On Jurgen Klopp’s first full day as Liverpool manager he kept things understated.
“I'm a totally normal guy,” he said. “I came from the Black Forest.”
His first press conference served as a charming introduction to the Premier League, but nestled subtly within that opening act of his tenure at Anfield was a promise.
“If we sit here in four years, I think we win one title,” he said.
On Saturday evening in Madrid the clock struck eleven. This was Liverpool’s last chance to deliver on Klopp’s promise — to turn ‘doubters into believers’ as he put it in 2015.
The game itself was nothing like the classic Liverpool produced the last time they lifted Champions League in 2005, but in winning they validated the decision to hire Klopp and gave a return on this exhilarating journey under him.
To deconstruct this Liverpool team is to see a focused strategy with two key tenants. The first aspect is represented by the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. The duo often provide the service to Liverpool’s devastating front three, (they have 15 and 13 assists respectively this season).
Klopp has worked hard to develop them both technically and mentally. Robertson’s story — released by Celtic in 2009 and playing in the Scottish fourth division by 2012 — is well known, and while the group as a whole have improved, it is being able to not only see that potential but also extract it that is so vital.
“The best piece of character of this team is the constant readiness for development,” Klopp said in the build up to the final. ”That’s how it is. I like to take James Milner as an example, because Millie is 33 and is still developing really big steps. Calming down here, using his unbelievable skills in the moments.”
Alongside that was a decisive and efficient recruitment drive that started in January 2018 with the signing of Virgil van Dijk and continued that summer when the club recruited goalkeeper Alisson from Roma. Liverpool not only sought to eradicate key weaknesses in the side with these deals, but did so with a methodical and diligent recruitment process.
“If you look to the final last season, why didn't [Liverpool] win the final?” Jose Mourinho.
told BeIN sports. “Because of the goalkeeper. They bought one of the top five goalkeepers in the world. Sixteen months ago what was the big problem? They needed a top central defender — they got a top central defender. It’s a work in progress.”
Klopp was keen to reference how supportive the club’s owners have been during his time at the club, and perhaps that is why, as the final whistle blew, he was keen to embrace Mauricio Pochettino. The German not only empathised with the pain of defeat in a final, but also the work Pochettino has put into this Spurs side.
The Argentine moved to White Hart Lane nigh 17 months before Klopp arrived in England. Pochettino has also developed players, (in some cases repurposed them) and found value in the market, but he has been left wanting when it comes to financial backing of late.
The lack of activity in the last 12 months did allow for Spurs to maintain continuity, but this season has involved sharp contrasts for Spurs which serve as a microcosm for the club’s current state. They engineered an improbable run to the Champions League final, but earned 6 points fewer than last season and 27 fewer than the season before that.
The club and Pochettino must now decide what comes next. The fact Spurs have competed in a title race and a European Cup final is validation for the Pochettino project. The Argentine has begun to attract interest from the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United, and while their new stadium is a breathtaking structure that ambition much be matched on the field if they are to stand any chance of keeping their manager.
In the wider context England is now dominated by clubs thinking long-term. Those without a plan have struggled in the league this season, with Chelsea the rare exception that continue to exist within a vacuum of boom and bust cycles that must surely stop soon.
Liverpool are not keen to rest on their laurels either. Before the champagne had chance to go flat they were talking up the next step, the next achievement.
Their fans are still yearning for the Premier League title. That wait dates back to 1990, but, unlike in previous years when it felt as if a team lifting a European Cup might be at the apex of their journey this Liverpool side feels like they are just starting to gain momentum.
For Klopp it has never been about just one game, but it was this one game that changed everything for him and Liverpool.