Liverpool are the Champions of Europe! Once again! On Saturday night, in front of a packed Wanda Metropolitana Stadium in Madrid, the Reds beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 to lift their sixth European Cup/ Champions League title. After 7 years of a trophy drought and 14 years of a Champions League title drought, it is needless to say what this trophy means for Liverpool and their fans.
As a flood of emotions and emotional Reds are washing through from Madrid to Merseyside, it is easy to lose sight of both – the importance of this Champions League title and also of what it could mean for Liverpool in the long term. In this piece, I try to evaluate these immediate and longer-term effects.
Jurgen’s Promise to Liverpool Fans – Fulfilled, Almost!
When, in his first press conference after being unveiled as Liverpool’s new manager, Jurgen Klopp was quizzed about what his targets for his new club were, Klopp had chuckled and in his halting English (at the time) and amid some of his witticisms, had slipped in a line “we should be winning a title in four years’ time”. I remember thinking at the time that it was very brave of him to say something like that in his first press conference. It turns out he was not kidding!
In his third full season, he led Liverpool to a massive tally of 97 points in the Premier League and in any other league around the world, that kind of performance would have resulted in a title. So, he almost fulfilled the promise he had made in that press conference in October 2015. That Liverpool did not win the Premier League title despite their points tally reflects the immense challenge that Manchester City posed.
Now, in the past two instances when Liverpool were narrowly pipped at the post by Manchester City and United, the club’s performance in the seasons that followed immediately dipped tremendously. After finishing runners up to United in 2008-09, Liverpool’s subsequent league positions were 7th, 6th, 8th, and 7th. This was followed by the 2013-14 season, where they were pipped at the post by City. This led to subsequent league finishes of 6th and 8th. It was as if the club suffered from a hangover of the effort they had put in and the disappointment of losing out lingered for many years.
The same hangover could have happened again – as the disappointment of being the runners-up with the highest points tally in the history of a competition is quite hard to digest. But the challenges that Liverpool overcame to reach that final in Madrid, the final win itself, and the celebrations that refuse to die down will give a sense of successful closure to the team and the fans. Yes, they missed out on the coveted Premier League title by a point, but they bagged the trophy coveted most by the eventual Premier League champions. Klopp missed out on fulfilling his promise of a title (if he meant Premier League title in the presser) but has fulfilled it if he meant either of the two titles that the Reds value the most.
Next season I expect Klopp and his team to continue the hunt for the elusive Premier League title and not surrender the swagger meekly like Liverpool did in 2014-15. That is the immediate impact of this Champions League win.
Klopp’s Era Begins at Liverpool
As the famous video from April 2018 says, “… They have a manager, We have a guardian”, Liverpool fans often think of great managers as guardian angels. Going by how Klopp can rally the Anfield faithful and the traveling Kop alike, he already feels like a part of the group of guardian angels that have taken Liverpool to truly great heights. When someone will search the history of Liverpool a few years down the line and try to find the exact moment when Klopp joined the pantheon of greats that have led the Reds, the answer will come in the form of two moments.
The first will be the morning after the Reds’ defeat to Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League final in Kiev. A clip from that morning shows Klopp, arms locked with Reds fans jumping up and down and chanting, “We saw the European Cup, Madrid had all the f***ing luck, we swear we’ll keep on being cool, we’ll bring it back to Liverpool!”. The second, although not public, will be whatever speech he gave his players when they were facing down the barrel, trying to overcome a 3-0 deficit against Barcelona in the Champions League semifinal this season. That he had that level of optimism after that disappointing defeat against Real Madrid and that he could inspire his team to deliver that miracle at Anfield against Barcelona are the two indications of why he belongs in that group that he himself labels as Guardians in that club video.
Generally, in this era of quick managerial changes, a manager’s 3 years and 8 months feels like the end of an era. But, with Klopp it is different. He has made it amply clear that he is not interested in any other job. He has also joked about retiring at Liverpool. I feel that somewhere in his heart he believes it is possible. This first trophy win with a club he feels so emotionally connected to is only going to spur those feelings on.
That is why I feel that the long-term effect of this Champions League win will be that we will see Klopp at Liverpool for a long period of time. If his achievements of the past three years (two European finals and consistent Champions League) had not shut the naysayers up, this certainly will. If he is able to build on this European success and lead Liverpool to a domestic trophy or two – especially the most coveted league title, then he will cement this relationship further. In short, I expect that when Klopp leaves Liverpool, these initial two-three years will seem like a preamble to what will eventually be a fairly long success story. That is the long-term effect this Champions League win will have on Liverpool.
Irrespective of whether one thinks of short-term effects or about the distant future, for now, the Reds are entitled to revel in their success! As is their manager (guardian angel)!