2018 UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

" IT'S BEEN A CRAZY RIDE "

Liverpool scored an incredible, record-breaking 46 goals en route to the 2018 final, and it was not just Reds’ fans rubbing their eyes in wonder, as coach Jürgen Klopp admitted. As Liverpool target a second straight final, we look back at his exclusive interview with us ahead of the last season’s showdown in Kyiv. 

This article was first published in the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final Programme. Buy your programme here.

Few figures in the game are as engaging as Jürgen Klopp. The Liverpool FC manager has a lively, magnetic personality which has brought out the best in his players since his first coaching job at 1. FSV Mainz 05. But behind the charisma lies an analytical mind and a fierce desire to win, which helped Borussia Dortmund claim back-to-back Bundesliga titles and the German Cup before he took the Liverpool reins in 2015. Klopp’s Dortmund also finished runners-up to FC Bayern München in the 2013 UEFA Champions League final, and he is dreaming of a different outcome in his third European showpiece in six years – as well as a first trophy with the Reds following their 2016 UEFA Europa League final reverse. “We’ll go all the way together,” he says, ready to lead his charges to glory.

You have said that reaching the final is a little bit crazy. Why is that?

Because of how we did it. Honestly, I have to say we were a little surprised when we won 5-0 against Porto, because they’re a top team. It was impressive. I was impressed myself. Then we faced Manchester City. It was football of the highest quality. We won in a way that seems pretty incredible and crazy somehow. We won 3-0 at home. Then the second leg was very difficult, of course. We conceded a goal right at the beginning, but we showed our strength and were able to win that game too. That’s also extraordinary. And then in Rome, the two underdogs playing each other in the semi-finals. We managed to lead 5-0 at home. We’ve scored seven goals twice and five goals twice. That’s really crazy, because we aren’t Barcelona, we aren’t Real Madrid or Bayern München. We are Liverpool, on the way to becoming a really good team. It’s been a
crazy ride.

You have a strong relationship with your players...

As a person, I want to have a close relationship because I want to understand them. I want to know why things happen. I’m grateful to them for what they’ve achieved, and I’ve told them so. I’m not the kind of guy who thinks, ‘Well, they are getting paid for that.’ I’m aware that there are many teams at the same level as us, who earn as much or even more, but they can’t perform as well. My players can! At the end of the day, we’re in this journey together. We’ve come here together. We’ll go all the way together.

This final is a European classic, isn’t it? Liverpool against Real Madrid.

Right. With Liverpool, we only play in European classics. We’ve played plenty of really big games and won many of them. It’s obvious that it’s possible to win important trophies at this club.

It’s not easy, but it’s possible. And it’s cool playing against Real Madrid. They’re the defending champions, and they’ve won back-to-back titles. They’ve done really well under Zinédine Zidane. It’ll be a nice challenge.

 

How much are you looking forward to facing him?

I’m glad we’re not playing against each other! Me against him, marking him or whatever … I’m very glad I can send my players onto the pitch. Just meeting him is already awesome. I’m not a person who wants an autograph on a shirt. He’s an extraordinary character in the football world. I admired him as a player and respect him as a colleague. It’s incredible what he’s been doing with Madrid. But we’re not going there to grab some jerseys.

Your counterattacking system is designed to work against just such a team...

I won’t be talking about our tactics. Maybe we’ll play completely differently. We could play defensively and just focus on counterattacks. Or maybe we’ll target ball possession and try to keep Madrid running. That’s not so important. It depends on who’s available. It seems as though Real have every player available. We’re in a different situation. We didn’t reach the final by giving 50% but 120%. We had to surpass ourselves, and that’s clearly caused some injuries. That’s not nice, but in football – and that’s what I like most about this game – it’s not about which team is better. It’s about who has the best resources on the day. We’ve got a very great team. I love my team. But because of Madrid’s qualities, experience and proven success, it would seem we don’t stand a chance. It’s the first time for everyone in my team to be in a Champions League final. Real Madrid have played in more finals than we’ve played Champions League matches. But that isn’t that important. We’ll go there anyway and give our best.

AT THE END OF THE DAY, WE'RE ON THIS JOURNEY TOGETHER. WE'VE COME HERE TOGETHER, WE'LL GO ALL THE WAY TOGETHER.

Can Liverpool’s great history in this competition work to your advantage?

You have to use it correctly. We’re constantly being confronted with the club’s history. That’s wonderful, and it’s an important part of why we’re all here. But we can’t meet expectations if we want to imitate someone. We have got to go our own way.

 

An hour after the final whistle in Rome, you went onto the pitch to celebrate with the fans. What was that like?

Wonderful. I really don’t like to be the centre of attention. I always feel a bit embarrassed and it’s weird. But having experienced that moment, which I often don’t experience, was very special. It did me a lot of good and meant a lot to me. It was nice to look into people’s faces and see their joy. These moments make you realise why our job is so important.

After that match you were compared to Bill Shankly...

You must never compare anyone to him. Bill Shankly should remain unparalleled until the end of time. He took the club to a whole new level and no one can ever take that away from him. We all have our qualities, but Bill Shankly was the full package for Liverpool and guided everything in the right direction. Emotions run high after a game and shouldn’t be analysed.

But how you go about achieving success is important, isn’t it?

If we’ve won, then essentially it doesn’t matter to me how we’ve played. A win is a win. However, I know that your chances of winning are dramatically increased when you know how you’re winning. That means you have to play a certain style of football. That’s what we’re doing – nothing else. The fact that it’s sometimes spectacular to watch is, for me, quite right. To play football at the level we do is pretty great. The game thrives on tension and intensity and the chance to beat an opponent on your level and beat them tactically.

How much do you enjoy watching your attacking trio of Salah, Sané and Firmino?

I love it. I love the mix and the way they recognise their own strengths and look to use them, while recognising the strengths of the others and looking to use them.

What did you learn from the 2013 UEFA Champions League final, which your Dortmund side lost to Bayern?

Nothing. What am I supposed to have learnt from it? We played well. For the first half or the first 60 minutes, we had more of the game. We could’ve taken the lead and then we equalised after going behind. It was a good performance from my team. Both sides were exhausted. We only had a one-week break before the final rather than two. We had a very tight schedule with press duties – it was all new to us. It’s not so new any more. At the end of the day, it’s about putting in the best performance you can. Then you need a bit of luck in the crucial moments.

How much do you want this trophy?

A lot. But you mustn’t pin it on me. I’m completely unimportant in the whole thing, and I mean that. Nothing changes for me personally. I’ve lost a few finals and I’m exactly the same as I would be if I’d won them. And that’ll be the case again. But for the club and for the players, I would be over the moon.

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