the greatest managers of all time looked like they were doing nothing at all.
Claudio Ranieri is the obvious case in point. He came to Leicester with a pre-packaged reputation as ‘The Tinkerman’ but won the title by changing very little.
But Klopp has had to work hard and that has been very obvious. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen a clearer example of how a good coach can bridge the gap between ordinary players and actually winning medals.