“Even in professional football there should be space for some sentiment. I am two things, a professional manager and a human being, and the human being won.”
Jurgen Klopp was digging into his much-debated decision to overlook Alisson, in his opinion the world’s best goalkeeper, and start Caoimhin Kelleher against Chelsea in the League Cup final.
But his explanation also served as a wonderful wrap of his Liverpool spell, and wider still, his entire career in the dugout.
Klopp is extremely demanding, but also heavily engineered to pour back into his people – staff, players, supporters – emotionally, with trust, responsibility, or otherwise.
Think back to the Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex in 2018 and how he needed a few minutes alone to overcome witnessing his wife, Ulla, comforting the mother of Loris Karius.
Klopp was pained that it was the concussed goalkeeper, rather than himself, that was painted as the reason for the Champions League loss to Real Madrid.
Consider how the German was unable to speak after a long, quiet embrace with Mohamed Salah, whose left shoulder was in a sling courtesy of Sergio Ramos’s recklessness.
Or how, when he returned to his Formby home after that devastating defeat in 2018, his mood switched to one of defiance sparked by a photo of the injured Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was on crutches.
“We saw the European Cup / Madrid had all the f*****g luck / We’ll just keep on being cool / And bring it back to Liverpool!”
That impromptu chant, recorded on a phone and turned viral, was inspired by what Klopp felt were unfair situations for “Ox”, Salah, Karius, and ultimately a squad that deserved to be marked out as winners for all the setbacks they’d hurdled .
The ditty became a promise and we know what happened next, so let’s recall what came before. Despite being deeply ridiculed, Klopp never deviated from the line that Philippe Coutinho had a back injury as the Brazilian pushed for an exit to Barcelona in the summer of 2017.
Even when the playmaker’s camp spread falsehoods over his relationship with Klopp, and spoke of a long-standing unhappiness at the club to force a transfer, Liverpool’s manager never wavered in protecting Coutinho.
Rewind further back to the hands-linked salute to the Kop in December 2015, following a draw with West Bromwich Albion that was mocked externally but was a wholesome way of building a galvanizing bond between the team and supporters.
Wembley was the scene where Klopp won his first domestic trophy in England on Sunday, but it was also the scene of him telling Liverpool “only silly idiots stay on the floor and wait for the next defeat” after League Cup shootout misery in 2016.
He hath sparkled in the darkest moments, a light to steer the club away from self-defeatism to a surety of success.
“Don’t worry, we will go on, we will get better,” he insisted at this ground six years ago. A few months later, he was forecasting, “someday everybody will say Basel was a very decisive moment for the wonderful future of Liverpool FC.”
Klopp was right about that, right to start Kelleher in the victory over Chelsea in which he scored the winning penalty, and is right to prioritize his people in an unforgiving environment.
When asked if the victory over Thomas Tuchel’s men was everything he wanted given the number of players that contributed in the tournament, Klopp responded: “Perfect would have been if we could have had more names on the teamsheet already.
“I had to make a few really tough decisions and I said [to] the boys in the meeting when all the boys were in – even the boys who were not on the team sheet – that ‘This here is my squad’.
“Plus – and now I have to be careful that I don’t forget anybody – Tyler Morton, who was not with us in the hotel because he’s slightly injured, Conor [Bradley]Owen [Beck]Harvey [Elliott] from the U18s, Elijah [Dixon-Bonner] played a few minutes as well, Adrian saved us in Preston.
“The whole journey was absolutely outstanding. We had Adrian at Preston and then we scored the two goals. Without Takumi Minamino and without Divock Origi and the goals they scored in the competition, we would not be here.”
With Klopp, the human being always wins.